Safely Tethering Dairy Goats

When you’re looking for a way to restrain your goats but don’t have sturdy perimeter fencing, goat tethering may be the way to go. There are a few things to consider before you tether your goats so that you do it in such a way as to ensure the animal’s health and safety.

Materials
The following materials are what you will need to safely tether your goats:

  • Heavyweight/heavy duty swivel clip
  • 50′ of nylon rope
  • Sturdy collar or harness, we prefer the ones with metal clips
  • 6′ length of 1/2″ pvc pipe
  • Tie-out stake with swivel loop

A few notes on materials: the swivel clips, swivel stakes, and PVC are the most integral parts of the whole process. The swivel action will prevent the animal from getting choked or tangled by the collar and clip becoming twisted too tightly around the animal’s neck. Using another type of clip such as a carabineer is not safe as the rope can become twisted too taut and result in strangulation. Some people use breakaway plastic chain collars. Personally, I don’t find them sturdy enough and my goats are really strong so we use collars designed for large (50+ lbs) dogs. Make sure the area is cleared of small trees or large vines which could present problems resulting in tangled goats or choking goats. I typically go through the next grazing area with some loppers and cut any saplings or vines that are under 2″ diameter, and any closer together than 1 foot. This way, the goats can move semi-freely between things without immediately becoming tangled around trees and not being able to reach food.

The PVC pipe is how you train the goats to step OVER the rope instead of getting it wound around their legs. For this to work, the pipe needs to be no less than 6′ long, and no more than 1′ from the swivel clip. Secure the pvc in place by tying a simple square knot at each end. If you have the PVC any farther from the swivel clip at the collar, it completely touches the ground and they can get tangled in the short end of rope between the PVC and the collar. Ideally, the top of the PVC should be about at their knees.

Swivel clip attached to rope via hitch knot, 1′ length of rope, followed by PVC secured by a square knot on either end

To fasten the stake end of the rope to the stake, as well as the rope to the swivel clip, I use hitch knots. These are great because as the goats pull on the rope, they actually get tighter.

Tie-out stake with swivel and rope secured with hitch knot

You will have to replace the PVC and/or rope eventually. The PVC will weaken over time as it is exposed to UV rays and the goats may bend/break especially if you have them in brushy areas with small saplings, they can wrap it around them and bend it into all sorts of unique shapes.

Cracked and broken PVC, time to replace!

We give our goats a 50′ radius of grazing area. They are able to clear it in about 3-4 days, depending on the thickness and whether it is more grass or brush. Grass is cleared last, but faster because a) they prefer broadleaf brushy plants, and b) they trample most of it down.

Luna stepping over her PVC
PVC too far from swivel clip.

Simply because of the way goats biology works in chewing and swallowing cud, they instinctively reach up for food. So don’t tether your goats in lush green pasture grass and think they’ll mow it for you; that’s what sheep are for. My goats tend to go for stuff between 3-5′ off the ground. And then they start getting creative and climbing on small trees and rocks to reach stuff higher up. They’re fun to watch. I have one who is especially fond of English ivy. She cleared a mature hickory tree of it 8′ up!

1 week after move, still mostly dirt, but that stubborn kudzu is already coming back
After 4 days of clearing
Mulberry leaves bigger than my face

We have tried a few different kinds of stakes and keep coming back to these we found at Tractor Supply Co. and they run about $10 each. We started with 2, and then quickly realized that they take a lot of wear and tear, especially the place where the top swivel part is welded on. We’ve broken 2 so far in a year. Your best bet is to map out where you plan on grazing your goats. Make sure there is a full 2 tethers’ length between each goat so that they don’t tangle their ropes around each other, and then strategically place your stakes where they can stay semi-permanently. Then you don’t have to pull them up and drive them in every 4 days, you can just untie the hitch knot at the stake end and move the rope to the next tether station in your grazing progression.

To move the stakes, we actually have a mattock. For those of you who don’t know tools by their names, it’s this thing, looks like something one of the 7 dwarves would carry. I use the wide flat end like a pry bar to get under the top of the stake and pry it out of the ground. It’s super heavy, by that I mean, closer to 10lbs than the 2.5lbs ones that Lowe’s carries. So I actually started using the top end of it to drive the stakes instead of carrying it and a 4-pound sledgehammer around.

Mattock

Watering for us is not an issue; you can place buckets of water at the end of the tether length, but we’ve found they don’t typically drink from them as much as poop in them during the day, and we ended up lugging and dumping full, but dirty buckets of water around to wash out and refill. Goats actually get the majority of their water intake from leaves they eat throughout the day. My goats typically drink less than 2 gallons of water each day, the exceptions being when they are in milk, or if it is the middle of summer, so 90°F+ outside. So it really isn’t worth installing watering systems for them. We just fill their water buckets at the end of each day when we close them up in the barn for the night.

Luna and Tumnus getting their evening drinks

We close up our goats every evening in the barn with a manger full of hay or tree hay (depending on season) and their full 2-gallon water buckets. I do not recommend leaving your goats tethered overnight unless you have full confidence in a highly capable LGD. Should a predator come at night, the goat is stuck on the tether line and cannot flee or defend itself easily.

It is also extremely important to note that the goats must be trained to the tether. What do I mean by that? It takes the goat about 2 full weeks to figure out how to step over the PVC rope consistently and not get tangled up. Tangles will happen. It’s just sheer probability. Do not leave your goats unattended on the tether if you are away from home, or unable to assist them should they become tangled and distressed.

Especially if you are planning on tethering goats that are used to free-range pasture, it will take some time for them to learn the tether. Dairy animals in milk especially need to be watched and trained during this time because tangles can sometimes result in injuries to the full udders.

I do not tether kids under 20lbs. If you’ve ever watched a kid, they’re far too spastic to be tethered without seriously injuring themselves. We lost our buckling Fonso at 6 months old, and he was just about 30lbs, just learning the tether. Even doing what we could to make sure he was safe, accidents happen, so don’t cut corners and make costly mistakes. Just be mindful that kids are juvenile prey animals and they panic when afraid. Leaving a scared juvenile goat attached to a tether without supervision is a mistake no one wants to make. Be vigilant, and be present. I spend a lot of time with the goats and I do check on them multiple times throughout the day to make sure they can access forage and are free from tangles.

I hope this proves helpful to you in caring for your goats! Feel free to leave any feedback or questions in the comments below!

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