Goats Prepare for Winter
Goats aren’t indoor pets for us. But it’s tough sometimes when we must leave them in the paddock at -26ºC while we go into our toasty warm cabin. Sounds a bit cruel even, but goats are built for this. Back when the Autumn temps started dropping, they started growing their Winter coats. Now they are the softest and fluffiest they will be all year. In the Spring they will start to shed their Winter coats. You’ll see the fluffy stuff everywhere.
There are really two critical things that we do to help them during these really cold weeks.
Winter Wind Breaks
First, the raw temperature isn’t as much of a concern as the wind, so we add extra windbreaks and pad their beds to give them more insulation. Many of the goats will snuggle up to share heat. Early on we were introduced to the convenience of IBC totes as shelters. With the metal cage removed they are light and easy to move while being an excellent wind break. The totes offer no real insulation but if the goats are eating enough hay an insulated shelter isn’t very important. The barn is usually reserved for kidding but we bring the does and kids into the barn if a blizzard is coming in just to give them a little more wind protection.
We know that a lot of folks use platforms to keep the goats up off the ground. These are great in many situations but our goats live the majority of their lives in pasture where platforms aren’t practical. We also have very sandy soil so drainage is good and soggy ground isn’t a concern. Our paddock is large for the number of goats we have so we don’t try to put bedding down everywhere. Instead, we create several areas where we build up bedding over the course of the Winter. That gives the goats options of where they want to lay down. The totes and the barn stalls always get deep-litter bedding.
Hay, lots of hay
The second really important thing is lots of hay that they can eat quickly. We never feed pellets here, just organic hay. The hay is fed using a slow-feed net which helps control the waste normally associated with the goat’s bad table manners. When temps start to drop below about -14ºC we start to give them more loosely packed nets and supplement with loose hay piles. We see more waste but it’s really important that the goats get a lot of hay as quickly as they can eat it. That hay is actually what keeps them warm because their four stomachs act as a big internal furnace breaking down the hay as fuel. The waste is more than acceptable to keep them warm, and it just adds to the deep-litter bedding.
That’s about it for what we do to keep our goats happy all Winter. Water is a story for another time. Frostbite is another interesting topic for another post if folks are interested. If you’re new to goats, don’t panic and don’t become overly protective. Give the goats what they need to naturally manage their environment and they will be fine.