|Giselle, five months pregnant, was warm and cozy|
in the barn during the blizzard last February.
In the vast majority of cases, if a human can handle the temperatures all bundled up, then a goat can handle the temperatures because they grow a thick undercoat of cashmere in winter. You may have noticed already that your goats are starting to look fuzzier -- or maybe not if you're in a warmer climate. Mine are looking quite fluffy though. Cashmere is so expensive because a single goat only produces a few ounces, although it's extremely warm!
So, how cold is too cold?
|If you are having a blizzard, three-sided shelters |
may not be sufficient to keep your goats safe and warm.
If you have kids when it's below freezing, you need to be there to make sure they're dried off as soon as possible, or their ears can freeze. If it's below 20 or if they're outside and it's windy -- even at 40 degrees -- they can also get hypothermia really fast and die. Once they're dry, they're fine. If the ears freeze, the frozen part will fall off, but ultimately they're fine too. They just look funny. Unfortunately I learned from the Canadian woman online that when it's so insanely cold, a baby goat's feet can freeze, and if they're permanently damaged, the kid has to be put down.
As with chickens, goats need plenty of fresh air. Pneumonia is the second most common cause of death among goats, and it's poor air quality that causes it. Goats should actually be put outside every day unless you have really extreme weather, such as single digit wind chill or storm. Although our does come into the barn at night, our bucks live in three-sided shelters that are open to the south, and we make sure there is plenty of straw in there when it's going to be getting below 20 degrees.
The other thing to keep in mind is that heat lamps are the #1 cause of barn fires -- and we almost had one here, but luckily my daughter walked in when it was still a small fire in the straw, and she was able to put it out with a bucket of water. If you have temperatures below freezing, and you have newborn kids, be sure that your heat lamp is secured to the wall or something overhead and cannot be knocked down by a curious goat. Once the kids are a couple days old, they will be fine unless temperatures fall well below zero Fahrenheit.
If you're worried about them, a good alternative to using a heat lamp with kids is to either make little goat coats or little huts for the kids to curl up in. We put a small plastic dog crate in the kidding pens for the kids to sleep in, but I remove the door because it seems to get closed a lot if you leave it on. For my Nigerian dwarf kids, I use the sleeve of an old sweatshirt to make coats. The wrist band becomes the collar; the seam runs under the kids belly, and I cut two little holes for the front leg. If you have a buckling, be sure to cut away enough of the coat under his belly so that he doesn't pee on it.
The only thing I really do differently with my adult goats in cold weather is to give them warm water, which they really seem to love. All of them usually take a big drink every time I bring a new bucket of warm water to them.
So, as I was saying with the chickens last month, you don't need an insulated or heated barn to keep goats in colder climates. They'll do just fine with their warm cashmere coats down to temperatures as low as a human can survive with a warm coat.
Update Jan. 31, 2014: If you have kids due in the middle of winter, check out this post on Kidding in winter.