Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Homestead dairy goats need shelter. These are high-value animals that you’ll be working with on a daily basis, so it’s reasonable to provide infrastructure that’s convenient and comfortable for you and your herd. If you’re new to managing goats, you may want a shelter that is temporary and adaptable; chances are you’ll want to change your approach down the road. Experienced goat managers may still find use for flexible and portable designs as pasture shelters. Proper goat shelters don’t need to be fancy, but they do need to serve a variety of purposes. Even a basic dairy goat shelter could or should
• Protect goats from weather conditions
• Allow you to work with goats out of the weather (i.e. milking, hoof-trimming)
• Be located near a convenient source of water
• Include (or be near) a protected milking area that excludes goats (to keep it clean)
• Have (or be near) an area to store hay, straw, and/or grain separate from goats
• Have the ability to separate kids from adults, or individuals if necessary
• Be able to stand up to goat behavior, including rubbing, climbing, and jumping
• Be moveable to allow for rotational grazing
My wife and I have experimented with a variety of basic goat shelters for our homestead dairy goat herd. We generally kept our goats on pasture spring through fall, changing their grazing areas once a day to once a week, using overnight shelters that could be moved once a month to completely new ground to help break the parasite cycle. After moving the shelter, we collected the month’s worth of bedding and composted it, providing a regular supply of fertility for our vegetables. Kids were left on does during the day, and separated at night, which allowed us to milk every morning. We used several forms of winter shelter before building a permanent winter barn; we still used pasture shelters spring through fall. The permanent barn’s design will be a future blog post; here we discuss our experience with various non-permanent shelters.
Cattle-Panel Hoops with Tarps
A line of 4’x16’ cattle panels bent into hoops, held in place with rebar pounded into ground, makes an easy shelter with tarps or plastic lashed on top. While panels can be expensive, we sourced most of ours used from auctions and elsewhere. These are easy to set up and take down, and all the constituent parts can be repurposed if you change shelter plans later on. The ends can be blocked off with more panels or wooden walls as desired. The shelter above left housed the herd, while the shelter above right housed our milking stand. These can be winterized by stacking straw bales along the open ends for insulation, and keeping heavy snow knocked off the tarps.
When using these hoops, it’s important to keep the goats OFF. They’re wonderfully flexible with weather, but do not hold up to goats climbing and playing. The sequence above shows what happens if you don’t prevent this behavior: ruined hoops bent double by the herd climbing the hoop to reach an overhanging oak branch, and just to play. Preventing this is simple; just install a line of panels along the edge of the hoops, attached to T-posts, as shown in the first set of photos. These only take a few extra minutes to set up or take down (if moving the shelter) and will save your structure.
“Farmers Market” Pop-Up Tents with Cattle Panel Walls
You can also use cattle panels to enclose basic pop-up tents of the kind used at farmers markets and festivals. Set up the tents, and use T-posts to support a frame of panels around the tents. Gates are simply a shorter section of panel wired or tied to a post or neighboring panel. The panels are lashed together using baling twine, and the tents are lashed to the panels or the T-posts to hold them down in strong weather. These are especially fast to set up and take down, especially if you have a T-post puller (a simple leverage device that makes it easy to remove posts).
This design is only appropriate for warm weather, but does a good job of providing basic protection for a goat herd. Two tents provide an obvious division for kids and adults. It’s helpful to have the kid side open only into the adult side, which then opens to the outdoors. This way, you can easily draw the entire herd in at night, close the outer gate, then separate goats at your leisure. During the day, just leave all gates open to give free access to the entire shelter as needed.
The biggest potential barrier here is cost; new tents can be expensive. We were able to source some used from other farmers, and in the long run, the cost for even a new one may be worthwhile given how sturdy and easy-to-use such tents are. They’re also easy to repurpose or resell if your situation changes.
Chain-Link Walls with Tarp Roof
Standard 10’ chain-link panels, of the kind often used for dogs, work very well for goat shelters. With their own special brackets to hold panels to together, they’re a breeze to set up and take down, and the built-in doors in some panels make access and security easy. These can be expensive new, but we bought ours used. We lashed tarps onto the panels for additional weather-proofing, using separate tarps for each panel to facilitate disassembly.
In an early version (above left), we kept the milking stand on one side (where the adults also slept), and put the kids on the other side. Thus, we could milk each morning before letting the animals out to graze. In later versions (above right), once we’d built a permanent barn for milking and winter housing, the shelters only housed the goats, and we took the adults to the milking barn each morning before returning them to pasture. In this latter version, the divider panel down the middle has an internal door, to make separating kids easier (as described in the previous section). Each section also has its own external door to facilitate general access.
The most difficult part of this design is a suitable roof. At first, we bought a roof kit with pipes and tarp especially designed for this kind of shelter, but found we didn’t like it. The roof, with its open ends, allowed too much rain in, and was quite susceptible to wind. It was also tricky to set up and take down. We also experimented with winterizing a shelter like this, building a wood and metal roof overhead and insulating the walls with straw bales lashed to the panels. This worked okay, but was a real hassle to take down in spring when it was time to move the shed to new pasture.
Chain-Link Walls with Pop-Up Tent
This is our favorite shelter. Both components have a 10’x10’ footprint; simply set up the tent, and enclose it with chain-link panels. The panels hold tightly to the tent’s legs and provide security, while the tent fits perfectly on top. Both are quite easy to set up and take down; we found that a single person could dismantle, move, and reassemble this system in a different pasture in about an hour. That’s pretty good for a once-a-month task. The rest of the setup is similar to shelters described above. A hay rack may be lashed inside the panels if desired, and bedding collects naturally in place, to be composted once the shelter moves on. A couple T-posts can be driven in at the corners and lashed to the panels and tent, if additional security against strong weather is desired.
Any of these designs could be expensive if everything is purchased new, but creative sourcing can bring down the cost significantly. In addition, most of the constituent pieces can be reused for other purposes if your plans or needs change; there is little waste or permanent loss involved. These structures can be the true home for your homestead herd, or simply pasture shelters complementing a more permanent barn. The herd health benefits of living on pasture are significant, and it’s worth exploring whether such shelters could work for your goats.
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