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Transitioning our goats for winter

In the next few days we will start to merge our breeding groups of meat goats together for the winter. The timing is right. Our pasture is about done for the season, the temps are starting to shift, and all the breeding groups have been together with the bucks for several weeks.

Helping our goats adjust

I often get asked how our goats manage in our cold and often snowy winters. They do quite well. But, it does help to get them adjusted to the seasonal changes, similar to how we adjust as humans.

Most seasons we will keep them outside on pasture in a sacrifice paddock as long as possible as the weather transitions from fall to winter. This helps their bodies adjust to the temperatures and grow a thick coat to help keep them warm throughout winter. At first, they aren’t fans of the temperature change and they’ll bleat at me about it. Then, after a few weeks later, they’ll be adjusted and don’t make much of a fuss.

During this time, they’ll still have access to pasture shelters, which keeps them dry and blocks them from the wind. We’ll bed those shelters with straw to keep it clean and dry. 

Additionally, we feed hay in the winter. The hay ferments in their rumen, creating heat for the animals, helping them stay warm from within. Between their body heat and snuggling together, they keep fairly warm in the shelters.

Once our weather is consistently in the single digits, we’ll transition the herd to the barn for their winter shelter. We have a flap on the door to keep block the wind and keep snow out. They would do fine in their pasture shelters as long as they’re kept bedded and dry. We have the barn, so we choose to use it.

The herd will continue to feed on round bales out in the pasture, to make sure they are getting adequate exercise and help keep the barn cleaner. As a side benefit of feeding outside the leftover hay and goat fertilizer helps our pasture thrive the next season by adding to the seedbed and providing more nutrients.

With exposure to fresh air, they also tend to have fewer respiratory issues. Moving back and forth from the feeders to the barn also helps them generate more body heat. 

This year with acquiring two additional herds, we won’t be able to do as much of this process since we have a group of does that will be kidding sometime early this winter. For obvious reasons, I want those does to have access to the barn for a dry and wind-free place to kid when they are ready. Next season we will resume this practice. But, we will still keep feeding groups outside, they will just have access to the barn sooner than usual.

Breeding groups

Our breeding groups are also ready to merge into one group. All of the goats have been with their bucks for several weeks. Now together, all of the bucks can help do any “clean up” work if a doe comes into heat during her second cycle (every 21 days for goats). Once we hit 42 days, the bucks will move out to the market goat winter paddock.

We will then merge in our does with kids, and then eventually yearling group once they are breed for late spring.

Being smart about farm labor

Streamlining goat groups helps us immensely in managing the herd (we are now pushing 70 head of breeding does, plus a small flock of sheep, not counting market animals). We can feed the goats out of several bale feeders and water tanks in one place instead of multiple groups. It’s not only easier on us for labor, but I’m less likely to miss animal health issues or needs if I’m just focusing on monitoring 2 groups vs 4-6.

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