A goat eating a shrub in the yard.taviphoto/iStock/Getty Images
Goats' greatest asset is also their biggest fault: Goats are effective in keeping weeds and brush under control, which means they also can cause major damage to shrubs, fruit vines and other landscape plants. Keeping goats contained is the best way to protect your plants from them, but goats are determined creatures that sometimes escape. With a little ingenuity, however, you can protect your most valuable plants from them.
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Browsers Not Grazers
Many people think they can buy goats to "mow" their yards, but they quickly discover the flaw in that plan. Goats will eat grass, but only as a last resort. Like deer, they are browsers, not grazers, and they prefer their food at shoulder height or higher. That makes shrubs, some fruit vines and fruit trees prime targets for the voracious eaters.
No Goat-Proof Fence
Goats are intelligent, athletic and determined, all attributes that make them difficult to contain. They have been known to climb over or crawl under woven-wire and wooden fencing. They also can learn how to open gates and let themselves out of a fenced area. One of the most reliable ways to keep goats where you want them is to use electric fencing. Electrified, 4-foot-tall, woven wire coupled with a strong solar fencer can be moved to different areas of your property; so you can contain the goats while giving them new food sources. When goats have enough to eat in their enclosure, they are less likely to leave it to eat elsewhere.
No matter how good your fence is, chances are favorable that the goats will escape it occasionally. You can protect trees from the worst of goat damage by wrapping the trees with hard-plastic tree guards. They are designed to keep deer and rodents from eating bark off trees during winter, and they also discourage goats from eating trees. The goal is to keep the goats from eating the bark all the way around a tree, or girdling it; girdling eventually kills a tree. Goats will stand on their hind legs to reach higher in a tree. So protect the bottom 5 to 6 feet of each tree. Unfortunately, tree wraps will not protect bushes or vines.
As a last resort, you could fence around shrubs, fruit vines and trees to keep goats away from them. Use 5- to 6-foot-tall hardware cloth or welded-wire fencing for a tree, staking the material 12 to 18 inches from the tree's trunk. Those materials usually are sold to make pet enclosures and garden fences. Protect shrubs and vines by building a gated fence around and over the plants, enclosing them entirely.