When it comes to taking care of domestic animals, there’s not much new under the sun left to discover. Long millennia of accumulated wisdom combined with the best in modern science has furnished us with pretty much everything we need to know about the care and wellness of different animal species, including goats.
But there are still a few contentious issues out there, believe it or not. One such issue concerning goats specifically is whether or not you should let them outside, or leave them outside, at night.
There are vocal proponents on both sides of the issue… so what’s the real story? Should you let them outside at night or not?
You can let your goats out to roam at night, but there are significant risks to doing so. Predators and theft are big issues, and so is exposure, especially if temperatures drop and it starts raining or snowing.
This is a nuanced issue. Goats can do better than you think outside at night on their own as long as they are in a secure enclosure and you are reasonably sure that predators or thieves won’t be a problem. Goats also do just fine with chili nighttime temperatures.
On the other hand, an unexpected bad turn in the weather could make them hypothermic, or even kill them. There’s a lot more you’ll want to know, and many more conditional rules concerning the practice, so read on and I’ll tell you all about it below…
Any Benefits to Leaving Goats Out at Night?
Yes, there are. Leaving your goats out at night is not just easier on you but it can also provide the goats with more exercise, more enrichment, and reduce stress.
Sometimes, when goats are put up in a confined space, especially when they’re already dealing with other stressors, this can increase their stress and they miss out on sleep that they need.
Leaving them out in an enclosure will not only allow them to roam around a little bit tonight if they want to, and perhaps nibble on some choice foods if you have them free-ranging, but also make arrangements for resting in a way that seems right to them according to their mood and needs.
What are the Downsides to Letting Goats Out at Night?
The downsides to leaving goats free to roam when night falls are like the very same ones you’re already imagining right now.
The single biggest issue is predation, and not just predation by four-legged beasts: Plenty of human thieves and malcontents start prowling at night, too, looking for an easy score for a choice opportunity to cause mayhem under the cover of darkness.
Many of the worst terrestrial predators, among them big cats, coyotes, feral dogs, and more also tend to be highly active at night when their superior senses give them an advantage over their prey, including goats.
The other major risk factor is exposure. Anywhere you live, as a rule, temperatures are going to fall at night and they can fall significantly. Even temperature swings of 30°F or more aren’t a big deal for these animals because of their highly insulating fur.
That being said, some overnight lows can be dangerous for goats, and if it rains or snows on them, or if they get wet any other way while they are outside, this can plunge them into hypothermia.
Any of these outcomes can result in dead or injured goats.
Can Goats See Well in the Dark?
Yes, or at least pretty decently. Goats actually see a little bit better in the dark than people do, and while they maintain decent visual acuity their color vision is significantly impacted.
Your goats won’t have any trouble moving around, avoiding obstacles, and finding food and water sources in the dark so long as there is some ambient light. If you free-range your herd, and they have been in the pasture for any length of time, they will know where their usual foods are and can find them easily. But, obviously, goats cannot see in pitch-black conditions with no light.
However, they don’t see well enough to get a leg up on predators or people that might try to bushwhack them, not as a rule. When it comes to avoiding predators particularly, goats are still at a marked disadvantage at night.
What Should You Do if You Want to Leave Your Herd Out at Night?
Leaving your animals out at night can be done safely, but requires that you do some preparation and assessment. The very first thing to do, and arguably most important, is to ensure that your goats have an adequate enclosure that will keep them contained.
This is for your well-being, yes, but if your goats get out at night, they’re going to be significantly more vulnerable. They can get lost, wander off and they won’t benefit from even the meager protection of a fence against predators.
Speaking of fencing, the sturdier, taller, and more secure that your fence is the better off your goats will be against all kinds of predators, be they man or beast. If you already have a good fence, now is the time to carefully inspect it looking for weak points, low spots, leaning posts, and gaps that predators or goats could use to get in or out.
Here’s a tip: watch your goats during the day and see if they are giving any part of the fence extra attention. If they are, you can be sure they have an interest in it for a reason, likely escape!
