One of the best parts of living in Wisconsin is our wide range of seasons. Well, at least I think so. When it comes to winter, I often get questions on how my goats handle the cold weather and snow. They do just fine.
In November our weather will usually start to make the transition to winter with temps in the teens to single digits, snowfalls are common. January through February is usually our coldest weather of the season with temperatures usually in the single digits or below zero. Often there’s a stretch of weather -25, which usually lasts only a few days. In March the weather starts to gradually warm-up.
It Starts with the Herd
Livestock are a lot heartier than we may think. While my goats are farm animals, goats themselves in the wild original as mountain animals. They originally were designed to live in a rugged environment with a range of temperatures, including cold weather.
On our farm, we’ve bred in the Kiko breed to help build a heartier herd (which is a Boer-Kiko cross), that thrive on pasture and is self-sufficient, including handling nature’s elements.
Transitioning to Winter
We help our goats adjust to winter by keeping them outside on pasture as long as possible as the weather transitions from fall to winter. This helps their bodies adjust to the temperatures and grow a thick coat to help keep them warm throughout winter. At first, they aren’t fans of the temperature change and they’ll bleat at me about it. Then, after a few weeks later, they’ll be adjusted and don’t make much of a fuss.
During this time, they’ll still have access to pasture shelters, which keeps them dry and blocks them from the wind. We’ll bed those shelters with straw to keep it clean and dry.
Additionally, we feed hay in the winter. The hay ferments in their rumen, creating heat for the animals, helping them stay warm from within. Between their body heat and snuggling together, they keep fairly warm in the shelters.
Once our weather is consistently in the single digits, we’ll transition the herd to the barn for their winter shelter. We have a flap on the door to keep block the wind and keep snow out. They would do fine in their pasture shelters as long as they’re kept bedded and dry. We have the barn, so we choose to use it.
The herd will continue to feed on round bales out in the pasture, to make sure they are getting adequate exercise and help keep the barn cleaner. As a side benefit of feeding outside the leftover hay and goat fertilizer helps our pasture thrive the next season by adding to the seedbed and providing more nutrients.
With exposure to fresh air, they also tend to have fewer respiratory issues. Moving back and forth from the feeders to the barn also helps them generate more body heat.
In the Barn
While the goats have full access to the barn, we will bed their pens regularly to make sure it stays clean and dry. We keep adding to the bedding throughout the winter season. This “deep pack bedding” acts as an insulator and generates heat as it gradually breaks down at the base.
We’ll also keep an eye on the airflow in the barn and condensation and run our ventilation system when needed as well. We will make sure the barn is free of drafts as well. It’s also important to not have the barn close too “tight” as well. Some flow of fresh air is good.
The water source in our barn is a frost-free hydrant. We don’t use automatic waterers. I like to just use the low 60-gallon tanks or the “muck” tubs for smaller pens. We use drop-in heaters to keep the water from freezing and a heated hose for filling the tanks in the main barn.
In our machine shed, we have an overflow pen, but we don’t have water in that barn. We will use three 100-foot expandable hoses with shut off valves (like the “as seen on TV” hoses) to fill the tank in the other barn from the hydrant. When we are done, we’ll coil up the hose and put it in our heat milk house room in the barn so it doesn’t freeze. This has worked better than hauling buckets or filling a large tank.
Severe Weather: Extreme Cold or Major Snowfall
If we hit a really cold stretch or anticipate a big snowstorm, we may close the barn door and feed the goats inside.
If it's an especially snowy winter, we will also plow paths in the pasture to help the goats get to their hay feeders. We’ll also strategically plow snow to create windbreaks.
We also try to keep an eye on the snow load on the barn roof as well, to make sure we don’t have a collapsed roof issue and then have to figure out how to house our animals while it gets fixed.
We see fewer health issues with our goats in the wintertime than in the summer. High heat, wet summers and temperature swings in the spring are harder on the animals (pneumonia, parasites, other pathogens, etc,).
It may be natural to think that we should keep our goats in an insulated, heated barn, however it can lead to more health problems. An enclosed barn without ventilation can run the risk of respiratory issues such as pneumonia.
We also do not kid in the coldest months in our Wisconsin winters to avoid the risk of pneumonia or hypothermia. There are goat farms who do kid in winter, we just choose not to do so. It’s easier on the goats and ourselves as farmers.
If it is a late “spring” from Mother Nature and kidding as started, we may use jackets for our goats for the first week. Then we will transition them off to help the goats get adjusted to the temperature. In general, jackets are usually not necessary. We’ll also use heat lamps with kidding stalls and infrared heaters in the creep area to keep kids warm and safe from the bigger goats.
