Q. When your pasture is dormant, how do you feed your goats? A. Bale grazing!
Bale grazing has been an incredible practice for us on our farm.
Feeding our goats outside had allowed us to keep our barn cleaner. It reduces the need for equipment use since the bale residue and manure stays outside.
Aside from nutrition, it also encourages the goats to get exercise, which is good for muscle (meat) development. More time in the fresh air also helps reduce respiratory issues.
Once we have snow the bale residue is also a great ”sunning” spot for our goats. We’ll often find them hanging out in these areas since it's nice and dry.
Finally, probably the best benefit (yes I'm a nerd), is the leftover bale residue and the 🐐 manure and urine. What?! Yep. The bale residue adds more organic matter to our pastures and adds to the seedbed. The goats are doing the fertilization for us. In the spring the bale grazing sites will start to work their magic helping us strengthen the health and quality of pastures without the need for any further seed or nutrients.
This bale is strategically placed in an area with minimal topsoil. We don't have a bale feeder on it because I want more residue in this area.
All winter bales will be strategically placed in our pastures where there is a greater need for the soil. A bale is always placed in a new site to maximize its full potential.
P.S. If you're wondering if we only have one goat in this pasture, we don't. Our young stock/market goats are always a bit wilder than our breeding stock since they haven't been handled as much 😆. I assure you this goat has many friends.
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.
This blog post was originally published 2/14/20 and was updated 11/30/20.
Legal disclaimer: All information provided is based on personal experience and is provided for educational and information use only. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless our website, company and owner for any direct or indirect loss or conduct incurred as a result of your use of our website and any related communications. This applies to, but is not limited to, business operational information and consulting, as well as farm and goat management practices.
Any animal health information provided on this website is based on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed with a veterinarian. In all situations, it is the responsibility of the livestock owner to consult with a veterinarian before using any animal health practices shared on this website or by this company and its owner. See the full legal disclaimer here.
Thank you Katelyn at the Wild Rose Farmer for having me as a guest on her Rural Woman Podcast. I’ve been a listener since the start and an avid podcast junkie for along time. It is an honor to be coming into your earbuds as a podcast guest, instead of my usual role as just the listener!
For those who often ask about how I got started raising goats and the meat goat industry and market, here it is!
You can find the podcast episode here, listen to it anywhere you listen to podcasts, or stream it on WildRoseFarmer.com
P.S. If you’re new to this podcast or Katelyn, she also raises goats for meat!
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 late 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.
This post was originally published 3/27/19, and updated 4/14/20.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I manage my herd as it grows to its “full size.” As some may know, my herd is still in its growth stage since I've been building it from within. In this planning process I’m being mindful of working with the seasonality of our region, managed grazing practices, and use of our facilities.
My plan going forward after this kidding season will be to split our herd into two groups and move into a breeding cycle where our herd is kidding three times a year, about four months apart. This doesn’t mean we’re doing back-to-back breeding, but it means that each group will kid every other kidding season. Each doe will have the opportunity to breed every nine months, allowing for time for gestation, nursing, and recovery.
Why am I moving to this system:
From an economic perspective, this farm is also a business. It requires income to continue and serve our customers. Over the span of time, we should be able to produce the same number of kids as if our herd size was 25-30% larger. This means fewer breeding does to feed and manage, with more offspring to either add to our herd as replacement stock or to sell. As a family farm, it also helps keep my workload more manageable.
What I will be working on figuring out:
What I know I’ll need to do:
Lastly, a big shout out to Sandy Brock, of Sheepishly Me, a sheep farmer in Canada. Her approach to managing breeding and lambing for her flock provided me inspiration to think about how I could adapt practices to my goat herd and our grazing system.
If you’re interested in learning more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat, join our online community here.
This past weekend we started preparing for breeding season for our goats. We will do this herd health work about 1-2 months before we actually put the bucks in with the does.
So here’s what it looks like for us:
Bucks: The bucks get the same attention.
Why do we start the process in advance? It gives any goats that need a little extra attention some extra time before the big dating day comes. We can make sure all the goats are at their best, in terms of health. If any kids are still nursing, it also allows the does bodies to readjust before making the transition to growing babies.
The day of health work: We bring the goats from the pasture back to the barn. It’s just easier to have a contained space to work with them and sort them. We will have 1-2 friends or family members helping sort goats and doing the hoof trimming and health work.
