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Preparing Goats and Sheep for Winter

Preparatory work to get your goats and sheep ready for winter is relatively easy. However, the two species are completely different in their ability to handle cold weather. The one thing both need is a constant supply of fresh water that is not frozen, but when it comes to temperatures, the degrees to which goats and sheep can thrive and be happy are nearly the polar opposite.

Drafts are one thing that neither goats nor sheep handle well, so getting ready for winter means providing a good windbreak outside or making sure sheds or barns are free of drafts.

Winter Housing for Goats

Goats do not like extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold. Proper management of your goats will dictate that you have some form of shelter for them. In the summer, a shed, lean-to, or barn will give them relief from the hot summer sun, and in the winter, it will keep them out of freezing rain, snow, and sub-freezing weather. The difference between summer and winter housing for goats is the amount of insulation from drafts required.

Most breeds of goats will grow a heavier coat during the winter months. That helps keep them warm, but it is not good insulation from freezing rain, snow or strong winds. Insulation isn’t specifically necessary for goats during the winter months, but adding an extra layer of plywood to lean-tos or sheds and barns can dramatically reduce drafts.

Make sure you never over-seal an animal enclosure. Proper ventilation is vital to avoid a buildup of ammonia from urine. Keep your housing areas cleaned regularly during winter months, and check on the overall condition of your goats daily. If you see any goat shivering, or if their lips are gray or bluish, you can cover them with specially made goat blankets to help beat the cold temperatures. Normally, a healthy adult goat can maintain their body temperatures even in the coldest winter months as long as they have adequate shelter.

Younger kids born late in the year may have more trouble staying warm, and blankets help them regulate their body heat better. Kids born very late in the winter or early in the spring also need extra help staying warm because newborns cannot regulate their body temperature at all for several weeks.

Extra bedding will help goats hunker down during the cold months and is also helpful to insulate young kids. Heat lamps should be used very carefully and sparingly. In the case of winter kiddings, a separate box with a heat lamp where young newborns can be kept when not feeding is better than trying to heat the whole shed where bedding can overheat and catch fire.

Winter Housing for Sheep

Sheep should always have access to some form of shelter at all times during the year. However, under normal situations, sheep can handle cold weather and the elements much better than goats. In fact, they often seem to prefer being outside even in the worst winter weather as long as they have protection from drafts.

I often observed my flock huddled behind a tree line, blocked from all wind with ice covering their wool in a thin film or snow piled up on their backs. The heavy wool coat with oily fleece is excellent water protection, and it keeps them well insulated naturally.

The exceptions to this are hair sheep or wooly sheep sheared late in the year. Shearing is best done in the spring so there is adequate time for a buildup of wool on your animals prior to cold weather hitting. As long as your wool sheep have a way to stay out of the sharp cold wind, they will be very happy.

In order to provide a natural windbreak, you will need to start well in advance, maybe even years before you bring your sheep home. Bushes and trees take several years to thicken and provide adequate windbreaks. However, you can provide temporary windbreaks until those bushes and trees mature with a solid wood, brick, or plastic fence. If you prefer to use fences instead of trees and brush for a permanent windbreak, brick or plastic fences will last longer. However, wood is usually cheaper and easier to erect.

If you use wood wind barriers, check it regularly for signs of wear and tear. Nature itself is hard on wood fences, but the sheep can cause a lot of damage by chewing on it or rubbing against it, and overtime they can cause it to deteriorate.

Keep a close eye on the health of your sheep to be sure they are healthy. As long as they are breathing normally, their eyes are bright, and they are walking around, it’s a good idea to let them enjoy the outdoors even during the winter. Fresh air is always better than enclosed sheds or barns.

If you can’t manage to build any form of windbreak or you have a sick animal, you may have to force them to endure being cooped up in a shed or barn. Newborn sheep have the same problems newborn goats have in cold months. While healthy adult sheep can handle extremes in temperatures and exposure to the elements, lambs cannot. Follow the same procedures for newborn lambs that are outlined above for goat kids.

