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Tips for keeping goats warm in the winter

Tips for keeping goats warm in the winter

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Probably by the time you read this, the ‘Artic Vortex’ will have disappeared and there will be a major heat wave across North America. Regardless, this information should be relevant for anyone raising goats where temperatures tend to dip below freezing.

 

Here are some tips for keeping your goats warm in the winter:

 

Eating for Heating – In her Hoegger Farmyard article “Eating for heating! How a goat’s rumen works”, Meghan Leonard does a wonderful job of explaining how roughage is fermented in the rumen, creating heat for the goat from the inside out. Thus, roughage in the form of long-stem fibrous material, ie: hay, silage, beat pulp shreds, brush, grass, fodder, etc, is essential to keeping a goat warm in the winter. Goats can actually freeze to death if fed a diet of all grain and no hay because their rumen has no roughage to break down.

 

Insulation – Pretty much everyone who lives where it gets cold in the winter understands the value of insulation in their house. Insulation is used to create a negative air space between the cold outside air and the warm inside air. This keeps the heat in and the cold out. If insulation is valued in houses, why do so few people insulate their barns? Insulation for the barn may seem like a large investment but it will pay you back when your animals are warm and comfy. And remember, doing chores in an insulated barn is a lot more enjoyable than in a regular barn.

 

Ventilation – Warm air rises and cold air sinks. This layer of cold air on the barn floor can accumulate toxic gases like ammonia from animal waste. Proper ventilation helps to move the cold, smelly air out and push the warm air from the barn ceiling down to the animals’ level. Be careful, though, because improperly done ventilation can create drafts where wind and cold air are able to blow on the animals. Drafts are very dangerous to goats and leave them likely to develop pneumonia. Ventilation is good, drafts are bad.

 

Support good fur growth – Goats are luckily adapted to grow furry coats for the winter. Most breeds of goats have a two layer fur system with long guard hairs on top and fluffy cashmere underneath. The cashmere works as insulation and the guard hairs help to keep water and dirt off of the goat’s skin and undercoat. Certain mineral deficiencies can lead to poor fur growth. Zinc and copper are both known to be related to hair health. You can support your goat’s fur growth by properly supplementing them with the minerals they need.

 

Don’t coat your goats – Although it may seem counter-intuitive, using coats or covers on your goats over long periods of time can hinder good fur growth and make them colder in the long run. Goat coats and coverings are great to use for a short time if the goat has recently been shorn, has shedded prematurely or is ill and having trouble maintaining proper body temperature. Goat coats can be detrimental if used all the time. Their fur can get rubbed off by the coat and the goat will come to rely on a covering in order to maintain body temperature.

 

Hydration – Everyone knows that drinking lots of water in hot weather is very important to avoid dehydration. Well, drinking water in cold weather is equally important. Most goats tend to drink less water in winter when the water is very cold or icy. Only desperate goats will eat ice or snow for hydration. Thus it is essential to provide a source of warm to moderately cold water at all times in the winter. The easiest way to do this is to have heated buckets or other types of water heating devices in the barn. If you don’t have electricity in your barn then you should provide water to your goats with several installments of fresh water throughout the day. Don’t forget to keep your water buckets and troughs clean in the winter. Goats don’t like dirty or stale water so keeping everything clean and fresh is important. I know it can be a real pain to carry water to the barn in winter, but it will keep your goats healthier and happier.

 

Exercise – Even with snow on the pastures, your goats will enjoy the benefits of being able to get outside for a few hours every day. The exception, of course, is when it is extremely cold out, very windy, or actively precipitating. Exercise helps to create heat, alleviates boredom, and provides social enrichment when two or more goats can play together. Providing plenty of toys and vertical diversity in the form of platforms, climbing blocks, and multi-level shelters will encourage your goats to exercise and play while spending their time out in the cold. Having multiple feeding stations in the pasture will also encourage your goats to move around.

 

Keep them off the ground – If the proliferation of portable cots, sleeping pads, and fancy sleeping bags is any clue, then this means sleeping directly on the ground is no fun. Goats have the same opinion as human campers. When given the choice, most goats prefer to rest off of the ground on sturdy resting platforms or deep bedding piles. An easy to clean resting platform is ideal because it keeps the goat off of the soiled bedding which can limit parasite populations. Platforms should be 4-8” off of the ground in order to create a dead air space underneath to insulate the goat from the cold ground. Fresh, deep bedding can also help keep a goat warm while it is lying down. Lying directly on a dirt or concrete floor can pull heat from the goat’s body in winter.

 

Rose Bartiss has been raising goats near Vermontville, New York, for 10 years. She has raised dairy goats, meat goats, and fiber goats. Over the years, she has learned a lot of information and tips for raising happy and healthy goats. Rose loves to share the information she has learned to help goat owners and aspiring goat owners to take good care of their animals. Goats are intelligent, resourceful, funny, useful animals that have unique needs when compared to other farm livestock.
In 2011, Rose stared the Adirondack Goat Club to bring together goat owners and enthusiasts all over the area. The mission of the club is to create a network of people who can rely on each other for help with their goats, for the sharing of information and equipment, and for the sale and trade of quality animals.
Rose lives on her farm with her husband and 3 year-old daughter. Currently the animal count is up to three Alpine dairy goats, one Saanen dairy goat, two Boer meat goats, one Angora fiber goat, 28 chickens, one rabbit, one barn cat, and two dogs. The extra milk on the farm goes into goat milk soap that Rose sells locally.
Contact Rose Bartiss at rosesgoats@gmail.com or follow her blog at www.rosesgoats.blogspot.com. Her soap can be found on Facebook at Rose’s Goats.

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