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Handling goats


John Miller, Overseer, "Kinross", Adelong, NSW
Thompson Bros. Bathurst, N.S.W.
Richard Levinge, Naracoorte, S.A.
Noel Waters, Armidale, N.S.W.
Leal Squire-Wilson and Robin Kissel, Sunbury, Victoria.
Revised by R.J. Browne, Merton, Victoria



The natural intelligence of goats should be considered at all times, when handling these animals in paddocks, yards or sheds. When a sheep farmer takes on goats, it requires a change in his attitude to the behaviour and responses of the animals. This is exemplified in the case where goats are introduced onto a property for the first time... If the fencing is secure and escape is restricted, then the task of containing the animals will be easier in the future. A roguish animal which regularly escapes should be culled, as only one or two may cause problems and frustration.


Most breeders agree that goats are easy to muster but should be approached in a different manner to that used for handling sheep. The size of the paddock and terrain will have a large bearing on the methods employed.

In large rough paddocks, dogs are essential especially those dogs which work wide from the stock. The goats will mob together quickly and start moving as soon as they are aware of the disturbance. Usually, this will mean they move quickly uphill. Sometimes they will move over the peak of a hill and start coming back the same way lower down the hillside. Large mobs of weaners will tend to move in this way especially if startled by dogs and will search for escape routes.

Single animals may be separated from the flock and can cause problems such as in the case of a doe and kid. The best advice is to keep the dog back from lone goats, as the sight of a person on horseback or motorbike will alarm them and they will move off towards the rest of the mob. Single does and bucks will often turn on a dog and choose direct confrontation rather than continuing in the desired direction.

Moving goats from one paddock to another is a relatively simply task. They will assess a gateway quickly and move through small gates or those on difficult corners without baulking. Many growers can cite instances where animals have escaped through a hole or gap in a fence and have been brought back through the same space by a careful dog or some quick action by the person on foot. A steady approach is of paramount importance in handling the situation where an animal has escaped. Noisy dogs or undue haste will create doubt and may compound an existing problem.

Goats will always move more quickly uphill than downhill. Moving large mobs downhill is difficult and especially so with does and kids or newly weaned kids. When forced they tend to break away across the side of a hill. It is much easier in the long run, to move slowly and carefully down a hill than attempt to hurry and spend time bringing back breakaway animals.

Some breeders have found that the introduction of older, quiet wethers or does will serve a useful purpose in leading and quietening young stock. Similarly, some people have suggested that older does are a useful influence when maiden does are kidding. They appear to stay with their kids closely for the first few days after birth which is important where foxes, hawks, eagles or dogs may threaten newly born kids.

On flat country, goats will tend to move quickly and do not need pushing. It is a good idea to let them move at their own pace and keep dogs behind the stockman. In hot weather, they may move faster than is desirable and should be allowed to spell at regular intervals.

Goats will often turn on dogs and choose direct confrontation if worked too close.
V.E. handling machine for goats - belts are driven by hydraulic motors.

The entry yards need to be clear and as with other stock, attention is required with large mobs and tailenders. Kids will tend to gather at the rear of the mob and breakaway if not carefully handled.


Most growers agree that dogs must be used carefully in yards with goats. In confined spaces feral goats tend to panic and those with a tendency to jump will do so. However, they are generally easy to work in yards, draft and shed up. Yard designs which accommodate behavioural instincts such as bugles, uphill gates, short races and high outside fences (4'6") will greatly improve the efficiency of handling goats in yards.

A few general principles need to be followed to make the job flow smoothly:

  • Care should be taken not to put too many animals in small yards and keep dogs out of such yards. The goats tend to climb onto one another and may smother on hot days.
  • Races which are an ordinary length for sheep need to be subdivided by a portable gate to prevent piling up. A person who is working through a race drenching, vaccinating etc., needs to be aware of the animals behind him and those that go down and stay down.
  • When working does with kids, special care should be taken to prevent death or injury of the kids.
  • Dogs should be under control at all times. A dog which will bark on command and move down the side of drafting races will be very useful.
Dogs in control as goats move slowly and quietly into a yard. A good entrance. Well built yards. Goats at rear have nowhere to go so will break away if pushed.

