Purdue University Dairy Goats Information


Mac Mendell, Undergraduate Students, Dept. of Animal Sciences

Goats need some shelter in the winter, but their natural coats allow them to endure much colder temperatures than people can tolerate. Goats have a need for good ventilation and dry conditions, but without direct drafts. Buildings with plugged air cracks and windows covered with double plastic are often poorly ventilated. This situation can result in a buildup of moisture and animal odors, creating an unhealthy environment. If goats are housed in a closed barn windows are essential. Windows permit sunlight for warmth and drying and provide a source of vitamin D for the animals. In summer, open windows are important for ventilation and air movement.

An enclosed barn with removable side panels or windows is recommended housing for dairy goats, with 20-25 sq. feet of enclosed housing area per goat. Livestock shelters were formerly built to protect animals from the extremes of heat and cold, but now the environment needed by the animal for top performance is also recognized. A simple, three-sided shelter with an open front will meet the needs of many farm animals and is often the building of choice to raise healthy livestock. When designing a three-sided animal shelter, make sure the open side faces the south away from prevailing wind. Locate the structure on an elevated, well-drained site and make it accessible for feeding and materials handling.

Loose housing systems, where the goats run loose in a pen or shed, and confinement in small areas, where each animal is confined in a small box stall or tie stall, are common.  Housing that allows wet and/or drafty conditions is especially harmful to dairy goat health. Kids can withstand cold temperatures if they are in a dry and draft-free area. When animals are allowed to run loose in a pen, instead of being hitched, they will search for the most comfortable spots. It has been suggested that superhutches, commonly used for small groups of dairy calves, make excellent goat housing.

Goats will be comfortable in the cold if they have clean, dry bedding. A thick dry bed provides insulation from the cold ground and decreases the amount of energy the animal has to expend to keep warm. Shelter from the snow and rain allows the goat’s coat to remain dry, to provide maximum insulating value.

The comfort zone for dairy goats is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Non-sweating animals, like dairy goats, are much less sensitive to declining temperatures than to rising temperatures. Milk production, feed consumption and comfort are not affected by temperatures between 0 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit seriously reduce feed intake and milk output. Therefore, the object is not how to keep the goats warm in winter, but how to keep them cool in summer.

Housing for kids and other young stock may be included in the plan for the milking herd. However, young goats must be kept separate from the milking herd. Often, kids are kept in a 4-foot-square box stall with at least one side slatted to permit air movement. Provide a heat lamp for newborn kids and for kids that are ill.

Buck housing must be separate and downwind from the milking herd. It does not have to be elaborate and often is no more than a 5 or 6 foot shed with an open side facing the south to give the buck free access to an exercise lot.

The milking area is part of the housing plan, but it should be separated from the stable area. It should have a concrete floor to make cleaning easier, and the milking platform should be 15 to 18 inches higher than the floor to permit easier milking. The platform should allow 18 inches in wide and 31/2 feet in length for each animal to be tied. A 5-by 8-foot room with a concrete floor and drain is adequate for milking a small herd, but be sure there is plenty of light either from natural sources or electric bulbs. If the milk is to be used by the family, the degree of sanitation and cleanliness maintained and the size and type of building constructed can be based on the owner’s good sense, pride, conscience and finances.

Recommended pasture area for one goat is 0.2-0.3 acres with 50 sq. ft. of exercise area per goat and an electric or woven wire fence is needed to retain goats in pasture or exercise area. High well-constructed fences, at least 4 feet high, are needed for both goat confinement and to keep out predators, dogs being the greatest problem. The resurgence of populations of coyotes in much of the US is also a concern, and goats, especially kids, must be protected accordingly.

(Information sources include University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and University of Missouri Extension)

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