Raising Goats in Winter – How to

Goats are animals that are known to be resilient to all kinds of conditions. However, contrary to popular belief they aren’t as withstanding as some might think. Preparations should be made for readying your goats for the winter and keeping their health in top condition.

Raising goats in winter comes with many responsibilities. Preparations should be made to make sure they are getting the supplemental nutrition that they need as well as proper housing and health management. Stock up on supplies and feed and winterize their shelters leading up to the winter months.

Even though most goats do well in colder climates, there a few things that must be done to winterize your goat operation.

While some areas do not get as cold as others, or as wet, there are still a few things that must be taken into consideration for your goat’s health throughout the winter months.

Raising goats is one of the most rewarding and beneficial forms of livestock farming. During the spring, summer, and fall they help keep the property maintained by feeding on the roughage of the land.

When winter approaches, the foraging that keeps them well fed throughout the year becomes a smaller part of their management and supplemental feed must be arranged for them.

Housing must also be well managed and winterized so that your goats can survive through the winter without getting sick or unhealthy.


Goat Words and Terms

Browsing – Goats are browsers meaning they feed on the lower limbs of trees and bushes as well as grasses.
Foraging – Goats will feed themselves for the better part of the year by foraging and browsing on the land.
Supplemental feeding – Goats need to be fed supplemental hay and grains, on top of their forage diets.

Goats have a vocabulary of their own, so get to know these words and terms and do a fair amount of research if you are a novice in goat farming. It helps to put together a binder, to hold your research, keep track of management and to come up with a detailed feeding program for all seasons.

Winter Preparations

There are a few things you must do to prepare for winter. Most of these preparations must be followed even if your area doesn’t get as cold as others. You will want to consider the types of feed that must be supplemented and the winterizing of housing to keep them dry and out away from cold drafts.

First, you will want to make sure that leading up to the winter months that the goats are getting fed just a little more than normal. Letting them forage longer and supplementing with added grains.

You do not want your goats to be fat, but they must also have enough body weight to help insulate them through the winter.

The next thing you will want to do is make sure that the housing your goats are being kept in does not have open areas, that drafts and wet weather can move through. If your housing has open areas that face the northern winds, then consider closing those areas up during the winter and keep your goats more confined.


Feeding Goats in Winter

One of the most important strategies of goat management is their feeding program. Goats are high producing animals that need a balanced diet of protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals.

During the non-winter months, a goat’s main diet consists of foraging and browsing with some supplemental feeding depending on the purpose and type of goat. Goats get most of their nutrition in those months from browsing and foraging on the land.


In the winter months, goats must have a supplemental feeding program. There are fewer plants to feed on in the winter months and for this reason you must provide them with hay and other supplemental feeds to sustain them through the winter months.

Supplemental Winter feeds:

  • Hay
  • Grains
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

The best thing to feed goats during the winter months is hay. Depending on the purpose of your goats and the breed, you will want to use high-quality hay such as alfalfa.

You should feed goats more hay than grains during the winter months. Even if they are high-producing goats, that are raised for milk and meat, fewer grains should be used because of their digestion process.

Grains make the goat’s body colder because it takes more energy to digest. In very cold winters and areas that have harsh winter conditions feeding goats extra hay will help them to stay warmer because it’s more digestible and keeps their bodies insulated.

Since they are not able to browse on the normal plants they are used to eating, you will also need to supplement some vitamins and minerals, such as salt.

Make sure your goats have a daily supply of fresh clean water. If possible, offer them warmer water, as they do not prefer ice-cold water. If there is a possibility of the water freezing, consider having heated water troughs.


Winterizing Goat Housing

If your goat shelters have an open housing design instead of a confined housing design, then consider winterizing. You can do this by closing off the open areas with movable wall sections that help cut out cold drafts.

If your structures have windows and you live in an area with very harsh winter conditions, then you will need to cover the windows. Taking care of goats in the winter takes a little more management than in the other months.

Add extra straw to the flooring of your shelters. This helps insulate the building and keep the goats warmer. Just before winter remove the manure, clean the areas they sleep in extremely well and add new straw or wood shavings.

Throughout the winter you should also add more layers of straw. It may be too cold and frozen to do proper manure management so you will want to continually add fresh layers of straw and wood shavings over the wet or frozen areas. This helps keep the goats drier. A dry goat is a happy goat.

If your shelters are larger consider staging a smaller area within the barn or structure for the goats. Add extra straw and keep them closer together. Smaller structures and spaces can help keep goats warmer by keeping them more confined.


Health Exercise and Pneumonia

To keep up with health management in the winter months you will need to follow a few best practices. Keeping up with these tips can help keep your goats healthy and free of diseases that can potentially harm or even kill them.

Best health practices for winter:

  • Hoof care
  • Dry conditions
  • Body condition

Since goats get less exercise in the winter you must make sure to maintain the hoof care of your goats. They are susceptible to getting overgrowth and bacteria build up in their hoofs from less access to manure management and less exercise.

You must be on top of keeping your goats dry and out of wet cold conditions. While goats can sustain cold weather just fine, they must not get wet while being kept in structures with drafts.

Goats can develop goat pneumonia if they are exposed to wet cold conditions with drafts. This can be very serious. If a goat develops pneumonia and it goes untreated and unnoticed, they can die in a matter of hours.

To help prevent this, make sure to continually add dry straw and bedding. If you can remove any wet straw or manure do so and replace it with dry straw. If it is frozen add layers of new straw.

The best way to keep up with your goat’s health in winter is to spend time with them, manage them, watch for any signs that something can be wrong. Being in tune with your animals will help you prevent diseases and keep your herd in top condition.

Last-Minute Tips

  • Do not use heat lamps to warm them, their coats need to be able to grow and keep them warm, adding heat can slow their coat growth.
  • Goat blankets are a bad idea for this same reason, their coats will keep them warm and need to be healthy for them to survive.

Heat lamps and blankets are primarily used for kidding or keeping sick goats warmer in colder weather. They should not be used as a way to keep the herd warm in their housing unless they have special needs for the above-mentioned reasons.

Related Questions

Do goats need extra grains in the winter? You should not overfeed your goats with grains in the winter. If they are high-producing goats, they do need some grains but too many grains take too much of their energy to digest in the wintertime.

Can you let your goats out for exercise in the winter? If there is no snow or wet weather, it can be a good idea to let them get exercise in the fenced-off area around their shelter. Wet weather, on the other hand, can cause them to get sick and a sick goat is no fun at all.

Chad Kilpatrick

Chad Kilpatrick is a writer that is passionate about farming and livestock. He has experience in raising goats as well as cows, pigs, and chickens.

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