Preparing Dairy Goats for Winter Weather

Tips for winterizing goat housing, feeding, and cold weather goat care.


By Danielle Westvang


Living in the Ozarks, it isn't unusual to begin preparation for cold winter weather at the end of October. The weather is generally warm and sunny during the day and cool at night. The first frost occurs at the end of October. The winters last from mid November through the last frost in February or March.

Preparing for winter isn't generally something that you can do at the last minute. Barns, grounds, and goat feed needs to be prepared so that everything is in place prior to the coldest weather.


Preparing the Barn or Shelter:

Goats are rather hardy animals, however they are susceptible to pneumonia from being subjected to damp, drafty conditions. Goats can handle the cold temperatures if they have a shelter to get out of the wind, and have a good undercoat to protect them from the sub temperatures.

The ideal shelter for your goats will have a door or enclosure to block the wind, and precipitation from blowing in on the animals. Goats fair must better in the cold without them being wet. The goat's body temperature will keep them warm.

Heating lamps may be used, but take caution where you put them. Many barn fires have been started when a heat lamp has come in contact with bedding. The dryness of the bedding will cause it to ignite rather quickly.

Goats prefer to lay up off the ground. Pallets are great for this purpose because they allow the goat to get off the ground, and bedding can be placed on top of the slats for added insulation. Pallets are also easily moved for cleaning purposes.

Bedding should be fluffed and rotated as needed. In the colder temperatures it may not be as practical to fork the bedding out, or get a tractor up to the entrance. Selecting bedding material that will drain well, and fluff up is a plus.

My own experience last year taught me to look for alternative bedding rather than hay or straw. My barn when constructed had 8 stalls. As the hay and straw packed down, it made it more difficult for the stall doors to open and shut. The cold temperatures and snow made it impossible to bring the tractor in to remove it. This year, the bedding will be shavings with benches above the stall floor.

Keeping Your Goat Warm

Goats, when healthy, will grow a nice thick coat in the fall. Run your hands along the spine of your goat and split the fur down the middle. The white fuzzy hair that you will see is called the undercoat. The undercoat is what keeps the goat warm. If you have a goat that doesn't have an undercoat, it may become necessary for you to have a goat coat fitted for it.

Goat coats can be made from fleece, or other warm material that fastens around the goat with velcro or some sort of snap. There are companies that sell pre-made goat coats in different materials, sizes, and colors, or you can attempt to make your own.

I have a Nubian doe that does not produce an undercoat. I noticed that she had trouble staying warm, and when the temperatures would drop she would shiver. I purchased a goat coat from an online auction site that was actually a large dog goat. The coat was made with double fleece. The coat slips over the head, and has a belly band that fastens on the other side with velcro. The coat was big enough that she could wear it 2 seasons, and if it became soiled I could easily wash and dry it.

Goats generally are able to keep warm and maintain body temperature if they are able to cuddle up together, and are out of the draft. Kids that are born in the winter need special care so that they do not freeze. Kids have a harder time maintaining their own body temperature. Walmart carries knit dog sweaters that are usually available around Christmas time. These sweaters come in a large array of sizes. The average price is $3.95. This product is what I use for my goat kids. I purchase 10-15 of these sweaters each year. They are designed in such a way that they will slip over the kid's head, front legs fit thru the leg holes. The sweater covers the back to the tail as well as chest. The belly portion is usually tapered to allow a more comfortable fit for bucklings. The sweaters are machine washable and last for more than one season.


Runs or Play Yards:

Even if the weather is cold, goats will need to have ample time to run and jump around. Exercise will help keep energy level high and lungs clear. As long as there isn't a lot of wind or heavy precipitation, the goats are better off being outside playing during the day. Goats prefer being able to move around and stretch their legs.

Moderate snow on the ground should not prevent the goats from having some exercise time outdoors. Keep in mind that the snow and ice can get wedged between their hooves, so take care to make sure their feet are properly trimmed and the ice is removed as often as possible.