I’ll also make observations and record all the health work and other notes into our online record system EasyKeeper on my tablet (if you try it out, you can get a $30 credit here).. This year I also was keeping tabs on our almost 2-year-old-daughter. It was a bit of a balancing act!
We use the over the fence feeder troughs to put our supplies in order of use and so they’re easy to access. There’s a whiteboard with a checklist of tasks for each goat and dosages based on animal size. This helps streamline the process. Next year I’m hoping to add a chute and sorting facility to our system. Right now, it works, but it has the potential to add extra stress on the goats and is also hard on our own bodies.
At the end of November, after Thanksgiving, we’ll split our herd into groups and put the bucks out. The timing works out well. We kid in mid-April, which its usually starting to warm up. We often have extra family and friends around the farm with the holiday and deer hunting season.
We’ll put our yearlings into one group so there’s no extra competition or stress with the older does during breeding. We also will often use a smaller buck.
The older does are split into two groups with our other bucks. We use breeding harnesses to know when does are exposed. They are kept in their groups for 20-30 days, or until all does are marked. Then we combine the groups at 45 days. Around 60 days we will usually pull the bucks and put them in their winter pen.
Five months later it’s baby goat time!
Wonder why we kid later in the season? Read this blog post here.
If you’re interested in learning more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat, join our online community here.
This blog post includes affiliate links. I only endorse products I use and find helpful for my work on the farm. If you have questions about these products send me an email at email@example.com.
I’m honored, and a bit humbled, to share that I’m featured in the most recent issue of the Rural Route magazine, which goes out to farm families and others involved in agriculture in Wisconsin. You can read the full article below to learn more about how I got my start in farming, as well as raising meat goats and direct marketing goat meat in western Wisconsin.
I’d also like to give a big thank you to Amy Eckelberg from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau for asking me to do the interview and coming all the way to northwestern Wisconsin to take photos for the story in one of the hottest times of the year.
She also started to learn the art of taking pictures with livestock guardian dogs sniffing and licking you and figuring out how to get a good shot of grazing goats. This includes not just getting them to face you but attempting to not get too many goat rear ends or anyone taking care of business in the shot. I think Amy did ok, if you look at her pictures!
Enjoy the read!
P.S. The magazine also featured a number of grilling recipes in the Farm Flavor section from my personal food Instagram account: @GrillingLikeSteven You can check those out here.
If you want to see the whole magazine, click here to read it.
If you haven't joined our Meat List, you can sign up here. We share goat meat recipes, cooking tips, promotions, and let you know when goat meat (including when to order whole goats).
If you're raising meat goats or are thinking about rasing meat goats, you can sign up for our online community here to learn more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat.
Electric fence is a must for keeping goats on pasture: keeping them and our livestock guardian dogs in, AND keeping predators out.
As good as electric fence is, it isn't foolproof. Sometimes it's not working as well as it could be.
The only way you might not know is if... hmm... a goat breaks out of your paddock fence, or you find one of your livestock guardian dogs roaming the whole pasture. Thank goodness for perimeter fence! (Learn how we use permanent, perimeter fence and temporary paddock fencing in this article).
So how do I know if the fencer is working like it should be? I will look at the fencer itself (see picture below) and check to see if it's fully energized, with the lights flashing all the way up to green. If it's not something could be grounding it out. But, do I always want to run back to the barn and troubleshoot? No.
So, enter in one of my favorite grazing / electric fencing tools -- a fence tester. I have the Fault Finder by Gallagher.
When I suspect the fence might not be as hot as usual, or not even on at all, I'll take out the Fault Finder and test the fence. It will show the KV running through the fence, and if there's a grounding issue it will point an arrow to direct you in the direction it's at. It gives me a general idea of where to check the fence to look for down trees, areas where deer may have knocked down the top high tensile wire and it's now touching the woven wire, or other issues. These tend to be my most common issues.
I also like to use the fence tester when I'm running more temporary fence than usual, or running temporary fence outside of our permanent fenced in pasture. These are instances where I want to be especially certain the fence is HOT. The more electric wire I put on my energizer, the greater odds it might drop the KV. Usually, in these instances, I might also need to do more trimming or knocking down grass and brush to make sure there's no other grounding issues, which impact how hot the fence is.