Breaking Water

In the winter water doesn’t flow—it breaks. When temperatures dip below freezing, water freezes up quickly. Breaking ice and providing fresh water are the biggest chores in the winter months for both sheep and goat owners. Electric heaters in troughs or buckets are a huge help. However, if you do not have electricity or don’t want the added cost of electric heaters, be sure to change the water in buckets at least three times a day to avoid freezing and break up any ice that does accumulate.

Water Consumption in the Cold

Goats and sheep both can get off their drinking habits during extreme cold weather. They may not be getting enough fluids to maintain health. Adding a cup or two of Gatorade to a bucket of water helps entice both goats and sheep to drink more and also provides additional electrolytes to help them through cold weather.

©2011 Off the Grid News

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

18 comments

  1. Do you have a suggestion for a good meat sheep? Not for wool.

    • Any of the hair sheep breeds are fine, but the American and Barbados Blackbelly Sheep as well as the St. Croix, are more parasite resistant and very low maintenance. They are smaller than the Katahdin and Dorper breeds, but are considered to have gourmet meat.

    • We had a Boer Buck that WAS mean, but this we feel, was caused by ignorant owners that played ‘headbutt’ with him when he was a kid. he always challenged my husband as an adult and killed an number of our young bucks, a ram, and a 3 yr old wether that was supposed to be his companion. He killed by persistent ramming.We gave him back to his original owners who never listened to our advice and he got skinny and was dead within a year. He had previously been 300 lbs and very alert and full of personality.

  2. I am going to start an Alpaca ranch and this info is good

  3. Preparing Goats and Sheep for Winter:

    I’m planning on acquiring a small flock of sheep in the next year or two, so I read this article with great interest.

    I enjoyed the article and even learned a thing, or two; but I must strongly disagree with your advice at the end of the article to add gatorade to the water to encourage the animals to drink in freezing, cold weather.

    The last time I read the ingredients panel on a bottle of Gatorade, I was shocked to find HFCS in the mix; and stopped drinking it immediately. Gatorade may have changed their formula in the years since I quit buying the stuff, but why not just add a little natural, unprocessed apple juice instead?

    • Add apple cider vinegar instead. It not only promotes drinking but adds important nutrients. Especially for pregnant does.

  4. My husband and I also plan to have get some goats and sheep of our own (Lord willing).
    I saw a recipe not too long ago, for a formula to prevent dehydration (something like gatorade
    would use, just without the sugar). I was just wondering (and of course I would ultimately consult
    a couple of veterinarians who are knowledgeable about safe, natural methods) couldn’t a recipe
    like that be added to the bucket of water, along with a little natural apple juice? This is some
    great information and I really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

    • I’ve been raising sheep for 35 years and my father and grandfather before that. Gaterade in the water? Got to be a joke. Don’t drink the koolaid folks. Just keep fresh water available and they will be fine.

  5. Sorry for the typo, (have get some goats) I didn’t proofread my post. Oops, I goofed (laughing).

    • A comment about the blog desgin, it is all pretty and that when it is completly loaded,, but you have a lot of graphics and it takes a few seconds to load. It is completly impossible to read text in the 3 seconds it is loading. The white background for blog post seems to load last, before it is loaded it shows black text on black background. Just the usual user feedback.

