Friday, December 9, 2011

Goats in winter

Giselle, five months pregnant, was warm and cozy
in the barn during the blizzard last February.
A common question this time of year is, "Can my goats handle the cold weather, or do they need a heat lamp or _________?" The funny thing is that these questions come from Florida and Canada and Alaska and everywhere in between.

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.
I know a Canadian online who had temperatures at 30 below zero Fahrenheit, which is definitely a problem for babies. They need heat lamps at that temperature, and she lost a baby or two last year when it was that cold, and they lost power. I'm in Illinois, and we have winter temperatures as low as 15 below zero, which the goats can handle with no problems. The only time I've had any issues with adults at that temperature was when they were giving birth. Both times that happened, they started shaking violently, so in addition to the heat lamps that I had waiting for the kids, I also covered the does -- in one case with a towel, and in the other case, I put an old sweatshirt on her.

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.

18 comments:

  1. I really wish I could grow a layer of cashmere in the winter. I get so cold! Lucky goats!! from Abiga/Karen

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  2. Thanks for this ... the whole 'Canadian Winter' thing was one of my big concerns in my research about dairy goats, especially when I think the Nigerian Dwarf Goat looks like it will suit me the best. Big weather difference between Nigeria and Canada! ;-)

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  3. This makes me feel much better! Thank you

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  4. Thanks for the info, my goat just had her two babies a few minutes ago, we are in Texas and the weather is 45 degrees F and the lowest for the night will be 39 F so I was worried if it was too cold for them, but after reading your blog I feel much better about leaving them outside in the barn.

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    1. I am bottle feeding orphan goat he is healthy and 3 weeks old but getting harder to have inside. we are in southeast va temps in low 30 to high 50's Is is safe to put him outside with others. I have three sided shelter lots of straw. Other baby mom lived and is doing fine. thanks

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    2. Yes, he should be fine in those temperatures as long as he can cuddle up with the other goats. It would be a good idea to put him outside early in the day so they can get their social order worked out.

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  5. Thank you! I feel a lot better but I still worry LOL I will be getting straw/hay tomorrow though for both chickens and goats!

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  6. Thanks for the info. I was ready to go buy a heat lamp. I have 2 pygmy goats. They do have a dog igloo to go into with lots of straw. I will give them a bucket of warm water :)

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  7. Here in Montana its 50 Below 0 with the windchill... burrrrrrr

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  8. Hello. We are new to raising goats and just got four babies. The does are five and six weeks old, and the buck is just over three weeks. They are in and old catch pin having access to an open area with grass, and to the catch pin/barn too. They have a three sided roofed pin within the barn with tons of hay in and around it. The temps tonight here in central Mississippi will be down to 12 degrees. The four of them were laying all over each other this morning in 23 degree temps so I am wondering if they will be ok in the 12 degrees expected this evening. Thanks for any advise you can provide.

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    1. As long as they are dry and out of the wind and have plenty of straw and can cuddle up with each other, they should be fine.

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  9. Our goats always seem to kid in January. This year we've had lots of sub-zero temps. The first nanny gave birth outside and the kids froze before we found them. so we shut up all the goats in the barn and as soon as the next 3 nannies gave birth, we moved them and the kids into temporary stalls inside our shed so they could be by the wood stove. Now that the kids are a week old, we moved them back to the barn. They are with the other goats and out of the wind. how cold would it need to get before they wouldn't be able to handle it? we're supposed to be getting down to 6 degrees by Thursday. My husband hung heat lamps inside of 5 gallon buckets, but one of the adult goats already busted one of the bulbs out. I don't want any broken glass or fire hazards. would making baby coats or something for them to crawl inside of be a good idea? would that be enough?
    p.s. they're boer/nubian-alpine and boer/sable kids
    thanks!

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    1. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your questions, because I think they are answered in the post. As I said, you really don't have to worry until the temperature falls well below zero. Our Nigerian dwarf goats just survived -17 temperatures the other night, which was quite a surprise because it was only supposed to -3 for the low. We even had a pair of two-day-old twins in the barn, although they were under a heat lamp, which probably got the temperature up to maybe 0 for them.

      Kid coats are fine. In the post, I mentioned one idea for making them out of sweatshirt sleeves for small goats, but you can also use old baby's or toddler's sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off for larger goat kids. (See notes about buckling sweaters above.)

      In addition to using a dog crate with the door removed for kids to crawl into, you can also cut a 50-gallon plastic drum in half and place it cut side down with a hole cut in the side so kids can go in there and cuddle up together to stay warm. Some people also use Dogloos with the bottom removed. If you use a dog crate or dog house with a bottom, it will need a lot of straw bedding and will have to be cleaned out frequently.

      Hope those ideas help!

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  10. Very good article! I want to start raising goats but with Wisconsin winters I'm very nervous. Thanks for posting this article .

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  11. Hello! I had a 6-month-old Nubian cross, and 3 10-week old Nigerian Dwarfs.

    We did everything as usual, all the goats looked fine. We came home to see all of them laying in their usual spot, and all got up besides one of the Dwarfs, which was dead. It looked like they had been laying on it, and it was in a sleeping position curled around, except it's neck was twisted to the right far back of its leg. We figured the goats may have suffocated him or that he broke his neck, but then the next morning we see one more dead laying on its side. We have no moldy feed, they have fresh water, and plenty of room and shelter. We recently had a drop here In temperature down to 28 from 60 or so in Minnesota. Days are 40s/50s. They were due for their CD&T booster that same day. We just do not know what happened? We have just the one Nigerian and Nubia cross now.
    Also, our water keeps freezing the past two days -- how should we keep it warm?

    Thank you!!

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    1. You would have to get a necropsy to know for sure what happened. The #1 cause of death in goats is internal parasites (worms), which causes anemia, so the kids would just go to sleep and not wake up one day. Basically they bled to death internally. It sounds like you might have suspected listeria (twisted to one side) but you would have seen them circling before they died. You should take a fecal to the vet to have it checked for the other two. There is a lot to know about parasites. It's 24 pages in my book.

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    2. Thank you for the information. We gave the booster to the other two (Nubian and last dwarf) and then also wormed both to be sure. Then, last night we come home to the dwarf sitting down with its head twisted to its side, barely alive. It died a few hours later. We live so far away to get the necropsy, and it is just so bizarre that this only happened to the dwarfs and not the Nubian? This is just so bizarre. Thank you for your help.

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    3. Unfortunately, your story is all too common. You might want to join my online goat group to discuss this more -- http://nigeriandwarfgoats.ning.com -- as this is a really complicated subject. There are so many things that could have gone wrong. Parasites can become resistant to dewormers so that they no longer work, or if the goat was already severely anemic, it might have been too late to save him.

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