Dealing With Goats in Cold Weather

Reader Contribution by Maggie Bonham
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At the homestead in Montana this past November and December, we had brutal cold with temperatures dropping below zero for weeks. Naturally, I was fearful the goats would have problems with it.

Unlike other livestock, goats are particularly susceptible to bad weather such as wind and rain. They’re not like cattle and other livestock that can deal with bad weather easily. Goats need enough shelter to get out of the rain and the wind. Without it, you can have your flock succumb to hypothermia and frostbite.

We keep the goats in a pen behind the barn where we store the hay. The goats have overhead shelter, a windbreak on the west side, and a natural windbreak on the north side. They get morning sun and enough sun from the south to keep them comfortable in the winter. Water, however, is always a problem. We use a large heated bucket and fill the bucket twice daily. The goats get plenty of water and food, but they do go through more hay and grain when the weather gets nasty.

Recognizing a Problem

Most of the time you can tell whether your animals are doing okay just by looking at them. If they look like they have a nice layer of fat, walk around okay, and just behave like the troublemakers they are, chances are they’re okay. If the goats are shivering, that’s a sure sign there’s something wrong. In most cases, a shivering goat isn’t getting enough food and isn’t able to get out of the weather. If that’s the case, you need to feed her more and get her to a place where she can get warm. Often goats can be downright nasty to the lowest in the herd order. I’ve seen one of my smaller does, Delilah, get kicked out from under the roof. Other problems can occur if the goat is sick. You just have to keep an eye on them to make certain they’re okay.

Remarkably Tough, Ridiculously Fragile

I had one of my Boer mixes start limping this winter. After checking out her foot and finding it swollen and hot, I ended up cleaning up her hoof and injecting her with antibiotics. As much as I hate giving antibiotics, sometimes you have to do it, especially if there’s a chance of severe weather. Goats are usually the toughest critters I know – until something major happens. Then, they can go downhill fast. Simple things like diarrhea (called scours) can kill a goat in a day. When giving antibiotics, I always give probiotics so that the goat’s rumen doesn’t shut down, something that can happen easily. The rumen is one of four compartments in the stomach the goat has and the goat can die quickly if the rumen stops working.

So far, the goats have been holding up well. The real test will be in March and April when they start kidding.

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