If you're among the growing number of small farm owners raising goats, you've already discovered the feisty, funny and occasionally stubborn behaviors that make caring for them fun and challenging. Whether you're raising goats for the meat market or boutique products such as handcrafted soap, artisan cheese and luxurious fibers, the herd requires sturdy fences and shelter. Goats used for production need the protection a barn offers against variable weather conditions and potential predators. In addition to cozy housing, a well-designed goat barn has ample storage space for hay and grain, kidding pens where does are separated for birthing, an equipment storage area, and a milking parlor and shearing area. The value of this structure and its caprine residents is too high to leave fire prevention and protection to chance. With a combination of good construction, proper fire-suppression equipment and great safety practices, the risk of fire cruelly wiping out your animals and property investment can be significantly reduced.
The goat barn needs to be built with the same fire-safety consciousness you would use on any other structure housing living beings. This includes:
- Safe, code-compliant electrical wiring for lighting, equipment operation and supplemental heating, if necessary.
- A secondary exit besides the main door, both of which can be used as fire escape routes.
- Non-combustible metal beams, rafters and roof instead of traditional wood roofing materials.
Fire Sprinkler System
When you move from having a few goats as a hobby into the commercial production level of small farm management, it's wise to invest in an automatic sprinkler system. The price might seem steep, but the cost of physical and emotional damage from a devastating fire can have an unfortunate, long-lasting impact on your farm operation. When you have the drawings for your new barn, meet with a fire sprinkler system contractor who will design a layout that includes:
- smoke detectors which may be placed in the equipment and pen areas to sense highly flammable fuel or paper fires;
- heat detectors which are often situated over the feed storage area in case moisture content of the hay causes spontaneous combustion;
- water pipes attached to overhead beams or rafters in a pattern designed for rapid, even disbursement of fire-quenching liquid;
- sprinkler heads affixed to the water pipes and properly sized to spray an adequate volume of water to extinguish a fire as soon as it is detected;
- water supply connectors and valves to link the system with the water source;
- and, a control panel to regulate on/off actions and manage water and air pressure as the water flows through the pipes.
If possible, arrange a meeting with your building contractor and the sprinkler system contractor to work out any revisions for optimal performance and budget considerations. You'll also need to make arrangements for regular inspection and maintenance by a qualified fire sprinkler system technician once the barn is in full operation and housing your herd. The routine appointment will include testing for operational integrity and cleaning to ensure that all the parts are in good working order in case a fire emergency arises.
Fire Prevention Practices
No smoking, no open fires and no oil- or gas-burning lanterns in or near the barn may seem like common sense to a small farm operator. But where there are goats there are often guests who are enchanted by livestock with all that personality, so state your rules clearly and often. Also make sure that electrical appliances – like shears for cutting fleece – are in good condition with no bare wires. Never allow cleaning solvents or other flammable liquids in the barn. And always have fire extinguishers nearby in case a flame is accidentally sparked in spite of all your best efforts.