What are Confinement Operations?

Should You Consider A Confinement Operation for Your Goats?

What are Confinement Operations?

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John and Barbara run a meat goat operation. However, you probably wouldn’t guess that they currently have about 420 goats if you were to drive by their farm. None of the goats are visible because they are all in the barn. Now, before you start making claims of unethical factory farming, let me tell you a bit more about how they run their “confinement operation” and why you may be converted to do something similar.

Barbara’s family used to raise hogs from farrow to finish. Because of this, they had a hog barn. When the price of corn became too high, it was no longer profitable to raise hogs in conditions that were not overcrowded. With the hog barn already on their property, they simply had to convert it to house a different breed of animal. The ceiling was a bit low for cattle, but it was just right for goats.

The barn under construction.

The hog barn had a bit of converting needed before it could house goats. For starters, the trench had to be filled and the floor leveled. Pens were set up: large pens approximately 20×35 feet and small “kidding/bonding” pens that are about 30 square feet. There is a small grass pasture outside in which to house the goats when the indoor pens are being cleaned, but these goats honestly prefer the barn because that is where they are fed. There is enough room for them to run and play, and John and Barbara have provided large spools from the electric company on which the goats can climb and jump. As a meat goat operation, they want to maximize space while still being conscious of animal care.

Just getting started on construction.

Because all the goats are inside, they can be bred year-round. Even in the dead of winter when lows reach -18 degrees F, the inside of the barn remains above freezing. This is in large part due to the good insulation especially around the bonding pens but also rises from the sheer amount of warm bodies in close proximity. With 10 breeding bucks, 20 does will spend two months in the same pen as a buck to make sure that they are bred during a heat. When a doe gets close to kidding time, she is removed to a bonding pen and will remain with her kids in that pen for three weeks after giving birth. They are then moved to be with other does and kids in a larger pen until the kids are three months old. The doe is then given 30 more days after weaning to recover and regain nutritional reserves before being put in with a buck again. The does average three kids per year.

Not everyone has enough land for pasturing their herd. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have animals, it just means that they need a different place to put them.

John and Barbara keep a close eye on their goats. They are in the barn every day and feed grain by hand so that they can inspect each and every goat on a daily basis. This way they can watch for signs of imminent kidding or signs of illness. There are many benefits that they have found to confinement operations with goats mainly because they have the ability to be much closer with the animals rather than having animals spread over acres of pasture. They boast of having only a 3-5% average rate of kid loss including stillborn. Part of this low rate of kid loss is that predators cannot access the barn. Also, John and Barbara are able to assist with births better because the does are near and watched closely. While fecal workups sometimes show low numbers of coccidiosis, it has never been a problem enough to even cause diarrhea in the goats. Worms are hardly any problem because the goats don’t forage. Feeders are off the floor, and we all know how picky goats are about any food that has touched the ground. Without forage, any hatched worm larvae cannot climb to a place where they can be ingested.

Almost completed. Photos by John Barnhart.

There may be a few negatives of a confinement operation. For starters, John and Barbara spend much more time trimming hooves than they would if the goats spent more time outdoors. They keep the pens quite clean in order to prevent dampness that could cause hoof rot. Waterers are cleaned and bleached on a weekly basis. Confinement operations are labor and time-intensive. You must be proactive in the health and cleanliness of your goats. However, the close quarters of this operation give you the opportunity to be so very involved with your herd.

Does in the bonding room.

If you are considering a confinement operation as you expand your herd, I have a few considerations for you. Building a large barn with pens and such is quite an investment. However, if you have a livestock building that is currently unused, repurposing it can save money and effort. Goats can thrive in a confinement operation when other animals wouldn’t. With goats, long pens are more important than large pens. They need enough distance to run and play. Loose minerals should still be offered along with hay and grain. John and Barbara give BoSE injections to newborn kids because their area is deficient in selenium. Good animal husbandry must still be observed even if you don’t have many of the worries and dangers of being outdoors.

Not everyone has enough land for pasturing their herd. Even if they do, often it is more profitable to farm the land with crops than it would be to let an animal herd graze it. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have animals, it just means that they need a different place to put them. An unused barn could be repurposed to be just the place for a goat herd.

Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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