Temperatures are dropping and snow is starting to fall. Your goats are doing their parts to prepare for winter, growing thick undercoats to insulate them against the cold. Now, it’s your turn to help. Follow these tips to keep your herd warn, comfortable and safe until the spring thaw.
1. Secure the Shelter
Your goats need a warm, dry place to get out of the elements. Seal up any drafts in the barn and repair leaks. A buttoned-up barn isn’t just more comfortable, it can also keep your goats from getting sick. The risk for potentially fatal diseases such as pneumonia is higher for goats in damp housing.
If you don’t have a barn, offer alternate shelter for your goats. A three-sided shelter works as long as it provides sufficient protection from the elements.
Doghouses filled with straw bedding are inexpensive options for shelter, but you must provide enough for each member of the herd so the more dominant goats don’t get a comfortable place to sleep while those lower on the hierarchy are forced to brave the elements.
2. Build Up the Bedding
Our goats spend more time in the barn during nasty weather, which means urine and feces builds up faster. We muck out the stalls, removing all of the soiled bedding and replacing it with a thick layer of straw where they can bed down.
Some hobby farmers practice the “deep litter method” for the winter, adding new bedding on top of the soiled bedding. As the soiled straw starts composting, it generates heat that can help keep goats warm.
3. Watch the Water
Frozen water is a major pain. We don’t have electricity in our barn so we spent most of our first winter with goats breaking up ice in their buckets. I didn’t want to run an extension cord for a heated waterer so we bought insulated covers for the buckets. The insulator works well in North Carolina where temperatures never dip too far below freezing. In colder climates, heated buckets—placed on concrete pavers or another nonflammable surface—might be a better option. Remember to check buckets often and break up any ice that forms.
4. Stock Up on Hay
When all the leaves have fallen from the trees and the pasture is covered in snow, your goats depend on you for their supper. Make sure you have enough hay to get through the winter. Expect to go through one-third more hay in the winter because goats expend more energy to keep warm.
Plan for winter hay supplies long before winter. We had a wet summer, and hay is hard to find. We’re running low and struggling to find additional bales. As a last resort, we’ll feed the high-priced, plastic-wrapped bales from the farm store—an expensive mistake I won’t repeat next summer when the first hay is cut. Keep hay in a dry place so it doesn’t mold.
5. Consider the Kids
If you’re kidding in the winter, you have to take extra precautions to protect newborns from the elements. A warm, dry shelter is especially important for the youngest members of the herd because kids have a harder time maintaining their body temperatures.
Newborns are also susceptible to frostbite when temperatures drop below freezing. You can dry newborns with a hair dryer or provide them a spot under a heat lamp (mounted out of reach of the goats) for extra warmth. Provide lots of clean bedding and set the alarm to check kids (and pregnant does) often in the winter.
6. Maintain Herd Health
In addition to providing adequate food and fresh water, check hooves for rot, which is more common in damp conditions, and trim/treat as needed. Your goats will crowd together for warmth and their closeness could help the spread of respiratory diseases, so it’s important to monitor for symptoms and isolate and treat any sick animals before health issues spread throughout the herd.
With a little extra preparation, your goats can be happy and healthy all winter.