Whether winter is coming up, or it’s early fall, and you are preparing for the cold winter months, keeping goats healthy is something many farmers and homesteaders consider.
You might be planning for freezing weather and worrying about how low your goats can survive.
The good news is that healthy goats can survive much lower temperatures than expected.
Healthy goats can survive sub-zero or 0° degrees Fahrenheit (-18° C) temperatures without much concern, thanks to their cashmere (thick wool) and hard-working digestive systems. Kidding does and kids need more heat but can survive down to 20° degrees Fahrenheit (-6° C) as long as they have dry, windproof shelter.
Learn more below regarding the different factors regarding a healthy temperature range for goats and how to provide them with the necessary resources to keep goats warm.
Cold Temperatures And Goats
Goats are quite hardy animals who have adapted to live in a wide range of conditions and can survive in conditions which, as a rule of thumb, a human in warm clothing could survive.
In preparation for winter, goats will grow a thick coat of fur known as cashmere to keep them warm and naturally produce more heat with their digestive system in cold weather.
For temperatures below freezing, the only big concern is keeping fresh water.
Preventing freezing may be accomplished by using a water heater to create consistently warm water or providing fresh water several times throughout the day.
If the goats are healthy or live in a climate where winters don’t get below zero often, the goats are well-equipped to survive with only fresh water and a wind- and water-resistant shelter.
While it is true that healthy adult goats are well equipped for cold weather, kids, pregnant women, and sick animals cannot survive in cold temperatures and will require more care.
Further Reading: Kids and baby goats in cold temperatures
Three-sided shelters to block wind and precipitation are essential to keep the animals warm, as cashmere goat coats are ineffective in high wind or when wet.
Shelters also provide a place to add suitable bedding and heating equipment such as heat lamps.
If goats are breeding and expected to be kidding during winter providing extra shelter and heating options and clean and warm bedding is vital to keeping them healthy.
What Factors Impact Goat Cold Tolerance?
Age is one of the biggest factors when determining how tolerant a goat will be toward cold temperatures.
Young kids and senior goats will be more susceptible to cold temperatures and need additional heat for temperatures below freezing.
Does close to kidding will also need extra heat as I have found them to have a harder time in the cold than they normally would.
Another factor impacting their cold tolerance is giving the goats a chance to acclimate to the increasingly dropping temperatures.
Goats who stay outside year-round are likely better equipped with a thick undercoat of cashmere than goats kept in a heated barn.
Feeding goats a healthy diet with a mix of high-energy grains and good roughage is crucial to keep a goat warm and healthy throughout winter.
Roughage is extra necessary during winter as the breakdown of roughage in the rumen is part of what provides heat for the goats, like an internal heater.
If temperatures are going to be particularly cold and you are expecting kids, separating does and providing them a safe area with a well-secured heat lamp until the kids are a few days old may be a necessary precaution as they are particularly vulnerable at this time.
(Make sure the heat lamp is well secured and check often as many others have had near-fires or even worse.)
What Is The Warmest Bedding For Goats?
Goat owners will find good, dry bedding added to a three-sided shelter will keep from having too cold goats.
Using a deep litter method throughout winter to build up extra insulation is a good strategy to keep the distance between your goats and the cold ground.
The deep litter method is simply adding litter over the top of the old litter all winter and then finally cleaning the shelter or barn at the beginning of spring.
The benefits of doing it this way are retaining the insulation from previous layers of bedding, and you don’t have to clean the old litter all winter!
Using straw is a popular bedding as it is inexpensive and abundant and provides good insulation.
However, goats may snack on straw, which is something to keep an eye on to prevent them from eating away all their insulation.
Pine shavings are also an option for bedding and do an excellent job of preventing smells and soaking up any urine.
Cedar shavings may be used but run the risk of goats getting sick if they consume a large quantity of cedar chips.
Sawdust is also a great option, especially if you have easy access to a wood shop, and it makes an easy option to compost and reuse around the farm.
Further Reading: Best and worst goat bedding options
How Can I Tell If My Goats Are Too Cold?
While goats are normally incredibly cold tolerant, it is good to know the signs of a goat getting too cold and the possible outcomes.
Keeping goats dry and out of the wind will prevent them from suffering from hypothermia or catching pneumonia.
If a goat is caught out when it is wet or windy, hypothermia can set in quickly and present itself as lethargy and lowering body temperature to be cold to the touch.
If you find an animal is exhibiting these symptoms, it is essential to move it somewhere warm and provide it with a constant supply of hay.
Goats can catch a cold just like people can.
However, it is generally less common in goats as they are much better equipped for cold weather than us.
Symptoms of a cold and dropping temperatures present themselves as:
- A lack of energy in the animal
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Increased food intake
- Teeth grinding
These are all things to watch out for and treat before it develops into something more serious.
Colds may develop into pneumonia or bronchitis.
These are sometimes life-threatening and require veterinary attention.