Other yard features may need to be modified. Weldmesh yards may need to be capped with a rail so that occasional jumpers do not break their legs. Many people cull goats which jump on a regular basis. Handling bucks also needs to be done with care. Dogs should be kept out of the yards as they may be injured by an agitated buck.

Holding goats in a yard. A good dog is an asset. Poorly trained dogs should not be allowed in yards with goats.
Quiet working Kelpie - using "eye" and style, goats are under total control but not panicked.

For these reasons, many people have chosen to carry out intensive tasks such as drenching and fleece assessment inside the shearing shed, either in a race or across the board.

Shearing sheds may require a few minor modifications. The catching pens need to have higher fences than those for sheep. The door of the pen cannot be left open during shearing as some animals will tend to escape. Glass or louvred windows located in pens should be covered with weldmesh which will prevent an enterprising animal from making its escape.

Two experienced shearers can shear upwards of 400 animals a day. Those shearing in the upright position will find that an extra hand to drag out, let-go and drench the goats for two shearers is a great asset. Bucks need to be shorn carefully. One grower has found that draping a bag over the head of bucks during shearing quietens them down.


Of recent years various forms of goat handling equipment have been developed to make the routine tasks of drenching, vaccinating etc. so much easier.

A goat held for individual attention is much more mobile than a sheep. Goats do not pack well in a handling race. They can be held very successfully for shearing and some other tasks in a head bail. There are many excellent head bail designs both home made and commercially available.

For handling larger numbers the most successful control principle leaves the goat suspended in a "v" without a foothold. There are three basic variations on this theme:

  1. The "VE" machine and variations, where animals are moved away from the floor by power driven belts on either side of a "V" shaped race.
  2. The "Connell" race where the floor is dropped away from under the goat, leaving it suspended in the "V.
  3. The "Down Under" race where the "V" race is lifted hydraulically into the air. The Down Under has the added advantage that it can be lifted well above the ground for foot paring and foot inspection.

A good handler is well worth the investment. Both the "Connell" and the "Down Under" handle goats safely and securely with little likelihood of escape. The belt type machines are not so secure and extra care is needed with their installation and operation.

For the smaller operator there are a number of single animal designs that work mainly on the "squeeze to hold - then tip-over" principle.


Similar principles need to be applied to the transportation of goats during other handling. As they become domesticated, their condition and recovery after transportation will improve. Feral goats will tend to sulk and go off their feed after transportation. Animals which are to undergo long trips need to be in good condition. In inclement weather, the truck needs to be covered with a tarpaulin to protect the animals from wind and rain. However, adequate ventilation must also be provided.

As with other yarding facilities, it is important to pen goats into small numbers on trucks to prevent injury and smothering. Horned and polled animals should be separated during transport, and also small and larger animals to prevent injury. Transportation and stress will tend to exacerbate sub-clinical problems. Often newly caught and transported goats will develop clinical symptoms of coccidiosis or other parasites which are a direct result of stress inflicted during handling.

The "Connell Race Crush Draft". The floor drops away to leave goats suspended.

A code for transportation exists in some states. The conditions for transporting goats are the same as for sheep. Particular points are relevant to the transport of goats, especially those recently captured from the bush.

It is recommended that does in their last month of pregnancy are not transported for longer than eight hours and those due to kid should not be loaded. When does have recently kidded they should be allowed 24 hours before loading. When loaded vehicles are parked, it should be for no longer than one hour during hot weather, or shade and ventilation should be provided.

During extended periods of transportation, it is recommended that no animals are left without water for more than 36 hours, however this may need to be reviewed in very hot weather. For trips of three days or more, animals should be unloaded, fed and watered and able to exercise and rest.

It is the responsibility of the owner or buyer to see that his animals are treated humanely during transportation and arrive in a reasonable condition at the other end.

The "Down Under Handler" at working height - goats feet are off the ground.
The "Down Under Handler" at full height for foot inspection.

© 1990 ACGA