Monday, April 15, 2013

Keeping the Goats Warm

I doubt many of you are thinking about how you're going to keep your goats warm in April, but here on the mountain, I'm watching the weather closely. Tonight's forecast continues to morph and so far it has ranged from a hard freeze and snow to a light freeze and rain. It's any one's guess what will actually take place over night.

Being prepared for cold weather takes on many forms. Having covers ready for early spring crops, tarps for fire wood, extra insulation on pipes, and protection for animals... just in case. Animals in the wild can often move to warmer locations (migrating or seeking better shelter), but our domestic animals depend on us for meeting needs they can't accomplish on their own. Keeping them warm enough must be considered if you live in cooler climates. Here are some things we do at Sweetwater Farm...

Personally, I don't like to blanket animals too much because they need to develop plenty of their own hair. If they are blanketed before it's REALLY cold, they won't develop a nice thick coat for winter. But when the temps drop to the single digits.... now that's another story. It's also an issue if you have open housing that can't retain the heat or if they have to go outside to another building for milking.

And then there are those sudden late cold snaps. Like today. We've had so many warm days leading up to this that most of the goats have shed their winter coat and their hair is a LOT thinner. A thinner coat means less protection against the cold. Good thing we have some goat coats ready.

Before purchasing goat coats, I looked around to see what's out there and in my humble opinion, these by Horseware Ireland are the Cadillac of goat gear!

Besides being waterproof (goats hate to be wet) and windproof (I live in one of the windiest places of the United States, thus the massive amounts of wind farms here), these coats seem to be pretty indestructible... which for goats is saying a lot! Someone at Horseware Ireland put some thought into these.

All the claps are really secure. They must have used some industrial strength Velcro! My goats have yet to undo one and I've tested these for at least 24+ hours at a time. You have to consider that they won't try to undo just their own closures, but their herd mate's, cause nothing is more entertaining than to nibble at your friend's flashy gear, right? That big strap that goes under the belly is nice and wide, secures on the inside (to prevent all that curiosity), and still clears the udder (we just slipped the leg straps off to milk).

Despite the wear, these seem to be holding up beautifully. They're designed so that the goat can eliminate without getting it on the coat itself, but they can still lie down in poo. No problem since they repel dirt for the most part, so even afterward, they're reasonable clean looking. (I thought they'd look a lot worse.)

If their is anything negative to say about these, it's only that the leg straps for the back are too long even once adjusted. However, this can be easily remedied by cutting and sewing them back. I've yet to do that, but it's on my agenda. Should be simple enough to do.

The other caution is sizing... the chart is a bit confusing since my goat's measurements didn't match up with what the website shows. The folks at Horseware Ireland were very gracious to work with me until we got it right. Keep in mind if you have a breed other than Nigerian Dwarfs, these measurements may be fine, but here's what I found out after some experimenting...

The depth was the only measurement that seemed accurate when comparing the chart, the coat, and the goat. The back seam and the length did match when comparing the chart and the coat, but didn't match up with the goat itself.

For example, most of my does measure as follows (approximate):

Back seam: 23 - 24"
Depth: 11 - 12"
Length: 26"

By looking at the chart below, the depth is pretty accurate, but the other two measurements are off.  If I were to order based on the back seam, my goats would need a XL. For length, they'd need either a small or medium. And for the depth, a M.

I experimented with an XL, L, and M sizes and it was immediately obvious the XL was too big. There was no way it was going to work regardless of how I tightened the straps, etc. The L worked okay (seen in photo below), especially for one doe, Symphony, that is ever-so-slightly larger than her herd mates, but the M was the ticket for most of the Nigerians (seen on Dance Hall Girl in photo above on milk stand). It fit close enough to the body to actually stay in place, keep the goat warm, and yet cover enough to do the job. It would be nice if it was just a tad longer. Again, I still need to cut and resew the leg straps, but that's do-able. Even without these being adjusted, the coat has stayed in place. The L tended to slip a bit, but didn't do too badly (see photo below where it the coat slipped to the left side of the goat a bit - it never did more than this even after 24 hours).

Speaking of goats, coats, and keeping them warm... it's a good idea not to shave their udders until you're sure the weather will stay warm enough. One of my goats had hair that was getting in the way when milking, so instead of shaving it off, I just carefully took some scissors and clipped what was in the way (not too close to her udder, but just enough to solve the problem).

We have a small mini barn at the moment (only 8' x 8'), which works fine for the smaller breeds. But it has a gap up at the top so air can circulate a bit and odors (such as ammonia) can escape. That means snow can sometimes blow in despite a south facing door. To help keep the goats warm, I put a large dog crate inside the barn, took off the door, and added some straw. My daughter has often gone out to open the door in the morning, only to find all 3 of the does in the crate together! Body heat in a small space works really well. The crate also comes in handy when I need to keep one separate at night for various reasons. I just add the door back on and put the goat inside that I need to be partitioned off. It's an inexpensive short term solution that works well for smaller breeds or smaller does and kids (four legged kind).

Another thing to consider having for small kids that may need extra warmth is a heat lamp. These are designed to be safer than the traditional brooder lamps most of us use for our chickens. My friend Jan uses them and is very happy with how they've been performing. (Molly got to visit her herd with me and see the new little ones.)

Theoretically, if the kids knock this to the floor of the barn, it won't catch the straw on fire. The bulb is way up inside closer to the grey part of the lamp. I have not tried it myself, but I'm seriously considering these. I touched the outside of it while taking this photo and it's warm, but not hot like my metal brooder lamps... trust me, you'll know when you've touched one of those!

Finally, an active rumen can help keep their body temperature up a bit. We feed Chaffhaye at night which works well, but I understand oats and some Probios can assist in this effort. (I use Probios, but not for this purpose.) Just be sure you're not overfeeding them. Also, some extra straw that is dry is helpful.

So even though our weather is warming up overall, remember to keep your caprine friends in mind. With summer approaching, it will give you some time to consider what you need for next winter and keep your eye out for a good sale or perhaps even a great find at a barn sale or on Craig's list (a good place to find those large dog crates!). Be prepared for winter 2013!

This post was shared on the Homestead Barn Hop!


Related Posts with Thumbnails