Editor's note: A big boergoats.com WELCOME to Ms. Patricia Parson and her series "Back To Basics", designed with both the experienced and novice goat breeder in mind.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day management of our goats that we forget to continue with some of the basic practices that allowed us to get where we are today. Now... on with the first of what we hope will be many articles by Ms. Parson.
What would you need if you were out in severe cold and wind for 24 hours a day? Your main concerns would be shelter, insulation from the cold and plenty of water and food.
Animals are very well adapted to handle cold weather and tolerate it better than humans. Their comfort range can be some where between 40-70 degrees. Animals exposed to cold weather require more energy to maintain their body reserves (fat) and to maintain their body temperatures. Different species, (goat, cattle, sheep etc) tolerate the cold differently. The goat's body condition, age, if the goat is pregnant or lactating, temperature, wind chill, dry or wet weather will change the magnitude and effect of the cold.
Cattle, horses and other livestock add layers of fat on the out side and under the skin. This fat is their stored energy supply and insulation in cold weather. Goats do not carry the kind or amount of natural cold weather protection that other livestock have. Goats tend to add fat to the inside before the outside. The Boer goat's fine short coat, with little under coat or cashmere so valued buy show breeders gives very little natural protection to severe winter weather conditions. All goats are very vulnerable to cold wet weather. Goats need access to shelter to protect them from the wind chill and freezing rain.
In any species, newborns, thin animals, stressed or sick animals are at risk in bad weather and need shelter. Providing pregnant does with good shelter near the time of kidding will increase the chance of the newborns surviving. Very small newborn animals, multiple births (twins, triplets) are more susceptible than average size kids to cold conditions.
Water is a main concern in winter livestock management. If goats don't have water they will not eat. Water is necessary to maintain and develop the rumen and to maximize the benefits of the nutrients consumed. Water needs to be available several times a day. Make sure the ice is broken in frozen water troughs and ponds more than once a day.
Water may be too cold to drink. The ideal temperature for animals to want to drink enough water in cold weather is 40° Fahrenheit. Consider providing warmed water to any goat that has been stressed, has just kidded or is sick. The amount of water consumed will vary with the temperature, size, lactation and feed intake.
Water in ponds freezes from the outside in. This forces animals onto the ice or even into freezing water to drink. Walking or falling through the ice into freezing water will quickly cause a goat to be chilled and can lead to hypothermia.
One of the major effects of cold weather is the increased need for energy. Energy to generate body heat comes from food or stored body fat. Animals that are not fed more during periods of cold weather will burn body fat and lose weight. If cold weather continues and the animal's store of fat is used up it will become weak, stop eating and become depressed. These are the signs of hypothermia. These animals must be warmed and fed. During periods of severe or prolonged cold you must make feeding adjustments or animals can die.
The best way to increase internal body heat while maintaining a safer, more consistent energy intake is to increase the amount of good quality hay. Forages and hay produce more heat than concentrate mixes. Concentrates do contain more total digestible energy per pound than hay, but the amount of actual heat given off by the digestion and fermentation of hay is much more.
Start feeding extra rations a day or two before an approaching storm and continue for several days after. Gradually increase concentrates to avoid digestive disturbances. Extra feed can be given in a third feeding to help prevent digestive upsets.
The Critical temperature is the temperature when the animal will require more feed to maintain body reserves and temperature. Wind chill, moisture, and coat thickness will affect the critical temperature. There are formulas, to help determine the magnitude or effect of cold on livestock and the increased energy requirements.
Estimate the critical cold temperature for your livestock with a dry hair coat to determine when to start increasing the feed. I use 32 degrees Fahrenheit as the critical cold temperature with a dry hair coat in my area. This should be modified for each person's animals and weather conditions. Be sure to adjust for the wind chill factor. I usually start increasing the goats feed when I see ice in the water buckets and troughs.
One rule of thumb is that the average healthy goat's energy requirements may increase by at least one percent with each degree below 32° Fahrenheit with a dry hair coat and at least two percent with each degree below 32° with a wet hair coat. Thus if the critical temperature is 20° and the goats have a dry hair coat then they should get an additional 12% of their ration. If they are wet they should get an additional 24% of their normal ration.
Provide windbreaks and shelters to help reduce wind and rain exposure. Reduce any wet muddy conditions around shelters. Insulate the goats from direct contact with the frozen ground with extra bedding to protect exposed udders, genitals and legs. Goats will seek shelter from the severe winter weather if it is accessible to them.
Prevention is the key to dealing with injuries and deaths from cold weather. Goats should be in good condition before winter starts. If your goats have enough fresh high quality feed and adequate shelter they will be able to survive the winter and you will be able to snuggle up to the heater instead caring for goats with cold-related health conditions.
Patricia Parson: Wife, Mother, Author, Associate Real Estate Broker, and Farmer. Involved in the Georgia agriculture industry, including the production and marketing of goats, cattle, poultry and registered race, performance and halter horses since 1970.
Bloodlines Steeped in Tradition / Focused on the Future