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Question of the Week: Horses, Goats and Health Concerns

Are there any health risks in keeping goats and horses together?

20-Dec-11

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GoatQ: Is there ever a problem of keeping horses with goats? I was worried about diseases and transference between species. I don't know a thing about goats, but I’m contemplating getting some to clean up the weeds in the pasture and be companions for my horses.

A: A goat (or goats) makes a great companion for a horse (or horses). There are not any major diseases that goats can pass to horses, or vice versa, and even their primary pathological gastrointestinal parasites are different, making this interspecies upkeep, at least from a medical standpoint, fairly simple.

In terms of diet, goats are by definition browsers and will nibble on branches, weeds, trees, and bushes that horses won’t usually touch, leaving the lush grass for the true grazers, the equines. Goats can be extremely useful for cleaning up underbrush. Like horses, goats do not require grain supplementation unless they are young and still growing, pregnant or nursing, or debilitated. Most adult goats can maintain a healthy weight on roughage alone and hay supplementation in the winter. In fact, feeding excess concentrate to male goats predisposes them to urinary calculi (stones) and urethral blockages, a usually lethal condition in this species.

Truthfully, the most challenging aspect of keeping goats is how to keep them IN. Goats are notorious escape artists and require fencing that is likely quite different from what you are currently using for your horses. Surprisingly nimble and agile, goats can slip through, climb over, or shimmy under many types of fences and a regular three board horse fence will not contain a goat of any type. Many goats will respect an electrical fence and the key is to make sure the hot wire is at goat height, but not high enough that they can crawl under it.

One word of warning: if you decide to introduce goats to your horse herd, do so slowly. If you can, try to place the goats in one field and the horses in the next field so both species can get a good look at each other before occupying the same piece of land. This is more for the goats’ benefit than the horses’. Some horses, if they’ve never seen a goat before, may either be scared, curious, or outright vicious. A safe acclimatization period in separate fields is needed to figure this out.

Goats require some vaccines that are different than what horses require and their hoof care is a bit different, so contact your veterinarian for any further detailed goat questions. However, goats in general are fairly easy to maintain and extremely entertaining to watch and interact with. I’ve known a few older horses with goats as their best friends and the interspecies bond is very endearing.

-- Anna O'Brien

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Reader Comments

Joyce    Vestaburg, MI

6/7/2014 11:00:39 AM

It took only one day for my Mare Sapphire to fall in love with her new friend Ginger, a young doe, now you can't separate them, plus never did I know how very smart and clever Goats are, and how they fall in love with human and horses. Sapphire a large horse of built, always watches where her goat is before she lays down, and treats her like a foal, even the real low soft neigh, it's amazing to see this!

Jessie    Indianapolis, IN

1/16/2012 12:54:45 PM

This is good information, but it's been "Question of the Week" for like 3 weeks.

o    o, OH

1/8/2012 11:53:46 PM

Great companions!

Cara    Grafton, MA

1/5/2012 9:59:36 AM

My barn keeps two dwarf goats with their mini, they are great company for each other!

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