Keeping goats with chickens is possible and can benefit both species.
So you’ve had chickens for awhile and are enjoying those awesomely flavorful homegrown eggs. Now maybe you’re thinking about getting dairy goats to round out your backyard homestead and start raising goats for milk.
A lot of people, including me, keep both chickens and goats as a significant step toward self-sufficiency. But as picturesque as it may be to keep chickens together with goats, housing them together may not be the greatest idea. Let’s look at the pros and cons of keeping goats with chickens.
To keep up milk production, goats must be milked every day. I, along with a lot of other goat keepers, milk once a day. Most goat keepers milk twice a day, and some milk three times daily. Since a doe’s body produces milk in response to an empty udder, more frequent milking results in more milk. Even at once a day, I get more milk from our Nubians than our family can use.
So what do I do with the surplus? I feed it to the chickens. Goat milk benefits them, as well.
Whenever I clean out the goats’ manger, or hay feeder, I save the fines — those bits of plant leaves and seeds that accumulate at the bottom of the manger. Whenever I have extra milk, I mix in a handful of fines and let the milk ferment overnight. By morning it has turned to a soft cheese-like consistency with a divinely herbal odor. As tempting as it smells, I’ve never tasted it, but my chickens mob me when they see the milk bucket coming. The fines are nutritious, the fermented milk is nutritious, and the combination helps reduce the cost of buying commercial layer ration.
To my knowledge, no one has found an easy way to “housebreak” goats so they don’t mess up their bedding with manure and urine. My goats, in fact, will come in fresh from the pasture and promptly “do their duty” the moment they step inside the door — the more so if the stall was recently cleaned. Chickens help reduce the resulting population of flies and other pesky bugs. And they will eat any slugs or snails that wander through the grazing area, helping protect the goats from the nasty parasite known as deer worm. For more on deer worm in sheep and goats, see the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Countryside.
Chickens also enjoy playing keep-away with any hapless mouse that might be attracted by the nesting possibilities provided by hay, as well as free meals of goat chow. Another way chickens discourage mice is by cleaning up spilled goat ration.
Dairy goats, being notoriously finicky eaters, may suddenly turn up their noses at the same goat chow they’ve been bolting down for months. Chickens, on the other hand, are much less fussy and are more than happy to clean up any leftover or spilled ration. While goat feed isn’t a balanced ration for chickens, eating it occasionally, along with everything else the chickens glean by foraging, adds variety to their regular layer ration.
Chickens Are Messy
On the downside, chickens are not particular about where they poop, and if they happen to be perching on the edge of the goat manger, their deposits are liable to land in the goats’ hay. Being picky eaters, the goats will stop eating hay until the manger is cleaned out (and, if necessary, scrubbed clean) and fresh hay is furnished. Not only is a lot of hay wasted, but you end up having to deal with all that waste hay. Composting is, of course, a sensible option, but trucking out wheelbarrow loads of hay, rain or shine, gets old fast.
The water bucket is another potential source of contamination. A chicken will get poop into the water by roosting on the edge of the bucket with its tail hanging over the water or will drop poop from its feet by standing on the rim of the bucket to drink. Dairy goats need lots of fresh water to produce lots of milk, but if the water is the slightest bit off, they stop drinking.
Chickens don’t just contribute their own poop, they soil the bedding by stirring up the goats’ contributions. While eating from the manger, my goats pull out occasional bits of hay and drop them in the stall, giving themselves a clean bedding surface to lie on. But in scratching through bedding for bugs and their larva, the chickens churn up soiled bedding from underneath. And, if they are allowed to roost in the rafters during the night, the chickens will rain down poop on the sleeping goats. P.U!
Hens Lay Eggs
Yes, that’s what you keep them for. But given the choice between laying their eggs in the nests you furnish or laying in the hay manger, hens will choose the nice soft hay in the manger every time. If you’re lucky, you’ll gather up the eggs before any get broken.
Who breaks the eggs? Who knows. Sometimes they get broken by two hens squabbling over a choice corner of the manger. Sometimes a layer gets nudged in the butt by a curious goat and accidentally smashes the egg she just laid. Sometimes a goat upsets the eggs by rummaging in the manger for the finest bits of hay. Broken eggs make a mess. Messy hay means more hay wasted.
