Winter management tips for goats

As cold weather approaches, it is important to consider the comfort of the goats we care for.

Winter can be a stressful time for livestock.  As owners, we need to help to reduce that stress by providing proper care, feeding and management practices.  Adjusting management practices will help to ensure that goats under your care will thrive through the cold winter months.

Goats do not require elaborate housing during the winter months. The most important issues regarding housing is to block the harsh, cold north wind and to keep the animals dry. Goats that are properly cared for will have a thick coat of hair helping them to survive the winter with minimal housing. A three sided structure with the opening facing the south provides protection from the cold wind and yet allow plenty of ventilation to keep moisture down in the barn or shed. Make sure there is plenty of clean, dry bedding available.  Goats kidding in the cold weather will require more shelter because young kids will not be able to maintain their body temperature outside.  A heat lamp may be required in these situations but should only be used with extreme caution because of the risk of barn fires or animals chewing electric cords.

Feeding and watering goats in the winter requires a little more planning than during the warmer summer months.  Goats should have access to fresh water at all times.  This may require changing water a couple of times a day to remove the ice or some other type of heated waterer.  Use caution with any type of electrical device with goats as they may chew the cord.  During the winter, goats need more energy to help maintain body temperature.  They will also need roughage which can be supplied in grass, alfalfa, or mixed hay.  Alfalfa hay can be a great source of both energy and protein, although care should be taken when feeding bucks and wethers because of urinary calculi.  Salt and minerals should also be available. 

Lice are more prevalent on goats during the winter months. They can be irritating to the goat and in some cases, heavy infestations can cause anemia, poor coat and/or skin quality.  Michigan State University Extension recommends working with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan for you goat herd to control lice and other parasites.

Keeping a herd of goats, or even a couple of animals as companions, can be a rewarding experience.  With a little preplanning we can help our animals not only survive, but thrive the cold winter months.

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