OK, I am sending this post to ALL of the goat lists I'm on after hearing the
weather forecast for the "lower 48" (as we here in AK call it). They are
calling for record cold temperatures in much of the northern and even
central states - colder than it already HAS been, which is pretty darn cold
I know many of you on these lists are long-time goat breeders and are
completely up on how to protect your animals ... but there are new and/or
inexperienced goat owners on every list. This is for them.
PLEASE, don't assume your goats (or outside dogs or cats for that matter)
will be fine at -10F to -45F (the average temps being tossed about for
tonight and several days/nights to come). They WON'T unless you take extra
precautions! Here are the things I feel make the most difference and are
essential for goats in frigid weather:
DRAFT-FREE HOUSING: This means a structure of some sort - not dog houses in
the yard. If your area is among those that are expecting these frigid temps
and you do not have truly draft-free housing for your goats, I suggest you
bring them into a garage or basement for the duration. You don't want them
WARM (or it will be difficult to re-acclimate them to outdoor temps once
this cold spell passes - and going back and forth can cause respiratory
illness or pneumonia), but just *less cold*.
Insulation, at least inside the wall(s) the goats sleep closest to, makes a
huge difference in keeping the chill out. If you can't do this right now,
consider it before *next* winter. Also, no matter what sort of floor your
barn has (dirt, concrete, wood, etc.), add DEEP straw bedding. Something
they (goats, dogs, cats, etc.) can nest down into - they will be much more
comfortable and able to withstand colder temps. Think about the Alaska
Iditarod - STRAW is what the sled dogs get bedded down on at each and every
long stop during the race. It saves lives! Go ahead - *waste* straw this
week!! Spend that extra money and keep your goats well bedded.
WATER - be sure to take fresh, HOT water (drinkable, but still hot) to your
outside animals twice a day minimum. If you have heated water buckets, all
the better, but don't count on these for much more than "helping" if the
temps drop well below zero. If you can, place your heated buckets inside an
insulated box (a plastic milk crate with insulation around the inside and
underneath works pretty good and is cheap) to keep them warmer for a little
HAY - Up the amount of hay you are feeding during cold snaps such as the
ones predicted. Hay is your goats' furnace - and they are going to need all
the help you can give them. Extra hay will go a lot further in keeping them
warm than extra grain.
SHELTER (inside of the barn) - If at all possible, supply your animals with
smaller shelters INSIDE your barn. They won't stay inside them all the time,
but if they get overly chilled, these smaller quarters make a big
difference. These shelters can be a tarped over stall, Igloo or regular wood
dog houses or even a few short pieces of stiff (ranch panel or similar)
fencing - zip-tied together into triangles for rigidity and then covered
with a tarp or two. Presto! Instant "goat houses".
HEAT - This is one time I would advise people to go ahead and use heat lamps
(or other sources of warmth, within common sense) if they have electricity
to their barns. The idea is NOT to make the goats warm, but to just take the
extreme chill from at least one small area where the animals can concentrate
to keep from freezing. Use heat lamps with utmost caution, checking that the
wattage in the bulb is not more than the cord or base is rated for and make
sure the cord is well out of goat reach as well as the lamp itself and
secure each lamp from at least two different directions so there is NO
POSSIBILITY of them falling or twisting to where they will come in contact
with a wood wall or hay or straw. I hang sturdy rope, plastic chain or even
a dog leash (whatever is at hand) from an overhead rafter in our barn to
hang heat lamps from. This is safer (IMO) than clamping the heat lamp to a
post or fence.
Spend the time necessary to double check on your outside animals more often
than normal. Watch for signs of frostbite (reddened OR whitish looking ear
tips are the most common) and keep an eye on your bucks' testicles. The fur
on the backs of the testicles is thinner than elsewhere. Redness there will
be your first warning - have a tube of plain Zinc Oxide handy (you'll want
to carry it inside your shirt or you will NOT be able to squeeze any out of
the tube). I don't advise using "diaper rash ointment" even though it is
mostly zinc oxide - the small amount of water in it can cause more problems
if the temps are Seriously low.
Also watch for signs of hypothermia. Are the goats acting more or less
normal? Are they eating their hay with gusto? Are they drinking water? If
anyone seems slow or doesn't want to get up, give them a dose or NutraDrench
or at least molasses in warm water. Some goats won't trust "brown water", so
I honestly don't recommend just adding molasses to your water bucket - too
big a risk of one or more goats not drinking at all - but if you take a
bottle of molasses out with you (again, inside your shirt would be good
quick energy boost, which gives YOU time to decide if further action needs
to be taken or not.
Btw, watch for signs of frost bite or hypothermia in YOURSELF as well!! Not
thinking clearly, not being able to articulate yourself as well as normal
are just as serious as cold, tingling fingers and toes. Buy a bunch of shake
and carry "hand warmers" and "boot warmers" - you can get them at any
hunting store, many livestock stores or places like Cabela's. They are cheap
insurance to keep your hands and feet from frostbite and make your chores a
lot more comfortable for YOU ... and if you are warmer, you will be able to
spend more time with the animals and might catch something you would
otherwise miss in your hurry back to the warm house.
I don't have to tell you that "regular" outside dogs (yard dogs, farm dogs)
should be brought inside your house at night and possibly longer depending
on the temps? The long-haired LGDs that have free access to the barn and
large outdoor pastures and pens will be fine - they can snuggle up with the
goats and share body heat - it's the single dog outside in a dog house that
would be my biggest concern. Take extra care.
OK, I could go on ... but I want to get this out before everyone on the east
coast is in bed. Best of luck to everyone - and if you have questions,
please ask. It gets to -40F and sometimes lower here nearly every winter, so
this is something we learn to deal with. It can be scary even if you ARE
familiar with it - but it sounds like these temps are going to be a lot
colder than some states have ever seen before.
Oh, and one last thing ... do NOT breathe a sigh of relief as soon as the
temps jump back up to what you consider "normal". Watch those goats closely
at that point! The sudden upward swing in temps to a more moist cold (to
near or above freezing) can be the harbinger of pneumonia. Keep your barn
bedding dry and continue to avoid drafts while keeping the barn ventilated.
Watch carefully for the first sign of snotty noses, runny eyes or wheezing
and treat immediately. I start out with VetRX (nose drops) to see if it will
clear up on its own, but keep antibiotics handy in case they're needed. Take
temps if you are unsure - a seriously LOW temp in a goat (below 101) can be
as dangerous as a really high temp (above 103.5) ... both can be signs of
illness. A low temp can also be an indication of hypothermia - keep the
thermometer handy and USE it.
Stay warm, friends!
-Deb in AK