Livestock are hearty animals. Ruminants do a great job of keeping themselves warm from within through fermentation in their rumen. As farmers, we make sure they have access to dry, draft-free shelters and they do quite well throughout the winter months.
Products + tools mentioned in article
Drop in tank heaters / deicers: We use a variety of tank heaters depending on the size of the livestock water tank and the placement (is it outdoors, is it near an open door, inside, etc.). I try to size the heater to the tank and also minimize the wattage (check the box for the size) to keep our electric bill down and not overload our electric circuits in the barn.
I prefer to use drop in heaters vs buckets with heaters built in because sooner or later the heater will die. I'd rather replace the heater than everything.
The Perfect Bucket Heater by K&H Pet is my favorite for the muck bucket tanks (see picture). It's small and only uses 80 watts. Why use a big heater if you don't have too?
I also like having a couple extra heaters on hand. I always seem to have one that decides to stop working in early spring when most farm stores stop restocking their shelves with winter supplies.
Heated hose from K&H Pet, 40 ft. We use this at our hydrant to fill our main livestock tank in the winter. We will plug it in before we need to use it and then it's ready to go. Each time we use it we make sure to keep the end that screws on the hydrant "up" so excess water doesn't freeze in the opening, making it hard to unthaw. We've been using this hose year-round for hour seasons.
Expandable hose by XHOSE, 3 100 ft hoses to run from the water hydrant in our main goat barn to our machine shed to all for filling up the water tank in our overflow pen.
When we use heat lamps I really like the Prima Heat Lamp from Premier 1 Supplies since it is durable and has a number of features that make it safer than the traditional heat lamp. Caution should always be used with heat lamps in barns to avoid fires.
I really like the Sweeter Heaters, they're an infrared heater. No lamp, just heat. They're much safer than using a heat lamp, to help avoid the fire risk. A bonus is that they are owned and manufactured by a family in northern Wisconsin!
Collapsible Round Bale Feeder: We use Ketcham's Collapsible Round Bale Feeder for feeding round bales. We have four of them. I wish we had at least two more. I love that they are easy to move by myself without equipment (of course equipment helps), and the best part is that the goats hardly waste any hay.
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On the farm we work to be as low stress as possible when it comes to handling our meat goats. It’s easier on their health and for us as farmers too. One of the best goat handling tools we’ve added to our management system is a crook. Yes, that’s right a crook.
We use the Kiwi Crook from Premier 1 Fencing. It looks like a long fiberglass cane, with a traditional crook opening for the head at one end and a self-locking lever to catch a leg on the other end. It’s named “Kiwi” since it was created by a New Zealand sheep family.
You might wonder how is the low stress? If you don’t have a formal animal handling setup designed to move animals through safely and calmly, you’re in a situation where you are catching your goats by hand. The first one or two might go ok, but after that the rest of the goat herd will likely catch on to what you’re doing. Then you’ll be in a “goat rodeo” situation where the goats will be running away from you, causing them stress and putting yourself at risk for falling, tripping or getting charged by an animal. Using crooks greatly reduces the stress put on the herd since you can quickly catch the goat at a distance. As soon as I have the goat, I’ll release the crook and then work with the goat from there.
We use the crooks on pasture and also in the winter in our barn pens. They’re handy for quickly catching a goat that might need to be given a closer look over for health reasons or even treated depending on her symptoms.
We like them so much, we have two crooks, a his and hers. That way if my husband is helping me out with some animal health work, we both can work quickly to catch the goat(s) we need to work with. I even gave one to a fellow goat farmer friend of mine as a wedding present.
While in the future I would like to set up a formal goat handling facility, this crook will still be useful when I need to work with an individual goat here and there, especially while out on pasture.
If you're interested in learning more about more of my favorite goat things and how we’re raising meat goats on pasture, join our online community for raising goats for meat here.
If I'm introducing a new series in my blog: My Favorite Goat Things. It's a way to feature resources, tips/tricks and other tools of the trade that I use as a farmer who raises goats for meat. Here's my first #MyFavoriteGoatThings - Enjoy!
One of My Favorite Goat Things: Holistic Goat Care by Gianaclis Caldwell
When it comes to goats, there’s not much research, health care products, equipment, reference books, or even veterinarians who have basic knowledge about or are willing to work with goats. Goat producers usually put on their “goat glasses” and adapt sheep or other ruminant information to manage the health needs of their herd.
