There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising goats (or any livestock for that matter). But by working with nature, you can raise happy, healthy dairy goats. Goats don’t need a lot of shelter in the winter, but a properly designed goat shelter, barn or house will keep your goats happy all winter long. The following excerpt is from Raising Goats Naturally (New Society Publishers, 2013) by Deborah Niemann.
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One of the advantages that goats have over cattle, sheep, and pigs is that the equipment and infrastructure required for them is not nearly as costly. Goats were the first livestock we bought after chickens, and we had to buy very little equipment for them. When we added other livestock, however, we quickly learned that we would need to upgrade our infrastructure to properly contain them. Cattle require heavy-duty steel handling equipment, which is very costly. Although ewes are not any harder to keep than goats, the rams are very hard on housing and gates. The first time we put a ram in our one of buck pens, he put his head down, ran straight for the gate and busted right through it. Pigs also tend to tear up a lot of buildings and fencing simply by rubbing on it. You will probably discover that goats are easier to keep than you imagined.
Winter Goat Shelter
Many people who live in northern climates assume they will need an insulated and heated barn or goat house for goats in winter. However, goats grow a thick, fuzzy undercoat of cashmere to keep them warm during the winter, so adults are usually fine in unheated goat barns in most of North America. If kids are born in freezing temperatures, someone should be there to get them dried off as quickly as possible so they don’t get hypothermia and their ears don’t get frostbitten while still wet. Once kids are dry, they are fine down to around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Housing Goats in Winter
Goats need to be protected from snow, rain, and wind because these things will cause a lot more stress than cold temperatures alone. Unlike sheep and cattle, goats seem to think they will melt if they get wet, so most of them will start to scream wildly if it starts raining when they are outside. A three-sided goat shelter in the pasture is ideal because the goats can get out of the rain and wind, but they still have fresh air.
A goat barn with big, heavy doors that you have to open and close to allow goats to go in and out can be modified by cutting a smaller, goat-sized door into the side of the barn so that the goats can come and go as they choose when there is threat of rain or other inclement weather. In general, however, the goats should be outside during the day, where they can get fresh air.
You may have heard of using an old doghouse as a goat shelter, and although this can provide shelter, it may not work for more than one goat. There is a hierarchy in every herd, and if the goat shelter is not big enough, the less dominant goats may be left outside in the rain. If you are planning to milk your goats, you will want a building that not only will shelter the goats but will also provide a comfortable environment for humans during birthing and milking.
Although I have heard of people milking their goats outside, it is more comfortable to have a milking parlor to keep you and the goats in winter. It needs to be separate from where the goats live; otherwise, all of the goats will be fighting to get on the stanchion and eat the grain in the bowl.
You also need to consider your own comfort when thinking about kidding season and goat houses. For six or seven years, we sat in the big, cold goat barn waiting for does to give birth, with other does walking around in the same stall. Finally it occurred to me to use our other barn, which had never been used for livestock and which had a small heated room with windows looking out into the open part of the goat barn. If you are building a goat barn from scratch, this is something to consider. I probably would not have thought about this configuration if we had not already had the building on our farm.
We decided to build kidding pens in the goat barn with the heated viewing room so that we could watch the does without freezing. Kidding pens provide space for does to give birth in semi-privacy. Our “semi-private kidding suites” have pig panels between them so that the does can see each other but won’t be able to butt heads or bother each other when one is in labor. Goats can be very mean to each other, and you never know who is going to be left alone when she is in labor and who is going to be picked on. Being herd animals, they tend to get upset when separated from other goats, so using pig panels to separate them meets their need for company but protects them at the same time.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat and More, published by New Society Publishers, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Raising Goats Naturally.