The Devil makes work for idle hands, goes the saying, undoubtedly made up to apply to naughty humans, but which could just as easily have been made up about goats.
South African smallholders are likely to roll their eyes at the idea of providing “intellectual” or physical stimulation for their livestock. But the one topic that they will concede is that it is important to keep goats entertained and busy.
That is because goats are clever, curious and energetic, so when they are bored they are likely to get up to mischief. They love to wander around, lounge or find stuff to head butt. They are also infamous escape artists, but the theory is that if the goats’ pasture has enough entertainment, they won’t try to escape.
They like to jump and climb. The easiest things to add to your pasture for their amusement are large tree stumps, preferably of different heights, and logs of different lengths. Providing stumps at increasing heights will keep them going up and up and then leaping off the tallest one with great gusto.
If the stumps have rough bark so much the better, as goats love to scratch. They scratch their sides, they scratch their heads, they scratch their rumps and they will scratch their belly if they can find something to rub them on. Having a nice, rough log lying around in their pen will give them something to rub their sides and bellies on.
You can also make a scratch post by screwing hard scrubbing brushes or a broom head to posts or trees.
Goats are browsers. If they do not have access to trees, the next time you are trimming branches throw some into the goat pen. It is a wonderful treat for your goats and will keep them busy for a while.
Or install a trampoline. The goats will love bouncing on it, even a small one.
Pallets can provide the start to a jungle gym for goats: leave the pallets intact and stack them at various heights. Put the stacks next to each other so that the goats can climb from stack to stack. You can also add “bridges” by putting wooden boards between stacks so that they can walk from stack to stack.
Another cheap goat toy is to use scrap wood to build tables, benches or other platforms for your goats.
Wooden cable drums will also be useful as platforms for them to jump onto and cascading different size spools make great goat toy obstacle courses.
You can create a see-saw by attaching a sturdy plank to an upturned bucket or rock as the fulcrum. Or sink a tyre half into the ground and attach the plank to that.
Some goats enjoy kicking around hard plastic balls, while others love climbing or jumping on to large exercise balls. Some people hang a ball from a fence which the goats enjoy butting.
Different sized tyres can be stacked for them to jump on or set into the ground to form tunnels. An old water tank with both ends taken off will also make a tunnel.
They enjoy ramps, so you can carve steps into a tree log which can be attached to the side of one of your stacks. Keep a lookout for second hand jungle gyms that you can adapt. They even enjoy slides.
If you have large rocks on your property, you can make a rock playground. Again, anything goats can climb on makes great goat toys. The added bonus of using rocks is that the texture of the rocks will help keep the goats hooves worn down and you won’t have to trim their hooves as often.
All these things need to be put in the centre of your field though. Make sure that you do not put anything that goats can climb on too close to their fences, as it will create an escape route for them. They will jump from high objects to clear a fence and get out.
To keep your goats amused make sure they always have plenty of hay, fresh foraging grass and branches to nibble on, and a mineral block for licking and jumping on.