I live in the Smoky Mountains. My property is bounded on one side by a fast flowing stream, and on the back side of my land is several hundred uninhabited acres. Our nearest neighbor is 1/2 mile away. I would like to avoid the expense of fencing in a large area on a rugged landscape, and have wondered about the possibility of free range goats. I was thinking about starting with young goats and raising them with a Great Pyrenees puppy for protection. They would be kept in a pen while young, then when older let out during the day to forage.
Our land was clear cut about 8 years ago, and my main purpose for having the goats is to clear the underbrush. Depending on the type of goat best suited for this environment, we would also use them for milk or meat as appropriate.
I grew up with cows, horses, chickens, etc. but goats are outside my experience. What type of goat would work best in this environment? Do goats return to their shelter at night, and would having a guard dog with them help them find their way home? Any other suggestions?
The best goat breed for all pasture low imput husbandry, is the breed Kiko. They are a meat breed with all forage, zero imput breed standard. Meaning cull for parasite problems, feet problems, mothering problems, slow growth rates, or even bad instincts. Essentially make sure they have good water, good pasture/forage and preditor protection.
Without fencing you may need a herding dog that is trained in the boundaries, if your goats are prone to wandering to far. You may also need to train that herding dog to bring them in at night, which is the easy part. Though if raised from kids being sheltered at night, and given quality grass hay, or have some free choice supplement treats like kelp available: the goats may naturally come in at night. The herding dog best suited to the spacific task of maintaining boundaries, are in the German Shepard lines, spacifically breed for herding: as they are often trained for boundary work. Im not sure how well they would do unsupervised though, as some working breeds will work themselves do death. So it would take time to train the heard, the dogs, and properly evaluate if they can be left to work unsupervised. A unruly herd can work a good dog to death. There can also be issues that arise between LSG dogs, and herding dogs. Meaning sometimes the LSG dogs will stop the herding dogs from doing their jobs by perceiving them as a threat. So to implement your plans will depend on the goats themselves: how far they wander, the natural barriers like streams which may prevent wandering to far, how the herd reacts to the herd dog, how the LSG reacts to the herd dog, and the breed of goat you choose.
Kikos are strictly a meat goat. Though in one trial a kiko out performed one breed of dairy goat in milk production, but that doesn't mean the milk was desirable in flavor. Kikos will average 1.75 kids per year, if you keep the billy back to time your kidding for late spring, alowing only one kidding per year. If you alow the billy to breed year round, they will have more kids, but at bad times requiring intervention: which isn't recomended in areas with distinct winters.
Better plan on coyotes and/or coy wolves wiping out your herd if you aren't going to keep them fenced to protect them from predators. Please rethink that plan. And, yes, I have goats ( and coyotes ) on my farm. Spending money on a very good fence to protect your livestock and poultry assets is a wise investment.
How about llama or donkey guard instead of a dog?
Or maybe, just use llama or donkey period, skip the goats.
The use you have for them resembles keeping guinea fowl for tick control, and I would expect a some losses.
Your free ranging situation sounds similar to mine. I have a small herd of dairy goats and keep them without any fences, and they wander about a bit, but they always come back when it's milking time or treat time, and if there's a comfortable undercover place for them to go at night that's close to the milking area and treats, then they go here at night, and then go out browsing during the day. To do this successfully I think there needs to be a time of adjustment for them to get used to where home is, and where the treats are, so if you can set up a small fenced area with a shelter for them, they can stay there for a while until they've settled in and get used to getting treats at certain times of the day.
Kidding time can be a bit more stressful with free range goats, and can involve a lot of observation of them to work out when one is going to kid in the next few hours, and observing which direction she goes off in. Alternatively at kidding time, one free range goatherd I know keeps the goats that are very close to kidding in a paddock near the house so he can keep an eye on them - this is what I'd like to do eventually.
Free ranging a small herd doesn't really do much towards clearing brush, and higher numbers will lead to them eating their favourite plants, leaving the rest, and possibly compacting parts of the land. Most people who want to clear brush will concentrate their goats over a smaller area, and then quickly move them on to another area by using portable fencing. I don't really mind that my goats are not clearing brush, as they are producing food and spreading manure on land that would currently not feed other animals, plus I love goats, milk, and cheese.