Monday, November 21, 2011

Preparing for Winter

This is November and winter is here. Hopefully, you began your winter preparations long ago by making sure all your winter feeds and needs are in place or planned for. If you are just going into your first winter with goats hopefully you got some advice from successful producers in your area. Exploration of the internet may be of benefit as well.

I cannot cover all the permutations and combinations that you can think of, but hopefully I can make you think about improvements. If you have any novel suggestions please share them with my readers

The key to any successful livestock operation is wellness and wellness is directly related to anticipating and preventing stress for both yourself and your goats. If you are stressed, your goats will be stressed. Let us to take virtual reality tour of your facilities and check to see how prepared you are for winter.

First as we drive into your yard we take an overview of the general layout of the yard. We look for accessibility to the corrals and the barn, the location of the winters hay and straw supply. Unfortunately, there is very little we can do about rearranging your yard but we can identify stressors that may be present. We also can ask you how you plan on coping with these potential areas of stress. Take a look around your yard and based on previous winters experiences determine how you can lessen or eliminate past problem areas.

The next step is to take a general tour of your operation things we want to look for are:

Location and type of shelter (Figure 1):

A shelter must offer protection from the elements especially the wind. Goats are remarkably tolerate of cold so long as it is not sustained, but they cannot tolerate wind so there must be some shelter from the wind.

1. Open faced or three sided shelters should be facing the South and a porosity fence running north and south that protect the corral and barns from West and East winds. The fences should be built to prevent the snow from forming drifts inside the corrals or shelter. For the construction of such a fence visit$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex4516. Although this fence is for cattle, you can modify it for your operation. For 25% porosity you need six inch boards placed vertically or horizontally two inches apart. There should also be a way in the front of the shelter of closing in the goats if necessary. For meat goats the shelters can be small to accommodate small groups. These may not be as convenient as one large area

These shelters should be designed to accommodate portable pens or an area should be designed were you can put any goats that require special attention.

2. Closed shelters should have the main access to the outside facing South to allow the goats to go outside if the weather permits. The door(s) and windows (for light) should be easily opened. Adequate ventilation is extremely important in this type shelter. If the ventilation is poor there is gradually a build up of ammonia in the barn this can lead to respiratory difficulties in both the mature goats and later in the kids. The build up of ammonia is particularly noticeable during warmer periods of weather. This is a stress on your goats that you will have to deal with in the future when you consider modifying your facilities.

A closed barn with limited windows Like a Quonset can offer shelter but may keep the temperature constant often below the outside temperature. On a sunny day the outside temperature will warm up but inside the Quonset may not. If the area is too large for the goats to warm, even well bedded they will be chilled. Thermometers located in strategic areas of the barn can be monitored and the feed intake of the goats adjusted accordingly

A closed shelter offers many options in terms of penning for your goats depending on the type of operation and the function of the building. This can vary anywhere for no pens, group pens, individual pens, to stanchions

3. For both types of shelter it is important to build up a well bedded manure pack This manure pack will provide heat to the shelter unfortunately it can also contribute to the build up of ammonia.

Location and supply of water:

Water must be located in a sheltered readily accessible place. Ideally it should be available on a free choice basis to all goats at all times.

Water is essential if you are milking goats or raising meat goats. They must have access to a clean warm supply of water in order maintain an adequate feed intake and milk production. If your goats suddenly drop in their feed intake or stop eating, immediately check the water supply, It may have stopped running, be full of algae and rotting hay and feces or frozen or ice may have built up around it making it inaccessible to your goats.. If over the year you doubled or dramatically increased the number of goats there may not be adequate space for them drink. Do not rely on snow as an adequate source of water.

In some areas water quality can be an issue so your water quality should be checked. Snow is not an appropriate water source for goats. To feed snow requires optimal nutrition and management

Management of the feed and feed bunk

When planning your winter feeding programme there are several important acts to remember:

• There must be adequate bunk space with each goat requiring about 12” of space.

You have many options:

1. You can feed grain and supplements in the bulk and hay free choice

2. Feed hay/silage in the bunk, grain and supplements in the milking parlour

3. You can feed a total mixed ration

*** All goats must be able eat from the bunk at one time. Free choice feeding maybe appropriate but each goat must still be able to meet its daily requirements during the day, so the ration available must be mixed well and does not separate when put into the self feeder.

• Cleaning the bunks daily and checking the self feeders will tell if the diet is palatable and whether the goats are sorting out ingredients. Leaving soiled or stale feed in the bunk it is bad management as it can deter the goats from eating the fresh food put on top of it and it can lead to spoilage. Remember you may be feeding the perfect diet on paper but if the goats do not eat it then it is not perfect.

• Goat is primarily browsers and like variety feed stuffs. On a brush pasture goats will eat 24 different plant species. On the same pasture cattle will eat 8 and sheep about 12

• Goats will not eat feed that has been soiled with feces and urine

Feed bunks must be designed to prevent or minimize this

Fence line feeders either outside or within the barn can be simply constructed for this purpose

• You cannot improve the quality of poor quality or mouldy forages by grinding them

Grinding good quality forages can turn the leaves into powder which the goats will not eat leaving the stems only for them to eat. The leaves are were most of the important nutrients are.

• Silage feeding is often frowned upon for goats. If silage is put up properly then it can be ideal forage for goats. Because silage is high in moisture the overall daily water intake is increased which could benefit the total milk production. If you are new at making silage go to a successful dairy (cattle or goats) operation to see how it is done as there are many ways from expensive silos to plastic bags with each method having pros and cons.

Figure1: A very basic layout of  a goat barn and corrals

Record Keeping:

Records are the backbone of any livestock operation no matter the size. When purchasing animals records will provide you with information about the goats you are purchasing. As a bare minimum the records should have the goat identified, her birth date, her kidding record, the outcome of the kids, her health/treatment records. Remember the buck is half your herd so records on him are important as well. An added bonus would be production records either of milk (dairy) or number of kids born and the number sold. Herd event records should also be available with information on breeding. kidding, feed changes, and unusual occurrences.

Winter Feeding:

A balanced diet and an adequate water supply are critical. A comfortable environmental (Thermal neutral) temperature is 55 to 77o F (13 to 25oC) the lower critical temperature (LCT) is 0o F (-18o C). These numbers are just indicators of cold susceptibility as the LCT can vary significantly among goats depending on the housing and pen conditions, age, breed, production type, body condition, stage of lactation, plain of nutrition time after feeding, thermal acclimatization, hair coat, behaviour, number of goats etc. A crude estimate is for every degree drop in temperature below - 15 o C (2o F) the TDN must increase 1%. For example if the barn temperature is consistently at -5 o C the doe’s TDN requirements must increase 7%. If not her milk production will suffer as she diverts the energy from milk production to keeping warm. Limited research has been done in goats.

In a Norwegian experiment testing the response of goats to different environmental temperatures and flooring :

• Lying time (% of observations) decreased significantly in both experiments when the goats

were exposed to low air temperature and the time spent eating increased

• Norwegian goat kids in an non insulated house had a normal growth rate after a few days of adaptation to a temperature of around -4 0 C

• Thyroid hormone increased during the first 3 days of cold stress


Winter can be a stressful time so planning your feeding programme and managing your facilities to accommodate the objectives you have for your goats is critical


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    Aadi Stellon

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