  6. Not mentioned here was the need for CALORIES! I know us humans have a rabid fear of calories, but these guys all live on pure vegan diets. That means they have to eat all the time to gain the calories they need for body maintenance and for body heat in the cold. I know people think goats especially can eat ‘anything’ but when my new to farming husband took the advice of a man much older and theoretically wiser than me, he bought a ton of wheat straw- no green color means no protein, and not much in the way of calories. In spite of what i said, this is what he did. And I lost my two Nubian bucks to starvation- full bellies but no body fat, none. None in the guts. Body fat in the guts is normal and healthy. And this is what they use to keep themselves warm. So they had hypothermia and starved.
    If you can keep their calories up, and their nutrient needs up, they will be hardier and take care of themselves. If you don’t provide the things they need, don’t be surprised if they sicken and die.
    Kelp meal- provides for 60 macro and micro minerals, just like Joel Wallach in Dead Doctors Don’t Lie said.
    Then good green alfalfa. Goats are browsers, that means they aren’t big on grass and need more green. Some sheep, like my icelandics are needy of browse also, and depend on the minerals from kelp too. If your sheep do better on grass, make sure it is green, That is protein. And for calories and the b complex and the E complex (tocopherols) and more magnesium, rice bran make sure there are no parabens- those are estrogen mimics and can cause abortion and other fertility issues. I have never had an issue with raw rice bran (Bar Ale- not stabilized.)It is cheaper and just watch out for clumps.Occasionally there will be clumps with i don’t know what bacteria so i throw those out, but it is half the price of stabilized. There are good fatty acids in there for them, it will increase your butterfat for those who milk, and it will give them calories from fat which won’t cause acidosis that other grains will. It is a low carb feed. It is also 13% protein. This is the time when they are forming babies in the womb and making milk so they need all the nutrients they can get. I am surprised this was missed.

    • Check out this webste: http://www.ker.com/library/equinews/v2n1/v2n115.pdf
      Quoting from it: “Unfortunately, raw rice bran has a
      very short shelf life due to its high
      fat content and a potent lipase
      enzyme, which immediately begins
      to break down the fat once the
      bran is separated from the rice kernel.
      To prevent rice bran from
      becoming rancid, it must undergo a
      stabilization process. Stabilization
      subjects the rice bran to heat and
      pressure which inactivate the
      lipase enzyme without destroying
      the nutritional value of the rice
      bran.”

      I appreciate your mentioning rice bran as a good feed source, but I would prefer to use the stabilized version, since anything rancid is not healthy.

  7. Please set your articles so that they are “PRINTER FRENDLY”. I WOULD LIKE TO PRINT CERTAIN ARTICLES BUT DO NOT WANT THE COMMENTS! Thank you.

    • Then highlight desired text and choose to print ‘Selection’

    • Off The Grid Editor

      John, when you hit “Print Article” and the print friendly version pops up, instead of just hitting “Print” from your browser (or the “Print this Article” command at the end of the article), hit “Print Preview” from your browser’s menu commands. This will show you all the pages and you can just print the range of pages you want. You can also choose to scale the pages as you see fit. In Firefox, when you scroll over “Print” from the drop down menu, a second menu should pop up to the right of it (you’ll find this selection from the down arrow on the Firefox tab). You’ll see “Print Preview” from this pane. In Explorer, simply right click your mouse over the article, and you can see “Print Preview” in the menu the pops up.

  8. I USE GRANMA’S MOLASSES FOR A PICK UP FOR THE NANNIES WHO HAVE JUST KIDDED.(GAVE BIRTH) 1/2 JAR TO TWO GALLONS WATER.MOST ANY GOAT WILL DRINK THIS WITH OUT ANY TROUBLE.IT IS REALLY A PICKER UPPER AND REPLACES A LOT OF WHAT THEY LOST IN BIRTH…DM
    I DO USE GATERADE SOMETIMES FOR A STRESSED OUT GOAT OR DEER WHICH I ALSO RAISE.IT IS QUICK AND WORKS VERY GOOD.MAY HAVE TO FIND SOMETHING ELSE….DM

  9. Dinah Everett Snyder

    I use Blackstrap Molasses for new mothers as well as for goats who get jittery ( from storms OR cold OR heat)
    though I would NEVER give an animal or human Gatorade ! bleh ! In the winter I make teeny ” patti cakes” with comfrey, basil and other herbs, spirulina and selenium, oats and greens which I mix together with molasses and give as treats. It is a no bake treat and I have NEVER lost a goat nor had a single issue. It is important to up their calorie intake in the fall and maintain it through the winter. Like humans, animals burn extra calories in the winter/ cold and need attention to the details, much like children do. I found this article a little lacking in depth although of course the info on shelter is valid !

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