Providing protection in winter without ‘cooping up’ the goats

Fall is well underway. The leaves are turnin’. The girls are cy- cling and the bucks are pursuing. That means cold nights, and days (too), and snow is just around the corner. It’s been a mild fall so far. Can’t complain. Matter of fact I was just saying it has even been a bit humid during the daytime which is unusual for this time of year. It has allowed for late season projects to be completed, including some improved fence projects for next year’s operations. Two winter seasons ago (2019-20) was a completely different experience. Fall arrived early and winter right behind it. Brutal cold with long periods of gray skies. This past winter season, maybe some- one was looking out for us and making up for 2020 as a whole as it seemed to be brighter out there and a little more milder than usual. Of course, there was still snow on the ground and there were cold days and even colder nights but it seemed on average that it was a bit milder than usual. Kathy measures by times we have to shovel, snow blow and plow and her numbers agree that there was “less winter” than past years.

Maybe I just chose to believe it was warmer than usual. Ho-

wever, the does must have agreed with me also to some degree be- cause they were out sunning themselves in the open-air style barn we have and generally seemed content, eagerly chewing their cud, num, num, num!

The open-air style barn leads me to the last and third article in a series on winter operations in Northern climates, focused specifi- cally on shelter. We are early in fall right now as I sit down to write this but it still leaves me thinking about any shelter changes or main- tenance before this coming winter. Seems a bit late with winter loom- ing just around the corner to be thinking about any major changes but maybe just a bit of refinement as needed to finish prepping. I am often asked about shelter in Maine. Do you need a big barn? Do you need separate kidding stalls? Do you keep your herd indoors all winter? How do goats stay warm? How do you keep the barn and stalls clean all winter? How do you get Kathy to shovel snow (just kidding!)?

The list of questions is abundant! So, I am going to do my best to work through some of the questions we get most often on shelter in our neck of the woods. And if you are interested in a good laugh (we all need one from time to time) about building our open-air style barn, have a look at the April 2020 article in the Goat Rancher. Let’s start with the barn itself. It is a fairly large barn (114’ x 28’), at least by my standards for the size of our operation, but very little of it is dedicated to stalls. It is 100% covered from end to end but I chose an open-air style shelter to limit our herd from inadver- tently cooping themselves up in the barn all winter, exposing them- selves to stale air, potentially high levels of ammonia, among other gases, but also dust and in general poor air quality. We have one common stall that we leave open for does, and fu- ture kids, to come and go as they please on those bitterly cold days and nights or when the wind is whipping through from a Nor’easter.

14 Goat Rancher | November 2021


Above, the open-air style barn provides pro- tection from cold weather but allows for ventilation and pre- vents poor air quality. At right, these plastic containers can provide added protection dur- ing especially brutal weather.

It has two exits, one on the front and one on the side so there are fewer pinch points and the doors can be closed on the top half or bot- tom half.

In winter, we typically leave the doors wide open during the day and close the top half to cut down on the drafts during the cold nights. In the summer, these stalls are closed completely and the Kiko herd spends all its time outside foraging. Inside, the stall has deep bedding as well as a few “shelves” that some goats like to jump up on to get off the ground or away from other bigger goats. This com- mon stall is set up as a come and go as you please. What we find though is most of our herd tends to lounge around outside 99% of the time even in brutally cold weather, in the deep bedding that builds up around the hay feeder. We thin this once or twice a winter.

The open-air barn seems to leave the goats healthier in general. Often, I see from the living room window, even super early kids, are out prancing around, playing and frolicking through the snow that Please see CRISE, Page 39

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