How Much Space Do Goats Need?
How Much Land Does a Goat Need and How Much Space per Goat in a Barn?
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Guidelines for minimum space requirements for does tend to be around 16 sq. ft. (1.5 m²) per doe for resting in the barn plus 25–50 sq. ft. (2.3–4.6 m²) per doe in an activity area, with less needed for young animals and more for bucks. At feeding stations, 16 inches (40 cm) is normally recommended for each doe with more than one feeding place per head. However, high-ranking animals tend to dominate several feeders to the detriment of subordinates. These recommendations are mainly based on dairy operations. In fact, goats vary widely in their space needs according to multiple factors. Recent research gives indications of how we may accommodate different goats’ needs.
Goats’ Health and Welfare Needs
Stocking density in the barn and at pasture affects goats’ comfort and their ability to feed sufficiently and maintain good health. Goats need to rest and feed without interruption and in comfort. They need enough dry space to lie down simultaneously and stretch out, and enough feeding places to eat without aggressive competition. Continual dampness underfoot and poorly ventilated enclosed spaces lead to health issues. As active and curious beings, goats need space to exercise and a varied environment to explore.
Ideally, goats spend their day foraging over about two miles (3 km) of hillside. This keeps them well exercised, their diet varied, their hooves in shape, and their minds occupied. At range they are able to each find sustenance away from aggressive competition. Goats have spent most of their domestic history living this pastoral existence. However, there are times and situations when such freedom is not possible. When goats are enclosed in barns or pens, the levels of aggression between them increases with stocking density, and lower-ranking goats lose out on comfortable resting space and feeding opportunities.
How Much Space Does a Goat Need in a Barn?
Dairy does’ spatial needs have been studied in more detail. Pregnant Norwegian does kept indoors over winter were less combative at 32 sq. ft. (3 m²) per head than at higher densities. At 21–32 sq. ft. (2–3 m²) per head, they distanced themselves further from their neighbors than at 11 sq. ft. (1 m²). As the pregnancies progressed, goats preferred to keep greater distances. These studies suggest 21–32 sq. ft. (2–3 m²) per goat was preferable for this herd during pregnancy.
Other goats may tolerate lower or require greater personal space. Various factors may affect their requirements, such as life stage, sex, presence of horns, rank within the herd, and relationship between goats. An individual goat pen size for a buck should be at least 27– 43 sq. ft. (2.5–4 m²). Weaned kids in open housing need around 5–10 sq. ft. (0.5–1 m²) each.
How Much Land Does a Goat Need?
Goats are active in mind and body and need exercise and stimulation to thrive. Free-range foraging and exploration are natural activities. With limited land, care must be taken to not overstock pastures to allow vegetation to renew and avoid parasites. To produce 70% of your herds’ forage sustainably, you will need an acre for one to three goats (3–9 goats/hectare). The exact stocking density depends on the forage yield of your pastures, which varies according to soil, climate, season, and length of growth. Alternatively, you will need to purchase hay to supplement their grazing. Bear in mind that each goat will need 4.4–7.7 lb. (2–3.5 kg) of dry matter per day. Your local extension service can advise you on typical stocking rates in your region. Incidentally, more than 5.5 goats per acre (13.3 per hectare) all year round would exceed healthy nitrogen levels for the environment.
When pasture is unavailable, outdoor or partially-covered pens with activity areas are a must. Most recommendations suggest around 25–50 sq. ft. (2.3–4.6 m²) per doe, 32–97 sq. ft. (3–9 m²) for bucks, and 5–32 sq. ft. (0.5–3 m²) per kid. Barren pens are boring for goats, who like to climb and explore. Climbing platforms provide a natural form of exercise and make the most of limited space.
How Much Space do Goats Need at the Hay Rack?
Most aggressive competition occurs around feed, especially when feed is distributed within limited space and is only available for a short time. Lower-ranking goats may not feed close to higher-ranking individuals or may not dare to feed until the latter have moved away. If hay is always available, subordinate goats get a chance to feed once dominants have finished.
When Swiss dairy goats were given a choice of how close to each other to feed, choices varied between 16 inches and 16 feet (0.4–4.75 m), with around 50% choosing between three and six feet (1–2 m). When tested for the minimum distances pairs of goats would tolerate, most needed 16 inches to 4.5 feet (0.4–1.4 m).
Breed, rank, and presence of horns had little effect. However, the relationship between each pair of goats was important, and the age when they started living together significant. Goats with obvious friendship bonds (in that they rest together with body contact) tolerated much smaller distances (mainly under three feet/one meter). Similarly, those grouped while they were kids showed more tolerance (mainly under three feet/one meter), rather than those grouped when they were adults (mainly over three feet/one meter). Goats that came from the same farm also tolerated smaller distances, confirming that long-term familiarity and/or growing up together helps to establish stable relationships and greater tolerance.
Making the Most of Space
Observations of free-ranging goats (and my personal observations) back up these spacing preferences. Those regrouped as adults have little tolerance of others at the hay rack, and the lower-ranking goats prefer to eat out of sight of the dominants. One of my goats is wary about entering the barn when others are present and prefers the privacy of her own stall. For this reason, I find it helpful to include 30-square-foot (2.8 m²) stalls to enclose the most aggressive or vulnerable animals when the barn doors are shut. Stalls must allow visual contact and proximity to the rest of the herd to prevent the occupant feeling isolated.
Structures can eliminate the need for separate stalls and reduce the space per head needed. Empty barns encourage fights to erupt and make it difficult for goats to find privacy. Platforms and partitions divide the space allowing escape routes and hiding places. Make sure that there is always at least 3.6 feet (1.1 m) between walls to avoid goats getting trapped by aggressors.
Partitions between feeding places and platforms that allow feeding at different heights enabled goats to feed closer together during trials. Horned goats and those grouped as adults fed more peacefully using 3.6-foot-long solid partitions (1.1 m) and 2.6-foot-high platforms (80 cm), whereas highly bonded goats preferred visual contact at the hay rack.
Summary of Space Recommendations
|Barn||16–32 sq. ft.|
|27–43 sq. ft.|
|5–10 sq. ft.|
|Run||25–50 sq. ft.|
|32–97 sq. ft.|
|5–32 sq. ft.|
|Feed rack||16–55 in.|
On the whole, a variety of options is best, until you find what suits your goats. These guidelines have helped make the most of my goats’ space, and they really enjoy using it too! For more details see previous posts on housing goats and providing for natural activity.
- National Farm Animal Care Council. 2020. Code of practice for the care and handling of goats: review of scientific research on priority issues.
- Aschwanden, J., Gygax, L., Wechsler, B., Keil, N.M.:
— 2009. Structural modifications at the feeding place: Effects of partitions and platforms on feeding and social behaviour of goats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 119, 180–192.
— 2008. Social distances of goats at the feeding rack: Influence of the quality of social bonds, rank differences, grouping age and presence of horns. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114, 116–131.
- Vas, J., Andersen, I.L., 2015. Density-Dependent Spacing Behaviour and Activity Budget in Pregnant, Domestic Goats (Capra hircus). PLOS ONE, 10, e0144583.
- Vas, J., Chojnacki, R., Kjøren, M.F., Lyngwa, C. and Andersen, I.L., 2013. Social interactions, cortisol and reproductive success of domestic goats (Capra hircus) subjected to different animal densities during pregnancy. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 147(1–2), 117–126.
- EU Organic standards from Produire Bio.
- USDA NRCS guidelines via Iowa State University Extension.
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.