For livestock, winter may be a stressful time. As owners, by ensuring good treatment, feeding and management practises, we need to help to reduce the tension. Adjusting management strategies will help to ensure that over the cold winter months, goats under your care will survive.
During the winter months, goats do not need extensive quarters. Blocking the harsh, cold northern wind and keeping the animals dry are the most critical housing problems. Goats that are well cared for would have a dense coat of fur to support them with limited housing to survive the winter. A three-sided frame with a south-facing opening offers protection from the cold wind and still allows plenty of ventilation to hold the barn or shed moisture down. Make sure a lot of clean, dry bedding is available. Goats kidding in the cold weather would need more shelter so young kids will not be able to sustain their body temperature outside. A heat lamp may be needed in these cases, but due to the risk of barn fires or animals chewing electric cords, it should only be used with extreme caution.
It takes a little more preparation than during the warmer summer months to feed and water goats in the winter. Goats, at all times, should have access to fresh water. In order to extract the ice or any other form of heated waterer, this may include changing water a few times a day. Use caution with goats with any kind of electrical system as they can chew the cord. Goats require more energy during the winter to help regulate their body temperature. They will also need roughage that can be given with grass, alfalfa, or mixed hay. Alfalfa hay can be a great source of both energy and protein, but due to urinary calculi, caution should be taken when feeding bucks and wethers. There should also be salts and minerals available.
During the winter months, lice on goats are more prevalent. They can irritate the goat and, in some cases, can cause anaemia, poor coat and/or skin quality due to severe infestations. In order to control lice and other pests, Michigan State University Extension suggests working with your veterinarian to establish a treatment plan for your goat herd.
It can be a rewarding activity to keep a herd of goats, or even a couple of animals as companions. With a little preplanning we can help our animals not only survive, but thrive the cold winter months.