Caring for goats in winter can have its challenges. Goats are very hardy animals, but you do need to aware of the differences between caring for goats in warm weather and caring for them in cold weather- especially when there is snow on the ground or in very cold temperatures.
So how is it different and what do you need to know about caring for your goat herd during the cold winter months?
Caring for Goats in Winter- What You Need to Know
Shelter Needs for Goats in Winter
Goats need shelter. You can read about the basic space requirements for goats, and in the winter time making sure they have adequate space is even more important.
When it is cold and snowy goats will be indoors more often than not, so you don’t want them to be overcrowded since that can cause stress and illness.
Your shelter needs to be fully enclosed or 3 sided with the open side being away from the wind. If you live in a windy area, you need to make sure that the open side is not in the direction the wind normally blows.
You should also check your barn before winter hits to ensure that your barn isn’t too drafty and make any repairs to block up drafty areas.
Like always, your barn should be dry, so check drainage so that snow melt doesn’t soak your barn.
Bedding for Your Goats in Winter
What about bedding?
In the summertime it’s fine to keep your goats on a dirt ground. But in winter, you should be bedding down your barns and stalls to help keep your goats warm.
Straw is usually the best for this purpose. Your goats will also lose hay and use the wasted, dropped hay on the ground as bedding.
We like to use the deep litter method in our barns. This means we layer new straw on top of the old straw. This helps build up a barrier between the cold ground and your goats.
It also makes it so that you don’ t have to muck out the barns in the miserable cold weather! The bottom layer will also build up heat as it composts- perfect for your spring garden!
Do Goats Need Supplemental Heat?
The short answer here is..NO.
Goats do not need to be in a heated barn.
And do not use a heat lamp.
If they are properly fed and in a draft free barn with lots of bedding and other goats to snuggle down with they will be just fine.
Food and Water Needs for Goats in Winter
Feeding and watering goats in winter can be a real chore. Especially if you are not quite set up for it!
So it takes a little extra time and effort to make sure the goats get everything they need to stay healthy.
Feeding Goats in Cold Weather
Goats will need extra hay in the winter. If you are in the south, where there is some forage, then you can take advantage. But if you are in an area that has very cold temperatures or a lot of snow, you will need to keep your goats in hay at all times.
Feeding during the snow is very important. Your goats will not leave the barn and there will be ZERO forage. No bark, no crunchy weeds, nothing. So make sure you check their hay and keep replenishing their supply.
A goat’s rumen will help heat them from the inside, so the more they can eat, the warmer they will be.
Since winter tends to run at the same time as breeding, many of your goats will be pregnant (or in rut) during the winter months. So make sure they are getting adequate nutrition at all times.
Get out that shovel and make a path to the barn when it snows so you can safely get all your goats food and water daily.
How To Keep Goat Water From Freezing in Winter
One of the hardest parts about raising goats in the winter is keeping them in water. None of our barns have electricity, and only one is close enough to an electric source to run a cord.
If you have access I definitely recommend getting a heated water trough.
If you can’t, you need to make sure that you break open frozen water daily- or multiple times daily.
We carry buckets and jugs of hot water out to the goats and chickens to help defrost solid ice morning and night.
Goats also like to drink the hot water, and it will help them warm up from the inside out.
You can make a batch of goat electrolytes with warm water and give them that on really cold days too.
Winter Goat Care- Things to Watch For
Goats can get stressed very easily. And one thing that is very stressful on a goat’s body is big temperature swings.
In our area we get 50 degree days and then 2 days later it doesn’t get above 20 degrees. And that is really hard for a goat!
Check your goats daily for signs of cold and stress. Look for things like shivering, drainage from their eyes or nose, and refusal to eat.
If you notice any of these symptoms, take their temperature- which should be 102-103 (give or take a degree for extreme outdoor temperature).
And consider giving them some warm electrolytes, B vitamins, and Nutri-drench (check my goat resource page for where to get these).
Pneumonia is something all goat owners should be aware of and can take down a goat in less than 4 hours and one of the top causes of pneumonia is the drastic swings in temperature and overcrowding in barns.So be aware of the signs of pneumonia and act fast if you notice signs.
Overall, if you keep your goats in a draft free, dry, shelter and give them the proper feed and water they will be less stressed and be able to make it through the winter just fine!