As the temperatures start to drop (and the snow begins to fall in some parts of the country) your goats will need a little TLC to stay healthy and warm. Winter can be a stressful time for livestock and pets. Owners can help reduce that stress by providing adequate shelter, routine feeding/watering, and steady illness prevention.
First and foremost, your goats need a warm, dry place to get out of the elements. Be sure to seal up any drafts in the barn and repair existing leaks, but leave some intentional ventilation to prevent moisture build-up. A well-sealed barn isn’t just more comfortable for your goats, but it will also prevent them from getting fatally ill (e.g. with pneumonia) or catching a parasite (e.g. lice), which are more common for goats in damp housing. If you do not have a barn on your property, consider alternate shelter for your goats during the winter months. A three-sided shelter works, as long as it provides sufficient coverage from high winds, snow, etc.
As for bedding, make sure there is plenty of clean, dry straw where the goats can doze off. Spending more time in their safe haven during the winter months means urine and feces can build up faster in the areas where they sleep, eat, etc. This is especially important for newborn goats – without adequate bedding, they may suffer from frostbite when temperatures drop below freezing.
To ensure your goats have enough calories to generate suitable body heat in cold temperatures, we recommend adjusting their feed to provide additional fiber & protein, including legume hay and grass. Extra grain portions will also be helpful. One of the best ways to prep your goats for the winter is to start feeding them a bit of extra hay and pelleted feed in early to mid-fall. This will help them put on extra fat going into winter to not only stay warmer, but also get them ready for breeding. They can draw on those additional body fat stores to quickly grow in their winter coats when their bodies realize it’s that time of year!
Note: Male goats don’t need as much calcium in their diet as female goats in milk production or preparing to lactate. So, be careful not to overload your male goats with legume hay or any other high calcium protein supplement. Too much calcium can increase the risk of urinary calculi, a potentially lethal condition.
For water supply, try warm/heated water to encourage appropriate drinking throughout the day. This will help the goats avoid getting chilled by eating snow or ice, or developing infections from dehydration.
Winterize for your goats in the upcoming season by, most importantly, giving them the proper shelter and diet they need to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable.