Over the past week we finally worked it out to where the goats can be out on pasture nearly 100% of the time. Day and night, night and day. Goats like to graze and browse at night and we want them to be able to. We've read that they can spend up to 6 hours per night grazing. Talk about party animals. I guess when you nap and chew cud throughout the day you don't need a sound night of sleep. Besides, it's a lot cooler at night and the dogs are awake then too. Who can sleep with all that barking?
That wasn't the situation for the first few weeks though. When we originally started with the goats we only had Sophie, and while she has proven to be a great guard dog at a young age (at least so far), we couldn't trust only one dog (and a puppy at that) to defend the goats. She wouldn't stand a chance against a pack of dogs or coyotes. So we had to wait for the big girls before we could leave the goats far away from home all day and all night. Once we got the big girls, however, we needed to acquaint them with the goats and our farm. We didn't want to put them out alone with the goats in the middle of the field right away. We couldn't trust them yet and they weren't accustomed to us and their new home. So we had to wait longer.
That was about two or three weeks ago. At that point we were moving the goats to electrically fenced paddocks during the day and letting the dogs run loose. This was not a great decision for a couple reasons. For one, the dogs and goats couldn't get to know each other. Here we are expecting the dogs to protect the goats, but the dogs can't even get near the goats. Dogs are terrified of the electric fence (one zap'll do ya) and they'd much rather go bark at the neighbors dogs. Then at night we didn't want the goats out alone in the fields, so we brought them in to a separately fenced off pasture near the milking area. The dogs stayed out a few hundred feet away. Again, this sent the wrong message to the dogs. They didn't have a herd to protect, they were in a new place, and they were bored.
What we should've done is kept the dogs inside the electric fence with the goats during the day when we were around to supervise and then at night put up a divider fence near the goat's nighttime pasture so that the animals could see and smell each other just a few inches away, not a few hundred feet away.
How did we know that what we were doing wasn't working? Well, for one, the dogs wouldn't stay with the goats. How could they? We were keeping them separate most of the time. The other indication was when Izzy literally climbed over our perimeter fence into the neighbor's yard and brought one of his goats over to us! Then the next day she escaped again and was found in the middle of his goat herd hanging out. When we went to get her out she came walking up to us like nothing was wrong and then wouldn't let us catch her until she led us back to her new goat herd. You could tell she was really proud of her abilities. I just wonder why his guard dogs let her do it?! But better that than a dog fight. She sure flips out when they try to come across our line...
Anyway, it was a clear sign that she needed something to do. She saw goats and she expressed her inner nature. She wanted a herd and we weren't giving it to her. So we changed our ways and now she's with the goats 100% of the time. So are Sheba and Sophie. They come and go between the paddocks and the milking parlor. They wait in the holding pasture while the goats get milked and that gives us a chance to make sure they look healthy and happy. The stay up all night protecting the goats out in the fields and we no longer have to bring them in and keep them separated every night. It's a happy family.