The Five Freedoms for Goats

Goats EatingBack in 1965, when most livestock in the UK were farmed intensively – barns filled with thousands of pigs, so they were unable to move, or stacked high with cages of chickens forced to stand up their whole lives and lay multiple eggs a day – a guy called Roger Brambell led an investigation into the welfare of such animals. The result of this investigation was the Five Freedoms listed below. Let’s face it, a child with a pet rabbit could come up with this list with hardly any prompting, but it took an official ‘investigation’ to make any real difference for the poor farm animals. Political controversy!

Here they are:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

So, how do you go about ensuring these five fundamentals of your microholding, to ensure your goats are happy goats.

1. Food & Water

As I mentioned in the previous Goat post, goats need a constant supply of hay to nibble on. This is because they’re browsing ruminants. Eh? Basically, it means they don’t graze (like sheep and cows), but go around nibbling at any plants, and other stuff, they come across. Like sheep and cows, though, goats have four stomachs to process the greenery they consume, and to keep healthy, they need all four stomachs to be active. Bottom-line – they need plant matter all the time, hence the constant supply of hay. In the summer, it’s always a nice treat for the goats if you do a bit of browsing on their behalf and bring them an armful of cuttings from a local hedgerow every now and then. But don’t walk your goat to the hedgerows, as you’ll face a nightmare of paperwork for taking them off your holding!

You’ll need to supplement that diet with what is known as ‘concentrate’ – food that has a high concentration of protein and carbs, unlike hay, which is mostly fibre. Concentrate comes in the form of pellets or a mix in 20kg sacks from an animal feed company. The amount you feed depends on various factors, such as whether the goat is in milk, in kid, a kid – that sort of thing.

Finally, it’s important to have a mineral lick. They tend to come in yellow or red, with the yellow being specifically for sheep, but either will do for goats. Just shove it up somewhere they can lick it as required.

Oh, yeah. Water! Cheap 3 gallon buckets, like the one in the photo above, work fine. You can get a wall-mounted holder from the same place you get your concentrates and licks (mineral licks!). Don’t mount it too low, otherwise you’ll find it full of goat droppings and, once it’s contaminated, the goats won’t touch it. Frustrating! Replenish it each day and they’ll be fine.

2. Shelter & Rest

The freedoms suggest an ‘appropriate environment’ is required. This doesn’t mean you need to recreate the natural environments goats live in the wild – mountains, cliffs, that sort of thing. It just means making sure the goats have appropriate housing so they can all sit down, move around and keep out of the rain, which goats HATE.

Again, I covered on this in the previous post, but it’s worth restating that you’ll want at least an 8’x6′ shed to house your goats in – that’s sufficient for two does and their kids, as long as the kids are ‘gone’ by the time they’re six months or so. And make sure the roof keeps out the weather!

3. Hygiene & The Vet

You need to be registered with a local vet before you get goats – it’s one of the requirements from DEFRA, though I can’t immediately recall who needs the contact details – either the RPA or the AHVLA (see the legal requirement post). They usually have a particular vet who has experience with goats and other livestock.

Hopefully, apart from having male kids neutered and female kids dehorned, you won’t ever have to call on that vet. But, in order to give the goats the best chance at staying well, it’s important to keep their shed clean. This means changing the straw on the floor every couple of weeks. This will stop a build up of urine and dropping, that eventually turn the straw into a rotten, stinking mat that’ll break your back when you try mucking them out. And, most importantly, it will stop the build up of disease, maggots and general nastiness.

Also, make sure there are no sharp objects around in the goat pen and keep it free of rubbish that can blow in as cause the goats to choke if they nibble them – crisp packets in particular!

4. Space & Stimulation

Goat AreaIt seems I covered quite a lot in that previous post, including this area as well. Here’s the layout of my plot of land, showing the location of the goat enclosure in the gap down the side of the house. It was roughly 4.5m x 7m (about 30 square metres), which is quite a lot of space to give up on a microholding. Even the pigs only get 28 square metres. But once you have an area fenced off, you can mix and match a bit – I also reared chicks and bred rabbits in the goat enclosure, so it was well used.

If you don’t have that much space, I reckon, as long as they have sufficient stimulation and are occasionally let out into the garden proper, you could keep them on an enclosure twice the size of your 8’x6′ shed. That’s a total of about 9 square metres.

Stimulation-wise, goats need company – without it, they wither and die. ‘Company’, as the five freedoms say, ‘of the animal’s own kind’. That means other goats, or at least one other goat. They also get on well with chickens and rabbits. But not so well with pigs or ponies, as I found out… mostly by mistake.

A few playthings don’t go amiss, and goats love to stand on tall things (an old, wooden cable reel will do, or a chair) and have rough surfaces or a post to rub themselves against. And a cabbage dangling on a string… what could be more fun than that?

5. Goatliness & Contentment

I’m not actually certain what to suggest for this, the last of the five points – I was far more concerned with giving it a pseudo-witty title. Hopefully it’s obvious that kicking, poking, slapping or otherwise being rough with goats is not good. They are very sensitive creatures, easily upset. They don’t like being chased or yelled at or dragged where they don’t want to go. When they’re being milked, they do have a tendency to step in the bucket on occasion, not out of malice (probably) but just because they happen to pick up their hooves and put them down again in the wrong place. Giving them a whack for doing so will only result in a goat that is fearful at milking time.

They basically need to be treated like goats – animals of average intelligence and delicate sensitivities. As such it’s best to talk to them calmly, approach them slowly, handle them gently and ensure they have all their other freedoms met. This will keep them from being traumatised.

Oh, and don’t set off noisy petrol mowers right next to your goats – it proper scares them and they can take days to recover. To be fair, I didn’t do it on purpose. The goat was hiding in the hay shed and gave me just as much of a fright when it leapt out as I was fiddling with the Allen Scythe.

Anyway. Those are the five freedoms – pretty straightforward an