When you live in Northwestern Pennsylvania the winters can be pretty brutal. I am talking -25 degree wind chill brutal. Keeping your animals warm in those frigid temps can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. What you need are tips on how to help your goats cope with winter so they stay healthy even when it’s frigid cold out.
When I first starting raising animals I used to worry about them in the winter, so much so that during my first winter I made a costly mistake. You see, I thought my goats could not handle the frigid temps so what did I do? Well, I loaded my barn up with heat lamps.
Six of them to be exact and I was pretty pleased with myself too. I thought I was doing a great thing for my animals, the barn was warm and each stall had a nice source of heat.
What I was doing was actually the opposite of a good thing.
You see when the temps begin to cool down in the fall, livestock will adapt as well and develop a thicker coat. As temperatures drop their coats thicken until they are covered with a wonderful layer of protection.
When winter does finally hit their bodies are conditioned enough to handle the worst.
So, that first year when I set up all those heat lamps? Well, it was a disaster.
What happened was I made the barn so warm my goats began to shed.
Yes, my goats were shedding…IN JANUARY!
Their bodies told them they no longer needed that thick full coat. Needless to say, my goats soon found that if they did not stay close to the heat lamps they would get cold.
I actually almost caught our barn on fire with those heat lamps. That was the year that I learned just how dangerous heat lamps can be and are actually one of the top causes of barn fires in the winter.
I have since learned that heat lamps are used only with newborns and only when absolutely necessary. But more on that in a bit.
If you are still worried about your goats and how well they will handle the cold winter temps where you live, no worries. There are still things you can do to help keep your animals warm in the winter.
How to keep your animals warm in frigid temperatures.
Get them out of the cold.
If you do not have a barn or some sort of shelter that your goats can use to get out of the weather, you will want to start there. Depending on where you live and how bad your winters get will determine if you need a full barn or just a lean-to.
Goats are not like horses or cows, they need protection from rain and snow. Before the cold weather hits make sure you are ready with a shelter that is enclosed on at least 3 sides with a way to close off the 4th when the weather really calls for it.
To close off that 4th side you can use a tarp or even a piece of scrap wood for protection from heavy winds to help keep your goats warm.
If your shelter is deep enough your goats will stay quite warm inside.
It is important to make sure you do not seal the shelter up completely, you need good airflow to prevent pneumonia. Something that can happen if you do not have fresh air coming in.
For this reason, I really like to use tarps. They are easy to adjust when needed, allow the airflow needed for your goats, and keep out the wind better than you may imagine.
Use the deep litter method.
Nothing chills an animal faster than the cold frigid ground. The best way I have found to combat this is to use the deep litter method.
What is the deep litter method? Simply put, deep litter means you do not clean out your stalls all winter long. This lets the hay and bedding build up to a nice thick layer adding a barrier between the cold ground and your livestock. This will really help to keep your goats warm.
Every week you can add in a layer of fresh bedding to keep the shelter from smelling sour. Luckily goat manure has very little odor so you are more or less keeping the urine smell down and with it the ammonia smell that can irritate the lungs in your goats.
Build a temporary raised bed.
If you find your goats standing to sleep, then this is usually a hint that the ground is way too cold. Every year I build raised goat beds out of discarded pallets to make things a bit more comfortable. You can see my step by step tutorial here, How to Build a Raised Goat Bed.
The goal is simple, find a way to get your goats off of the ground.
Give plenty of fresh warm water.
When temps are really cold your animal’s water can freeze pretty quickly. And frozen water will not get drunk by your goats. Even though it’s cold water is crucial to your animal’s health. To help you can offer warm fresh water first thing in the morning.
For our goats, we give my fresh warm to hot water 3-4 times a day in the winter. Doing this first thing in the morning will help to encourage your goats to drink. Surprisingly goats love the warm water and will usually come over just as soon as they see me pouring it.
You can also put a splash of organic apple cider vinegar for an added boost. Most animals love the taste and the flavor of the ACV will help them to drink.
If you find your animals are not drinking try dumping out the water and replacing it with a fresh supply. Usually, this is enough to do the trick and get your goats drinking again.
Give plenty of hay.
One thing nice about goats is they have a natural way to warm up from the inside out. Hay. When your goats eat hay they get their rumens working and that acts as a natural furnace warming them up pretty quickly.
Use this tip. Rather than giving your goats a huge helping of hay once a day you can try giving them 2-3 smaller helpings throughout the day instead. The fresh supply will cause your curious goats to come over and usually, they will begin eating right away.
Let the sunshine in!
There is something to be said of warm sun even on a 20-degree day. When the sun is hot and strong I will open up the barn and let the goats do a little sunbathing and they just love it!
(Please be aware that only your healthy older goats should do this, younger kids or weak goats should be kept out of the cold at all costs.)
Remember, to only do this when the sun is really warm and there is no wind.
Get your goats moving.
Goats love to play and luckily I love to play with my goats. Tag is their favorite…especially when I am the target. 🙂 I will run around with my goats to get the blood moving and before you know it they are all playing and running and warming up.
If you have no time to play at the very least set up your pens in a triangle to force everyone to move and to help keep animals warm. What I mean by that is have the water at one point, your goat’s minerals at another point, and your goat’s hay at the third point. This will keep your animals moving without them even realizing it.
Don’t worry about shivers.
That first winter I used to panic whenever I saw my goats shivering. That to me meant they were cold and I needed to help them warm up. An old farmer friend of mine told me that shivering was their way of warming up and that was actually a good thing. It’s the cold goat that is not shivering that you need to worry about.
Goats can absolutely thrive in frigid temperatures without artificial heat and be the better for it. I found out that first year by warming my goats up that I was doing more harm than good. Now I trust my goats to adapt to the colder temperatures naturally and now my goats are hardier, stronger, and healthier. By allowing your goats to acclimate to the cold temps naturally you might just find that they will do well without any interference from us.
Our job is to provide them with shelter from the snow and wind, offer plenty of fresh clean water, good quality hay, and a constant supply of minerals. This will support your herd in natural ways so they can flourish even when the snow is falling.
What do you do to help your animals stay warm in the cold weather?