If goats are going to be let out on a nighttime romp you must also ensure they have access to shelter should they need it, even if it’s just something that can get them in out of the rain and wind. Goats that get stuck outside when it’s too cold and exposed to wind and especially moisture will soon go hypothermic and then potentially die.
Likewise, it’s not a good idea to let your goats out at night if conditions are really wet. They try to avoid wet and boggy ground when they are lying down to sleep, and in any case, they can get wet that way.
Perimeter security lighting is another worthwhile option for helping to keep animal predators away from your goats and make people think twice. Motion-activated lights that are at the fence line and facing out, away from the goats, will light up when they detect approaching movement and illuminate a possible threat. This is less likely to bother your goats but it also brings attention to the threat so they can better respond to it.
And, as ever, electric fencing is great for livestock security in both directions. The sharp pop of an electric fence will tell goats in no uncertain terms that they need to stay away from it and stay put, and any predators that come into contact with it will likewise get a strong incentive to leave your goats alone and look for dinner elsewhere.
Consider a Guardian Animal for Leaving Goats Out at Night
One great asset that can help you and your herd if you want to leave your goats to roam at night or just sleep under the stars is a livestock guardian animal of some kind. This is any sort of animal that predators, and people, might fear if they were up to no good.
This could be a dog, of course, as long as it is trained and trustworthy around your goats and your goats don’t hate it, but other inspired choices could be a mule or donkey, alpaca, or even a huge bird like an emu or ostrich.
Dogs are a natural choice because of their excellent senses and propensity to protect when trained. A dog’s barking is also likely to wake you up at night if the pasture or enclosure is nearby. Donkeys and mules can be surprisingly ferocious, especially compared to horses, and many donkeys naturally hate coyotes and wolves.
I know they might not seem like it, alpacas are pretty large and intimidating and have natural protective instincts for the animals they’re kept with.
An emu or ostrich can be a very real threat to man and beast alike, but your concern is to make sure that it gets along with your goats.
Can You Stake or Tether Goats at Night?
It’s tempting to consider staking or tying out your goats at night to keep them in place and accounted for, but this is a really bad idea. Although practice is contentious for goats and worth a whole other article itself, you definitely don’t want to do it at night. That’s because you’ll be asleep, and won’t be there or be aware of any problems that can and will develop.
Goats can get their tethers snagged on all kinds of obstacles, including their own horns or other goats, and this can immobilize them or even start to strangle them. If you aren’t awake and nearby enough to intervene, you might once again have a dead or injured goat.
Just don’t tether or stake your goats at night! Let them roam free, or put them up.
Is There a Good Reason Not to Put Your Herd Up at Night?
Honestly, no, with few exceptions. One of those exceptions is if your barn or other shelter is just too crowded to comfortably accommodate all of your goats. Cramped conditions can lead to flaring tempers, loss of sleep, stress, fatigue, and fights.
Another good reason might be if you have a mixed herd and don’t have separate accommodations for bucks and does. Bucks will give does constant attention during mating season, even when they need to be resting, and this can lead to more of the problems detailed in the previous paragraph.
And, of course, bucks will fight like devils among themselves to establish dominance, and packing them into close quarters in dark conditions is only going to lead to total pandemonium.
Ensure Nursing Does and Kids are Always Secure When the Sun Goes Down
One last consideration: no matter what the conditions are like on your property, no matter how safe it might be from predators and thieves, you always, always, always want to put up does and kids when the sun goes down.
There’s a host of good reasons for this: for starters, kids are simply much more vulnerable to all the bad things that can happen at night compared to adults, as described throughout this article.
Another is that nursing does that get stressed out might wind up rejecting their kids or having problems with lactation, some of which will impede production while others can be a threat to her health and well-being.
Even if you’ve got to rig up simple accommodations just for moms and kids while the rest of the herd stays outside, you should do so.
Tim is a farm boy with vast experience on homesteads, and with survival and prepping. He lives a self-reliant lifestyle along with his aging mother in a quiet and very conservative little town in Ohio. He teaches folks about security, prepping and self-sufficiency not just through his witty writing, but also in person.
Find out more about Tim and the rest of the crew here.