Care of Goats in Severe Winter Weather

Goats January 29, 2014|Print

Management of mature goats may change only slightly in colder weather compared to routine management throughout the rest of the year. Nothing takes the place of good, routine observations for changes in feed availability, body condition scores, and health problems such as pneumonia, parasites, and foot rot. However, management will need to change in very cold temperatures, and even more so in wet, cold temperatures.

For most producers who kid in late spring or after little likelihood of snow or freezing rain, no shelter may be needed for animals giving birth outside. However, producers who plan to have goats kid in winter need to plan ahead for shelter when the kids will be born.   

Management in Severe Weather

  • Shelter is needed for kids born in cold, wet weather because young kids will not be able to maintain their body temperature outside. Wind chill will negatively affect kids before does, which can generate more body heat. A heat lamp in the shelter will provide extra heat for kids, but be sure it is safe, does not contact bedding or walls, nor is accessible to goats that can chew the cord.
  • If it is not wet, then just a wind break may be all that is necessary to protect kids in cold weather. Many kids will be fine in cold weather, but wind and precipitation will significantly add to the problems of maintaining body temperature.
  • It is possible to lose most kids born in cold, wet weather if no shelter is available. Kids are smaller than calves and need more shelter in cold, wet winter than calves do.
  • In severe weather, goats will eat more than normal just to maintain body temperature. Quality hay or other feed should be available to them. If animals are already consuming their maximum amount of dry matter and are still losing body condition, some roughage will have to be replaced with a more energy-dense feed, such as a grain. Make all ration changes gradually.
  • Make sure that water is not frozen and is available to animals; this may require breaking ice to get to unfrozen water below. Water pipes can freeze in very cold temperatures. Frost-free pumps can be installed in areas at risk of freezing — after being turned off, water in the pipe recedes to below ground where freezing is less likely. Pipes at risk of freezing should be insulated; consider heating pipes most at risk of freezing with a pipe-wrap, but protect them from chewing by goats. If water pipes are buried and/or still freeze despite insulation, water may have to be dripped to prevent pipes from freezing. Have a plan to conduct any water overflow away from the watering area so mud and ice do not restrict access to the water supply.
  • In severe weather, animals can crowd together for warmth, but this increases the likelihood of injury and respiratory diseases. Monitor for these conditions and provide enough shelter for all animals to be together safely. Provide protected space for smaller goats and young stock.

Routine Management in Cold Weather

Some practices should be conducted every month or as needed (i.e., evaluations of forages, body condition of animals, foot care, health, and need for culling and parasite control).

  • Evaluate forage conditions and inventory. Start looking for hay, if needed, initially from a neighbor or nearby farm. Look on the Internet for hay if you cannot find it locally.
  • Winter annuals should have been sown by early September if adequate soil moisture was available. Consult your local Cooperative Extension office to determine the best options for annuals if you want to plant this season. Spring grasses can be sown from late January to early March. Summer annuals can be sown from early May to early June. See Missouri University Extension Guide G4652 for specifics.
  • If you have goats and feed is limited, consider putting non-lactating animals in good vegetation in the woods or other brushy areas. They should do well. Remember to provide trace mineralized salt and protection from predators. Consider letting goats browse leftover gardens or corn stalks if you have them. Monitor body condition on these animals so they do not drop too much condition and risk health complications.
  • Provide best quality forage first to lactating goats and second to the breeding herd. Test hay for nutrient content to ensure adequate nutrients are available to meet the nutritional needs of your animals, and supplement as needed. Never skimp on the quality or quantity of feed provided to growing animals.
  • Soil tests should be done every three years to determine fertilizer needs. Fertilize and add lime as needed for the yield desired.
  • Examine animals and treat for internal and external parasites as needed. Lice are very common in cold, damp, dark conditions; their numbers can grow to the point that individual or even whole-herd health is affected.
  • Evaluate animals for body condition and health — this means touching each one to determine their body condition. This should be done at least monthly and more often in cold weather.
  • Reduce feed costs by selling unsound and inferior animals. Be especially critical of animals with no or poor teeth.
  • Evaluate for foot rot and hoof care; trim and treat as needed.
  • Assess air quality of shelter daily to reduce risk of respiratory disease; be sure to assess ammonia levels at ground level where goats breathe. Remove and replace bedding as needed for safer air quality and animal comfort.

Conclusion

Although added management challenges exist during cold weather, they are part and parcel of being a responsible goat owner. Daily observations and attention to detail will identify small problems before they become larger problems, such as broken pipes, thin animals, sick kids, and empty wallets.

By Jodie Pennington, Small Ruminant Educator, Lincoln University, Newton County Extension Center, 601 Laclede Ave. (Smith Hall-Crowder College), Neosho, MO 64850; penningtonj@lincolnu.edu; 417-455-9500.