Goat Behavior And Misbehavior
Goats, especially young ones, can get pretty frisky. Any chicken that is unfortunate enough to be in the way when a goat literally bounces off the barn wall may get landed on. Luckily, chickens are pretty nimble, minimizing the chance of incurring lameness or any other serious injury. In 30 years of keeping goats with chickens, I have never had a chicken injured by a goat — to my knowledge.
However, not all chicken and goat keepers have been so lucky. Baby chicks are especially in danger of being stepped on. But even a grown chicken can get trampled by a herd of goats romping across the yard.
A playful goat may head-butt a chicken. The goat does it in fun, but for the chicken it can be lethal. Most goats wouldn’t deliberately harm a chicken, but accidents can and do happen.
Turnabout is fair play. Goats, being eternally curious, might want a close look at a hen that’s foraging in the bedding or laying an egg in the manger. For its trouble, the goat may get a sharp peck on the muzzle.
One of the biggest issues of keeping goats with chickens is that goats love chicken feed. A goat will stretch its neck and reach with its tongue trying to empty a just-out-of-range chicken feeder. A goat that’s small enough to fit will squeeze through a pophole door to clean out a feeder inside the coop. Eating a little chicken feed once in a while won’t hurt a goat, but goats don’t know when to stop, and eating a lot of chicken ration can cause serious health issues.
Goats and chickens are both susceptible to the devastating protozoal disease coccidiosis. However, coccidiosis is host specific, meaning the protozoa that infect chickens do not infect goats, and conversely, the protozoa that infect goats do not infect chickens. So contrary to common belief, chickens cannot get coccidiosis from goats, and goats cannot get coccidiosis from chickens. However, other diseases are of potential concern.
One such disease is cryptosporidiosis, caused by the protozoan cryptosporidia. These intestinal chicken parasites affect both birds and mammals. Unlike coccidia, they are not host specific, meaning chickens can get crypto from infected goats, and goats can get crypto from infected chickens. Crypto is not uncommon in confined young chickens and can be disastrous for baby goats.
Another potential health issue of keeping goats with chickens is salmonella bacteria, which live in the intestines of chickens (and other animals). Since chickens are not particular about where they poop, a doe’s udder can get filthy when the goat rests in soiled bedding. A kid that subsequently nurses from such a goat can get a lethal dose of salmonella. Not only that but if you’re not meticulous about cleaning your does before each milking, some of that poop may end up in your milk pail.
Despite all these problems, lots of people have managed keeping goats with chickens. The solution is to provide them with separate housing, encourage the chickens to sleep in their own quarters at night, but allow them to share the same pastures during the day. The real trick is to keep the chickens out of the goat barn, and the goats out of the chicken coop.
Unless you have a big enough yard to entirely separate the chicken area from the goat area, keeping chickens out of the goats’ quarters is no easy task. Somewhat helpful is confining the chickens to their own quarters until they know where they’re supposed to sleep at night. When they are eventually let out to forage during the day, they will return to their own coop at night. That, at least, solves the problem of chickens sleeping in the goats’ manger or up in the rafters.
My chickens have their own coop at one end of the barn, while the goats live at the other end. When I start each year’s new flock of layers, sometimes the hens will take the better part of a year to find their way into the goat’s quarters; other years they make the discovery in a flash. Many times one exploring hen or rooster discovers the goat stall, and in short order shares the exciting find with numerous flock mates. Catching that first bird in the act and finding it a new home can delay mass migration by others.
Keeping goats out of the chicken coop is the easier part of the deal. Most mature goats can’t fit through a pophole-size doorway. Where miniature goats or young kids are involved, some engineering may be required — for instance, making the pophole just wide enough for one chicken at a time to squeeze through, or elevating the doorway with access via a series of perches designed to defy a goat’s notorious climbing abilities.
Bottom line: Although housing chickens and goats together is a bad idea, keeping goats with chickens on the same property, and letting them share the same foraging areas, can be successfully done. By using a little creativity — to encourage the chickens to stay out of the goat’s quarters, and the goats to stay out of the chicken’s quarters — chickens and goats can and will coexist peacefully.
Are you keeping goats with chickens? Tell us about your experiences.
Gail Damerow is the author of The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals as well as several volumes on chicken keeping including The Chicken Encyclopedia, The Chicken Health Handbook, Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks, and the classic Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. Gail’s books are available from our bookstore.
Originally published in Backyard Poultry October/November 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.