The nutritional needs of goats will increase dramatically over the next several months, and addressing these needs is paramount for a successful kidding season. But meeting a herd’s nutritional requirements during the winter months can quickly break the bank if you’re not careful. Knowledge (and a little preparation) is key in preparing to meet your goats’ needs for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals and water.
One way to cut down on winter feeding costs is to stockpile pasture. “Stockpiling is the practice of saving certain hay or pasture fields for grazing in the fall and winter after forage growth has stopped due to cold weather.” (1)
It isn’t always an option to have a field sit unused for winter grazing, but if you have the land, it can help save you money on winter feed. Additionally, grazing your goats on the pasture, spreading manure, can save you the time of having to manure in the spring. “Perennial grasses such as timothy, tall fescue and bluegrass have been traditionally used for stockpile grazing.” (2)
You will need to manage your animals on the stockpiled pastures just like you do on your other fields during the summer. Watch that your herd doesn’t overgraze or trample the field. Maintain a holding area to keep animals in at least part-time when the fields are extremely muddy to prevent them from ruining the field. Or, rotate your animals to other stockpiled fields. Also, keep in mind that the nutrient quality of stockpiled pastures decreases the deeper into winter you get. In snowy regions, stockpiled pastures tend to last until about December, depending on the type of grass grown. Watch your herd and be prepared to begin supplementing as needed.
Supplementing With Hay, Concentrate and Mineral Salt
Goats do well on most hays that are considered “horse hay.” As long as the goats are acclimated to them appropriately to avoid stomach upset and founder, “legume hays such as alfalfa, clover, vetch, soybean or lespedeza work very well for kids, as well as pregnant and lactating does.” (3)
When you select hay, open a bale up and look at the color. It should be bright green. Depending on how the hay was stored, it may have turned yellow around the edges, but as long as it’s green in the center, it should be fine. Check for heat, which signals fermentation (not a good thing). Look for extraneous matter like rocks, baling wires or twine, excessive weeds or other items. It’s best to avoid poorer quality hay. Also, be sure to check if there are poisonous weeds in the bale. Avoid hay that shows mold, dust, or discoloration. Don’t buy hay that smells sour or musty. Hay prices continue to rise, but by being selective, you can ensure your herd receives the hay with the highest nutritional quality, a less expensive option in the long run than poorer quality hay and unhealthy animals. If you have to cut corners, save your highest quality hay for your gestating does, as their systems will need the biggest boost.
A 14 to 18 percent protein concentrate should be fed to lactating does as well. Make sure the feed comes from a clean source and shows no signs of mold or spoilage. Additionally, check your does periodically to ensure they are not too fat or too thin. Being overweight can lead to kidding issues (like pregnancy toxemia). You will also want to offer trace minerals. “In general, the less expensive the mineral, the lower the availability of important trace minerals” (4) There are multiple ways to offer trace minerals to your herd; use a method that keeps the minerals off the ground and preferably protected from excessive rain (so you don’t waste money on minerals washing away).
Ensuring Adequate Water Availability
It is essential that your herd has access to plenty of water. During the winter months, freezing water troughs and pipes can cause quite a headache. I’ve written an article here on a number of great options for keeping water unfrozen and available even during the coldest days of the year.
Culling Your Herd
One way to cut down on feed costs during winter is to downsize your herd before you have to start supplementing with hay. Sell your inferior animals. Cull goats that are more susceptible to worms or other health issues or who struggle with maintaining good body condition. Cull does that don’t kid easily and/or have difficulty providing adequate milk for their offspring. Cull does that struggle with fertility. If you are butchering some of your own stock, choose a date before you have to start supplementing. Keep your best animals through the winter and start your herd out fresh in the spring.
Getting your herd through winter can be challenging at times, but by stockpiling, choosing the highest quality supplements and using them judicially, and by culling surplus stock, you can take good care of your herd without stretching your budget too far.
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs
- University of Massachusetts-Amherst
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