While our Wisconsin weather lets us practice rotational grazing (feeding on pasture) during the spring, summer and fall months, the winter is a different story for feeding our goats. In the fall when the pasture quality starts to drop, we’ll let the goats have access to the barn and start to feed them hay, usually in a feeder in the pasture closest to the barn. Just like during grazing season, our goats always have access to fresh water and loose minerals (think goat multi-vitamin).
We feed hay outside for a few reasons. First, the goats get regular exercise. And, second, is to keep the barn cleaner, moving the hay debris and extra manure waste outside. As a bonus, the manure also helps fertilize our pasture. The goats are fed in the barn when the temperature drops below zero. They do great in the cold weather and grow and impressive, thick winter coat, much like you’d see on a dog.
We’ve been lucky this last week, as it’s been seasonably warm for Wisconsin in January with day temps in the mid-30s. Now, I’m closely watching the snow melt, mud and puddles to make sure the pasture doesn’t get too damaged by all the hoof traffic, and more importantly, the goats’ hooves aren’t exposed to too much moisture, which can cause infections. If it gets too muddy and wet, we will have to start feeding in the barn again until the ground surface freezes again.
In another month we’ll be getting ready for kidding (baby goats!). Depending on the mobility of the pregnant goats, I may start to do more feeding in the barn to give their legs a little more rest.
Right now my farm is somewhat like a teenager. It’s not quite to its full size, which at times can mean growing pains and even awkward situations (think of grandma giving you an XL shirt to “grow into”).
As my herd of goats grows, I’ll need more options for housing our breeding animals year-round. I have drafted expansion plans for our barns. But, I also need to consider how the pasture can be used in the winter as well. This is due to having multiple groups of animals over winter, which include our (1) breeding bucks, (2) breeding does, and (3) doelings kept for breeding, but not old enough to breed. And, then in January, the (4) dairy buck kids arrive. They need to be in separate groups because of their size difference, safety, and to prevent any unplanned breeding. This year the current barn space should be okay. It’ll be tight, but okay.
However, this is why I’m planning ahead for using our pasture over winter primarily for our bucks or older animals. Goats are fairly hearty animals as long as they have access to shelter to keep them from getting wet. I’ll be adding a tree line windbreak along our west pasture to provide more protection from the elements through the winter months.
This recently I started working on the actual windbreak layout. It’ll be two rows of Colorado Blue Spruce trees along the north end of the pasture. The trees are spaced about 15 feet apart in each row, with the trees off set in the second row, also 15 ft from the first row. Since there’s a field driveway that goes past the corner of the field, a small section of the windbreak will be one row to allow for hay equipment access to the other field. The spacing is based on recommendations for livestock windbreaks from my county NRCS conservationist and also account for ease of mowing around the trees, especially when they’re young, and still having access to maintain the fence line.
The trees are transplants and are 1 ½ - 2 feet tall and have a growth rate of 1-2 feet per year. This is why it’s important I get these trees in the ground now, so they’ll start being useful in a few years. I’ll plant them this fall and will put mulch around the base to help with moisture and weed control.
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.