That’s why Gianaclis Caldwell’s book, Holistic Goat Care, is such a welcome resource. The book is a comprehensive guide to raising healthy goats, and solving health issues that arise. It’s well suited for both the new and experienced goat keeper, and covers all types of goats. Topics include:
Caldwell presents the content in an easy-to-read manner that flows well, whether one reads the book in its entirety or uses it as a reference guide. Throughout the book, she blends her practical experience with goats with science-based information. Caldwell also takes a broad holistic approach to health care for goats.
While the goat resources that do exist touch on many of the same topics, most do not have the depth of this book, nor recognize holistic management practices.
Since there are few veterinarians in our area who are knowledgeable on goats, I’ve added a goat veterinary textbook to my stack of resources. While Holistic Goat Care doesn’t dive deep into veterinary medical speak, it is a great resource for goat producers. It is much easier to read than the veterinary textbook, and explains terminology and practices for those who may not have formal training or background in animal science. The book also includes a variety of supply lists, check lists, terminology, signs/symptoms, resource lists, photos, troubleshooting guides, A-Z list of disorders, and a glossary. Additionally, the value of the content is more reasonable—about $40 versus $100 or more for a textbook.
I especially liked the feed choice section, which includes information about pasture, grazing, browse, and forages. Other feeding options were covered, but since I practice rotational grazing, I really appreciated the information in this section.
I also liked the information on the role of minerals, vitamins and supplements, covered both in the feed choice and nutritional needs chapters. The book covers how minerals interact with each other, their impact on a goat’s development, signs of deficiencies, risks of an overabundance of minerals, and approaches to supplement for minerals.
The step-by-step instructions on how to do your own fecal float test to look at parasite loads are good, too. She includes a supply list and instructional photos. There isn’t any information on what certain parasite eggs look like. However, that information is easily accessible online or through a consult with your vet.
I never want to lose one of my goats, but I also recognize the importance of continuing to learn how to care for my livestock. Over the years, I’ve had our veterinarian out to the farm to do necropsies. While observing live animal behavior and symptoms can help us draw conclusions to why a goat may have an ailment, it doesn’t always tell us what is actually happening or why. Necropsies have helped answer these questions and as a result I’ve made some adjustments on feeding and management practices. It’s not always feasible to get a vet out to our farm or bring the animal into the clinic. This guide helps solve this challenge by providing clear instructions on doing a necropsy.
If you’re getting started with goats, the first part of the book includes a variety of information on goat behavior, fencing, feeding, animal handling tips, and so on.
While this book isn’t a substitution for veterinary care, it is a very comprehensive holistic health care reference that all goat farmers should consider having on their bookshelf. You can find it on Amazon.com or other retailers that carry books.
If you're interested in learning more about more of my favorite goat things, join our online community for raising goats for meat here.
This book review originally was featured in Midwest Organic and Sustainable Educational Services (MOSES) Organic Broadcaster newsletter, November/December 2017 issue. Farmers can subscribe to mosesorganic.org/sign-up/this newsletter for free at https://mosesorganic.org/sign-up/.
You don’t know how many times this winter (now spring) I’ve been asked, “How’s kidding going?” Each time I explain that we don’t have any babies yet since we’ve moved kidding to later in the season. We’re set to kid in early April and then have the last batch of kids in May.
We’ve kidded and worked with baby goats in January through April, with both babies born on our farm and bottle babies we’ve raised since they were only a few days old. The first few years raising goats we didn’t own a buck and our breeding schedule worked around the farm where we rented a buck. We’ve also bred for earlier in the season (anytime between January and March) because that seems to be what most farms do in our area. So why not do the same? And, with raising bottle babies, we of course were on the schedule of the dairy farms we worked with.
There are many reasons farms kid earlier: raising for the show/fair kid market, having kids be at market weight in the fall, renting bucks like we have done, seasonal milking, and so on.
Here are three reasons why we’ve moved to late season kidding:
If you’re interested in learning more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat, join our online community here.
Some days on the farm it feels like I’m winning and other days not so much. This one is a win.
Earlier this month I found this wether, whom I call Kevin (all goats that look like this one are called Kevin on our farm BTW), with his front two legs caught in the crotch of a tree. After I pulled him out I realized his legs were sprained, swollen and he was too sore to walk on his own. He also was too big for me to carry out with 50-60 of his closest friends at my feet. So I pulled him out on a sled and set him up in a recovery pen in the barn and gave him some TLC. Slowly he’s been regaining strength in his legs and using them. In the last week he's been gingerly using his front legs instead of moving around on his knees,
Today I moved him to our group pen in another barn with a handful of our goats that aren't on pasture. Right away he was busy "facing off" with another wether trying to establish his place in the pecking order in that group of goats. That's another good sign. While he has lost a lot of conditioning, but I’m grateful he’s progressed as he has.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.