Thursday, January 28, 2010

Keeping Goats in Winter

The first and foremost important thing you can do for your goats in the winter is keep them well stocked with hay, we use Alfalfa. Nothing keeps a goat warmer than a big belly-full of hay. When the girls eat you can hear their tummies purring with warmth. The hay replaces the grass and weeds and leaves that they would be eating in the warm summer months. It’s important to keep the extra hay bales dry and away from the goats. Our girls love to rip out great big clumps and trample it, and they’re not crazy about eating the hay off the ground. Once they tear it out of their manger it becomes bedding.
We also give them a 3 to 1 mix of grain and sun-oiler seeds. The sunflower seeds have a lot of oils in them and this comes out in the girl’s mohair. It protects the curls and helps keep them warm in our Michigan winters, similar to the way a water bird coats its feathers with oils to keep them warm in frigid waters. When you pet them you can feel the oils in their coats, and that layer is protecting them from the winds and wetness.
We also have practicle coats for them. This isn’t a fashion show, (although they do look rather cute) the coats we have for them have a nylon outer to block the wind, and a quilted fleece inside. We purchased XL dog coats with Velcro closures and they work great. We had some extremely cold days this winter where the temperatures dropped below zero, and the wind was something fierce, so they wore their coats on those days. We can’t keep their coats on them all the time because it will matte their wool.
They also have a red heat lamp which raises the temperature slightly here in the barn. I prefer the red bulbs over the white, it seems to be more calming at night. On really wet days they stay in the barn all day. The mohair absorbs some water despite the oils and if the temperature drops before they dry, they could get pneumonia. When the sun finally does come out, we make sure we walk them in the woods, so they can have some fun and don’t get bored. We use regular nylon dog collars and leashes. Goats are extremely curious animals and if they are pent up too much they will become destructive. We try to stimulate them with walks about three times a week. It’s good for them and us, and our golden retriever Cedric who feels he has to lead the way.
Another thing to consider is keeping their water from freezing. We have electricity down at the barn, so we use a heated coil bucket which keeps the water liquid. This particular model is great for goats because the cord is wrapped in wire so they can’t chew it and get electrocuted.
Another thing we do in winter is muck layering. You can only do this in the winter because the low temperatures keep the odors down, and the bacteria levels. The technique to muck layering is, every day we put a fresh layer of straw down, the layers of straw and manure slowly rot, and like compost, produce heat, which rises through the fresh layer of straw and heats the barn considerably. You can clean the stalls completely if you have a few warmer days. Like here in Michigan we had a "heat wave" and the temps stayed around 35 for the week. We cleaned the barn and scrubbed the floor with a 5 to 1 mixture of bleach and hot water. Make sure to use hot water so that the moisture evaporates.
We also feel it’s important to provide the goats with tree branches, dried leaves, sliced apples and carrots. In the summer, goats like to nibble a little of this and a little of that. In the winter, their diet is narrowed to hay and grain only. We like to give them some variety to keep them happy.

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