Feeding and Minerals

During the coldest months, it may be necessary to feed a supplemental grain ration to your goats because there won't be much forage for the goats. When the first snow falls, there will be even less for the animals to eat without supplementation.

Eating is one important way that animals maintain body temperature. Keeping good clean hay in front of your goats at all time will keep their rumens active and energy level high. If your goats appear to lose weight during the colder months, increase their feed ration accordingly.

Round bails are great for paddocks or barnyards. Goats can feed continually off of the round bails, and you can feed several goats off of one bail for a month at a time.

Free choice minerals and salt/mineral blocks should be available for consumption at all times. Generally, goats will only eat the minerals when their body needs them.

Water Consumption

Water is as important for animals to consume as it is for humans. Without water, animals can dehydrate, and become sick. In the cold, livestock have a tendency not to drink as much because of the temperature.

Livestock supply companies sell electric tank warmers which work great for outdoor troughs that have a tendency to ice over. The tank warmers will maintain an above freezing temperature. When purchasing a tank warmer, look at where the electrical cords join the heater itself. Some cheaper model tank warmers get shorts in them, and can give a shock to the animal as they attempt to drink.

Another investment is bucket warmers that plug in. There are several different sizes to choose from, and are much handier to empty and refill.

Last winter, the temperature at my farm dropped below zero several nights in a row. There was a concern that the goats were not drinking enough. The buckets would be filled morning, noon, and night, yet ice would form and the goats would stick their feet in the buckets to crack the ice. I went to the store and bought gallon jugs of orange flavored Gatoraide. Gatoraide has electrolytes in it, and is used by athletes to keep their hydration up during sporting events. I brought jugs of really hot water out to the barn, and poured the hot water into half filled buckets of cold water. This brought the temperature of the water up to about room temperature. I then added a cup or two of orange Gatoraide to the mixture. I would offer each goat a bucket with this mixture, which they gratefully accepted. By doing this, I could ensure that each goat had plenty of fluids.

Another trick I used to ensure each goat was drinking enough fluids, I purchased bags of oranges from the grocery store. I cut the oranges into quarters and then in half. This made it easier for the goats to eat. Each goat would eat 3-4 pieces.


Worming

It is a good idea to worm prior to winter. Goats that are housed in a more confined or enclosed shelter have a greater chance of developing a worm related illness. Whatever the wormer preference, it is a good idea to follow up with a dose of a probiotic to restabilize the rumen.

Storing Medications and Supplies

Take a look at the expiration dates and temperature guidelines for your medications and other supplies. Many antibiotics require them to be stored at room temperature or slightly below. The effectiveness of the medication will be reduced if the recommended temperatures are exceeded.

Frostbite Prevention

Dairy goats that are outside in cold temperatures run a risk of frostbite. Udders that have been clipped are unprotected and can suffer damage with over exposure in freezing temperatures. There are various udder balms on the market that prevent chapping, and wind chill protection. Bag Balm is also a good remedy for protection against frostbite.

Nubian goats are also more likely to have frostbite due to their long pendulous ears. Udder balm can be lightly coated onto the underside of the ear for protection. Another suggestion is using a light coating of Vaseline. Vaseline will not freeze because it is a petroleum product. The downside to using Vaseline is that dirt and grit will stick to it.

A pair of socks can be carefully put over the ears of a Nubian and fastened with a shoelace at the top in areas with extreme cold temperatures.


Supplies and Equipment for Winter Weather


Tank Heaters, and Bucket Warmers

Caprine Supply
DeSoto, Kansas
Tel: 913-585-1191
URL: www.caprinesupply.com


Jeffers Livestock
Tel: 1-800-533-3377
URL: www.jefferslivestock.com


Goat Coats and Sweaters

Caprine Supply
DeSoto, Kansas
Tel: 913-585-1191
URL: www.caprinesupply.com

Rambo Ranch
URL: http://ramboranch.com/goat_coats.htm


© Danielle Westvang - Printed in Dairy Goat Journal

 


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