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When Fall kicks off, it’s inevitable that people start worrying about their goats and how they’ll battle the cold. Living in Maine, we know cold winters. We know negative temperatures, and feet worth of snow dumping on us at any given time. But our goats always make it through, little worse for the wear.
Key Ways to Prepare Your Goats for Winter
Body and Coat Condition
One of the best was the make sure your goats are prepared for the cold weather, is to ensure their body weight and coat condition are in healthy shape. An underweight goat, won’t be able to maintain their internal temperature as easily as a well conditioned goat. If a goat has a course coat with lots of breakage, they will most likely have a hard time growing out the nice undercoat they rely on for warmth. Make sure your goat is up to date with any copper and selenium they may need, as well as zinc. Be sure feed is adequate to keep them at a healthy weight going into the colder months.
Make sure your goats have draft free housing. Ventilation is important, but you want to make sure your goats aren’t getting constantly assaulted with cold drafts, especially while sleeping. We provide our goats with dog igloos, and they love to sleep in these when it’s cold.
Dry bedding is essential to keeping your goats warm and protecting against respiratory infections in the winter months. We do a bottom layer of pine shavings, with piles of straw for the goats to “nest” in. Straw makes for the best goat bedding in the cold, as it’s hollow and will help to retain body heat. If your winters get as brutal as ours, you know it’s often challenging to get to wet goat bedding before it freezes. Because of this, many people employ the deep litter method, allowing the bedding to be layered with dry shavings and straw so that it composts over the winter. This can help to generate natural heat from the composting materials, but can be a chore to clean up in the spring.
Hot Water Buckets
We don’t have the outlets in our barn to provide heated water buckets, but during the coldest months, our goats always get plenty of hot water. We call this “Goat Tea” and they adore it! First thing in the morning, a nice bucket of hot water gets everyone up and moving, and happily keeping hydrated. If it’s an especially cold day, we’ll also add electrolytes to help maintain hydration. If you nestle the buckets into nice dry bedding such as hay or straw, it will help to insulate the bucket and keep it warm longer.
Sometimes, despite all the preparation in the world, the cold can hit you fast and hard and leave you with some goats that are struggling. When this happens, we try to give those goats an extra boost. Nutri-Drench for goats is our go to for a quick pick-me-up for goats that are shivering and mopey from the cold. We usually chase that with a dose of probiotics, as an active rumen produces needed warmth.
As a feed additive during brutally cold temps, we will add shredded beet pulp. This is a high calorie supplement that can be used for weight gain, or extra energy. A lot of goats don’t care for the beet pulp, so you can try soaking it in hot water to make it a bit more palatable. While battling particularly brutal record temps this year, we also added a bit of steamed, flaked corn to everybody’s grain ration. I have always stayed away from corn – it’s incredibly rich and can easily cause bloat or scours. However, corn is a good source of fast, hot, energy, and we regularly give it to the chickens during the cold. We have given limited amounts of steamed, flaked corn as a top dress during the worst cold days, and it does seem to help. Once again, be cautious and slow when offering corn, and make sure its steamed and flaked, not whole or cracked.
No-No’s for Goats
Goat don’t need coats. They don’t need sweaters. They don’t need blankets. Putting any kind of coat on a goat will inhibit the growth of their natural winter coat. It will also keep them from being able to puff out their coat to trap body heat, and this is one of their best defenses again the cold. A little shivering is also nothing to panic about – it’s another natural body response that helps to produce body heat. If the shivering is severe or persistent however, do give their temp a check. Unless the goat has some kind of special condition (illness, recently clipped, newborn) that interferes with maintaining body temperature, keep the coat off your goat.
I understand this is a heated topic. Many people provide their goats, chickens, etc., with supplemental heat via heat lamps. This is also the leading cause of devastating barn fires. Livestock have survived for hundreds of years without heat lamps. If your power goes out during a winter storm, your animals will be ill prepared to handle the cold if their heat lamps suddenly stop working for a day or two. Heat lamps keep your animals from adjusting gradually and naturally to the cold temperatures. To us, heat lamps are never worth the risk, and our animals have always done very well without them.