With the exceptional cold weather we have been experiencing I thought it would be timely to discuss keeping adult goats warm when temperatures are frigid. A little common sense will assure that they weather a cold spell successfully. Lets look at how our goat friends stay warm and how we can help them.
1. Dry, draft-free shelter - Goats are unlike a lot of other farm animals in that they cannot tolerate being outside when it is wet. We need to provide them protection from harsh winds and make sure they have plenty of dry bedding. Housing need not be elaborate but it should provide protection from prevailing winds. This small buck house opens to the south to allow winter sun to penetrate and it is closed to the north and west. There is a wooden platform in the rear. In really cold climates a more enclosed shelter is suitable.
2. Winter hair - Many goats have a soft undercoat for warmth and a harsh outer coat to help trap body heat. You can see the two types of hair in the photo below. In summer dairy goats are often clipped to remove the long outer hair and the undercoat. One must be sure to allow plenty of time for hair regrowth as the weather gets colder.
It is hard sometimes to remember how much hair they really do grow. Compare Betsy in the summer after clipping in June (first picture) and Betsy in December (second picture).
4. Provide plenty of warm water - Goats often do not drink enough water in the winter. Warm water several times a day encourages them to consume more which aids digestions and prevents dehydration. Sometimes Gatorade or other flavored electrolytes encourages the pickier ones to drink. Several of mine just love hot water and they always run to a fresh steaming bucket.
5. Companions - Goats are herd animals and will often snuggle together to keep each other warm. Even my adult bucks who are constantly posturing with each other during the day will all curl up together on a cold night.
6. Fresh air and exercise - Assuming the weather isn't too harsh goats benefit from fresh air and exercise. My goats are generally outside for at least part of the day except when there are temperatures hovering near zero and /or there are harsh winds. Physical activity helps generate body heat and I think encourages them to eat and drink more. I think it is particularly important to get those pregnant does outside and moving around, at least for a few minutes a day.
By using a little common sense your goats will be warm and cozy all winter.