Nigerian Dwarf goats are pretty awesome. Lots of dairy, small animal. And compared to other dairy animals they need a very small amount of space. We had two on our 1/10th of an acre! It was pretty fabulous. But while they don’t need a lot of space, they do need SOME. And there are some space hogs involved in keeping dwarf goats that not everyone talks about. If you are considering raising goats, you may be wondering how much space do your goats need?
How Much Space Do Your Goats Need To Be Happy?
Most sources say that goats need ten feet per goat of indoor space. If you keep the goats in a dry lot (no pasture, you bring in all the hay), miniatures do okay with about 200 square feet per goat. The problem with keeping your goats in a dry lot is that they tend to get lazy and fat, and fat goats aren’t healthy goats. You can add enrichment toys such as cable spools, picnic tables, stumps, and that sort of thing. You can also do a cut and carry system to bring them fresh branches and other forage so they get fresh foods. You can also take the time to walk your goats regularly, or even take them on hikes. If you are planning to get goats and keep them in a dry lot situation, make to account for the time you will need to spend in helping your goats get enough activity.
The amount of pasture per goat really depends on your area and what they would be eating. The smallest amount I have seen is 1/10th of an acre per dwarf goat. That’s the size of my entire property including my house and driveway! For our herd of two we would have needed twice as much space as what we have for our entire family and mini farm. The best areas for goats to pasture would have lots of bushy growth that they could forage. Goats aren’t grazers like sheep, they’re more like deer!
Parasite management also changes the amount of space you may need. If you keep your goats in a dry lot you will need to use deworming medication or herbs. Some people swear herbs work for their herds and others have had goat die while using herbal dewormers. The only way to know how it’s working for you is to do regular fecals (counting the number of parasites in their poop with a microscope). Also many parasites are becoming resistant to the commonly used deworming medications. Another thing to take into account is that if you raising for meat or milk there will be withdrawal times, meaning times when it’s not safe to consume the milk and you’ll need to dump it.
An alternative way to manage parasite is to rotate your goats from pasture to pasture, and leave enough time between pastures to interrupt the life cycle of the parasites. With this method there may be a few goats that need occasionally deworming, but you are much less likely to be contributing to parasite resistance from overusing chemical dewormers. This management style requires enough pasture to rotate through, so depending on your location you will need enough space to leave each pasture empty of goats for at least 2-3 months, but preferably 12 months. Here’s more information on pasture management from Extension.org.
It is possible to combine methods and keep your goats on a dry lot and feeding hay during the winter, and then rotate throughout your additional space during the warmer months. You can also send chickens in after the goats to make use of the space without having them be as vulnerable to parasites. Rotational grazing can be a very efficient and beneficial way of managing your goats. Just be realistic in the amount of space you are going to need. It’s just not going to work in 400 square feet!
Where Does Their Hay Come From?
And then there’s the issue of hay. They will need supplemental hay, especially in the winter. That means you either need to purchase yours, or grow your own. If you purchase your hay, you need a place to store it. Our garage was dedicated to hay storage when we had our goats. I didn’t include that in their living space. You also may need to pay a premium to be able to buy hay easily at any time of the year if you don’t have space to store large numbers of bales. Add that into your calculations! Or perhaps you can grow your own. That’s an awesome way of becoming more self sufficient! It just takes a bit more space that us city goat people aren’t going to be able to get.
What Goes In, Must Come Out
And finally, that goat barn with 10 square feet per goat? Yeah, that’s going to need mucked out and composted. Using deep litter means you can compost quite a bit in place, but you’ll definitely want to age everything before you put it on the gardens. Pallet compost bins work great for that, but you’ll want to make sure there’s a place to put them. And city dwellers need to be thoughtful about putting it within view of a neighbor or on a property line.
Chicken Goat Math
You have all heard of chicken math, right? You’re just going to get a couple of laying hens, and pretty soon you’re supplying the neighborhood with eggs and selling purebred hatchlings from your 50 hens and three roosters (I might be exaggerating. Maybe). Well goats are kind of the same. You can never have too many goats! Except, sadly, you can. Those two cute doelings are going to have their OWN cute doelings. And those are going to need some space. And even if you intend to sell them off right at eight weeks old, sometimes life happens and six months later you realize you never even put the ad up advertising them for sale. So yeah, give yourself some breathing room, even if you want to a small herd.
Buck or No Buck?
If you live in the city or have nearby neighbors you will probably want to avoid keeping your own buck. The downside of that is you can’t have a closed herd. A closed herd is when you don’t visit other goats, show, breed with other herds, etc. This reduces the risks of your goats contracting disease like CAE. So if you are just keeping the girls, plan in regular disease testing and due diligence in finding a quality, disease free stud to use every year.
Okay, How Much Space Do Your Goats REALLY Need?
If you want truly happy and healthy goats you’ll want to make sure you have enough space to fill all of their needs. There isn’t an exact number that’s going to be THE right number of square feet, because everyone’s goals and properties are different. If you are willing to put in the time and energy of exercising your goats, bringing them fresh foods, buying their hay, scheduling dates with the boys, and being on top of selling the babies you are going to need much less space than someone who’s goal is a self sufficient, pastured herd that includes a buck and and breeding program.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you figure out whether or not you have enough space for goats:
- What are your goals?
- What kind of time commitment can you make?
- What type of property and neighbors do you have?
- Are there bucks offering stud services in your area?
- Are you raising for meat or selling the kids right away?
- Do you have very cold or wet weather and need more indoor space?
- Do you live in a warm climate and need to rest your pastures for 12 months?
- Are you comfortable being at the whim of hay prices?
- Are you trying to get completely self-sufficient?
- Will you use chemical dewormers?
- How many goats do you need?
- What kind of forage does your property have?
I love goats and I think they’re a great dairy animal for small spaces. I know I’m guilty of getting overenthusiastic when planning and forgetting to take into account all the different aspects that need to be considered. When I first bought goats my goal was to provide milk for my family, and I was willing to do anything to make that feasible. After a while my priorities shifted, and becoming a more self-sustaining closed loop system was my ultimate goal, which requires more space for the goats than we have on this property.
If you are considering goats, awesome! But it’s best to be realistic about your goals and plans before you bring them home. If you aren’t sure about the answers to those questions, or feel like you need to do more research my favorite resources are Raising Goats Naturally and Storey’s Guide To Raising Dairy Goats. The more research the better!
Be prepared for your first flock
With a step by step checklist to walk you through.