Goat Playgrounds: A Place to Play!
Goat Playground Ideas for The Curious and Climbing!
by Patrice Lewis
Goats are many things: lively, intelligent, playful, curious, useful. It’s the playfulness that can be the undoing of the novice goat-owner. Without a suitable outlet for a caprine’s rambunctious nature, that playfulness can translate into destructiveness for infrastructure and fencing. For this reason, goat playgrounds are highly recommended.
Goat playgrounds are more than just cute and amusing facilities; they are a necessary component to keep the animals’ innate curiosity and liveliness from getting out of hand and resulting in damage to property and infrastructure.
From their wild ancestors, today’s domestic goats have inherited a genetic aptitude for climbing. A caprine’s sure-footed nature means they enjoy climbing — not only to explore, but to establish hierarchy among themselves. In the absence of sheer rocky ledges, your car’s roof, a fence ledge, or your bent-over back could act as the next best thing.
Are goats smart? Yes, and due to their intelligence, caprines are easily bored and inclined to get into trouble without suitable distraction. How many goat owners have looked out the window to see their goats walking calmly along the tops of their fences? Goats are hard enough on enclosures as it is. Playgrounds distract caprines away from damaging infrastructure by providing them with somewhere besides fences (or your bent-over back) to direct their energy and curiosity.
Like any other active creature, goats need exercise, especially if they spend most of their time confined to pens. Pregnant goats benefit from exercise, as it makes them less likely to encounter problems when kidding. Active goats also require less goat hoof trimming. Some owners prefer play structures with rough surfaces to encourage proper wearing of hooves.
The Ultimate DIY Project
While goat playgrounds are available commercially, they’re easily constructed from free or inexpensive parts and can result in years of happy gamboling by your little hoofed creatures.
Some of the aspects of a play structure goats find amusing include:
- Tunnels (from barrels or culvert sections)
Some common components of goat playgrounds can include:
- Tractor tires (try half-burying them upright in the ground)
- Logs (with several large tree trunks criss-crossing each other, or a collection of log rounds of different heights stacked around)
- Pallets (screw boards or plywood over the pallets to cover the slats, then screw them together to form shapes)
- Giant wooden cable spools from power or phone companies (stand them on their ends, screw a board patch over the hole, and fasten a cleated board from the ground to the top for climbing)
- Rocks (the bigger, the better)
- Cinder blocks (as connectors for boards or fulcrums for seesaws)
- Old wooden tables (bury the legs so they won’t tip over)
- Old children’s play structures
- Old dog houses
Toys are also important to alleviate boredom and keep goats engaged. Goats enjoy movable or interactive parts (including noisemakers), and are particularly intrigued by suspended items. Try hanging a tetherball from a stout rope from a branch. Give goats soccer balls or rolling plastic bottles (such as five-gallon water jugs) they can push around. A series of dangling cowbells fastened to a board provides the animals with a chance to make music. Similarly, sturdy squeaker dog toys attached to a rope or fastened to a board also makes noise. A “music jug” — a heavy-duty clean plastic jug, such as from laundry detergent — filled with rattling things such as walnuts, small stones, beads, etc., encourages goats to butt it to hear the noise.
Try filling a milk crate with hay, leaves, and treats and suspend it from a branch or beam. They’ll eat the treats, then butt and knock it around when it’s empty. Screw or glue heavy-duty scrub brushes to an upright 4×4, and the goats will use them to scratch themselves. Likewise, a doormat with rubber or fiber bristles fastened to a wall allows animals to scratch themselves.
Even sandboxes are popular options. Goats will paw and dig through the sand.
Goats have a strong climbing instinct, so when constructing a goat playground, think UP. Stairs, ramps, inclines, mounds — everything should lead to a high observation point where the goat can peer down, satisfied he’s safe and secure from his perch. Make sure the playground has numerous platforms or shelves large enough to accommodate one or two animals at a time.
If you’re fortunate enough to come across a second-hand plastic or wooden child’s backyard playground, these can often be repurposed for goats. You might have to glue or screw cleats on some of the smoothest surfaces (such as slides) for goats to climb. Even small trampolines have been repurposed for goat usage.
The one unifying element of building goat playgrounds is sturdiness. Components that are in poor condition to begin with (splintery pallets, torn-up tires, spools or boards with holes or sharp edges, exposed nails or screws) might result in injury to the animals. Instead, look for materials that will stand up to years of hard use and beating from sharp little hooves. Sometimes a scrounged part can be patched (such as screwing a board over a hole). Watch out for wooden pallets, which often have slats spaced wide enough to catch slender legs. To prevent injury, screw boards or plywood over pallets to keep the goats from hurting their legs.
Bolts and nuts are useful for goat construction, since the rounded end won’t hurt the animals and the nut end can be underneath and out of reach. Screws and nails are fine, as long as the sharp end isn’t sticking out where animals can catch themselves.
If any element of a playground is too slick or slippery, then gluing or screwing cleats at intervals will allow the animals to get purchase on the surface and climb without slipping. Keep in mind what structural parts may be more slick in rainy or snowy conditions, and add safety features accordingly. Tree logs can be notched; horizontal surfaces can have sand or gravel glued down; and cleats can be spaced to allow goats to get a good grip on inclined surfaces.
When pulling different elements of a play structure together, try making some pieces multi-functional in some way. A large tractor tire, half-buried in the ground, can serve as both a bridge and a tunnel. To anchor tires (large or small) in the ground, dig a hole deep enough to sink the tire up to the rim of the tire center (it might be helpful to drill holes into the tire so it won’t collect water), then backfill the tire with gravel or dirt.
Tires laid flat can be stacked and backfilled to make stairs and hills. Horizontal pallets can be both stairs and shelves for lying in the sun, can be stacked to make towers, or can be part of a goat shelter with room beneath. Bridges, either horizontal (joining two components) or inclined (letting the animals climb to the next level) are popular.
Some of the structural components should be scaled down to kid-size. Again, think multi-functional. For example, smaller truck-sized tires anchored in the ground can start young kids on their climbing adventures as older animals tackle the bigger tractor tires.
A Happy Goat is an Enriched Goat
According to science writer Barbara Cozzens, “In a 2001 study published in the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, scientists compared weight gain of goats housed in traditional pens to those housed in pens that were enriched using old tires, wooden railway sleepers and PVC pipes. The results were unmistakable: Goats in the enriched pens were healthier. Eighty-three percent gained weight and a third less stopped eating. In her publication on goat enrichment, research veterinarian Dr. Sara Savage suggests, ‘Somewhere in the evolutionary development of (domestic goats), curiosity and play drive emerged as positive forces for survival.’”
With construction material virtually free, there’s no reason not to build something that will keep your goats happy, content, and non-destructive. A happy goat is an enriched goat!