If you're going to use electric fence and graze, this is a tool to have. There are several options out there to choose from. I happened to use Gallagher's Fault Finder since I use a lot of their fencing products and have been happy with the quality and performance.
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.
This is the first blog post in a four-part Grazing Goats Article Series.
There’s a popular saying, if a fence can’t hold water, it can’t hold a goat. While it’s true that goats are more challenging to fence as compared to other livestock, it isn’t as big of an issue as what some might think. However, the right type fence, energizer and training is important. It is often one of the most common barriers for raising goats – having the right fencing.
When we decided to raise goats, we knew that fencing was important, and it needed to be done right. Our perimeter fence specs were developed by a USDA – NRCS conservationist / grazing specialist with some consultation from a well-regarded fence installer who has experience with fencing goats and sheep. We didn’t want to lose our goats, nor did we want to be in a situation where we weren’t on good terms with our neighbors.
Our goat perimeter fencing is about 47 inches high and is high tensile woven wire with a strand of hot high tensile wire about 6 inches above the woven wire to keep predators from jumping or climbing over and keep the goats in. At the bottom, a few inches below the woven wire and a few inches above the ground is a strand of barbed wire to deter animals from digging under, specifically our livestock guardian dogs and predators, like coyotes. Fence posts are spaced about 16 feet.
The woven wire opening is 6 inches wide and starts at 3 inches tall openings. Each opening going up to the top gets a little bit bigger, with the top opening at 7 inches tall. The majority of our goats are horned. On occasion some of our younger goats will get their heads stuck in the fence, trying to eat grass outside the pasture. Usually if there’s enough to eat in a paddock (a section of the pasture) this isn’t an issue. Older goats typically can’t push their heads through since their horns are large enough to stop them. If a goat continuously gets stuck, we may put a “crown” on her head temporarily to help train her to not stick her head through. This is a piece of flexible pipe about 8-10 inches long and then duct taped to the horns. If the goat tries to push her head through the fence to eat, the pipe will stop her. It’s a safe way to train her to stop this habit. Goats that are stuck in fences may be more susceptible to predators or bullying from more aggressive goats.
Traditional high tensile wire can be used as well. It’s recommended that if you go this route to use a 5-wire set up. According to Randy Cutler of Cutler Fence, who did our fencing installation, goat and sheep fence should be 36-48 inches high with the bottom wire at 6-12 inches above the ground. Woven wire should be 14 gauge, with the spacing at 4x4 inches up to 12 inches between the verticals.
Our pasture gates are traditional pipe gates with cattle panel mounted on them with hose clamps. We’ve found this option to be more durable than the gates with wire mesh built in.
Do our goats get out? On occasion a kid might sneak out through a fence opening, between a fence post and a gate, or under a gate. But, as soon as they sneak out, their moms are calling them back and back they go.
Since we practice rotation grazing, we use portable fencing to divide our pasture into paddocks. The first few years we used electronet fencing from Premier 1 Fencing (ElectroStop 10/42/12). It worked well. However, we were grazing three different groups of goats and our pasture was old overgrown CRP land with lots of brush and trees. It got to be cumbersome to move that much fence and it would often get tangled on brush or tree stumps. The last three years we’ve been using Gallagher’s Smart Fence and I love it. It is easy to put up and take down. It’s also easy to transport. I can put several fences in the back of my gator, along with other grazing gear and there’s no issue with the fencing getting tangled.
To create paddocks, we have a short temporary fence set up running down the middle of the pasture built with t-posts and step in posts strung with poly wire. Then, we set up two Smart Fences running from the perimeter fence to the center temporary fence to create the paddock. Then an alligator clip connects the portable fence to the top hot wire on the perimeter fence.
Our energizer is located our barn and is a M1500 Gallagher (15 stored joules, up to 160 miles, 900 acres). We had a M120 (1.2 stored joules, up to 15 miles/60 acres), but upgraded it this grazing season so we could continue to run more portable fencing and keep the fence hotter.
The video below is one I made a few seasons back explaining the Smart Fence and why I like to use it on the farm with our meat goats.
Watch for the next blog post on fence training goats in this grazing goat series. Sign up for our online community here so you don’t miss the next post and to learn more about what we do on our farm raising goats for meat.
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.
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats on pasture.
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.