What's This Page?

After 8 years and a lot of mistakes, I'm thinking it might be useful to make some notes about what I've learned (often by doing it wrong the first time!) so that maybe others can save some time.  I'll include lots of questions I still have so that maybe others can tell me the answers!  I hope you enjoy what follows.  Please don't hesitate to contact me if you think I've made a mistake, or if you can add to the pool of goat care info.  I'll include some links to other sites with comments about my experiences with them.

As you read, please remember the conditions under which I'm operating because the things I've learned may not transfer to people in other situations or with very different animals.  Here's what I'm working with:

  • Full-sized dairy breeds (Alpine, Toggenburg, Nubian)
  • A mixture of purebred and hybrid goats, but no high production milkers
  • Only 16 does, 1 buck, and 1 wether as of 2016
  • A climate in central British Columbia -- more about this below for those from other areas
  • 160 acres that is mostly woodland (mixed spruce & poplar/aspen with good undergrowth of bushes) with a couple of cleared areas with mixed pasture grasses (maybe 20-25 acres in total)
  • A large barn (70' long, 35' wide, 10' ceilings) that has a hayloft above the stalls and a series of dutch doors that can be closed or half closed to reduce drafts
  • Dirt floors in the stalls, cement in the aisle
  • Poorly draining location (mid-level spot on the farm with clay soil not far below the surface)
  • A separate, heated milkhouse with plywood floor and walls

Climate:

Why am I bothering to give all the detail below?  Because I've learned that a lot of barn & goat management suggestions are VERY specific to the conditions.  For example:  lots of excellent goat keepers clean their pens daily or weekly.  If you did that here in the winter the goats would be pretty damn cold...well, unless you have a gazillion dollars to spend on fresh straw to re-bed thickly each time.

Winter:  

  • usually -5 to -10 degrees Celcius
  • occasionally -20 degrees Celcius for several days in a row (we used to get -30 or -35, but that hasn't happened in several years)
  • snow varies widely from year to year (we have had 3' in a few days, or gone a whole winter with less than that), but we always have a good cover of it -- enough so the goats are limited in where they will go and they certainly can't graze
  • wind is now more common (maybe every 10th day we will have a breeze or even a wind, although it's never a gale)
  • probably 50/50 for sunny & cloudy days

Spring:

  • melt starts in late-March, but goats can't access browse reliably until mid-April and grass is going to be late April (before that the ground is too wet for goats to go out voluntarily to graze)
  • in February we can feel the warmth in the sunshine and temps are often close to zero Celcius
  • April & May sees temps around 5 to 10 degrees Celcius, but sometimes much warmer
  • we get a fair number of mosquitos in late Spring and early Summer

Summer:

  • our summers have been hugely variable in the last 5 years, but droughts are now a concern
  • temps are generally around 20 degrees Celcius, but can hit 30 or more for a week here or there
  • we get a lot of sunny days, but will sometimes get a summer where it just rains endlessly or is cloudy and cool for weeks on end
  • very difficult to plan (will it be a hot, dry year or a cool, wet year??) because the animals need such different things in those two situations
  • "No Seeums" (tiny biting insects, not as ferocious as blackflies) make the goats reluctant to leave the barn to graze in early summer

Fall:

  • it's not uncommon to see snow on our mountain in early September (although it melts again!) and so cool breezes begin then
  • we have to have the farm 'winterized' by early October because snow can start any time
  • September/October are my favourite months though -- usually lots of sun, crisp mornings, bright leaves, not a lot of rain, and no bugs!

Mangers:

I've tried four styles of hay manger and two for graining the babies.  I have a friend with one other style.  I still haven't found the perfect solution, but I'm zeroing in on it!  What you choose will have a lot to do with how your barn is set up and how much space you have, so I'll list what features I like and which ones haven't worked well so you can pick & choose for your location.

1.  Feeding from the aisle.  I love being able to walk along the aisle of the barn and drop the hay into the mangers -- it's efficient and fast.  Easy to clean which is important because goats will stand on the edge of the manger, get manure in it and then reject all future hay.  Also, when the goats push the hay out of the top of the mangers (they root around to get the best pieces and that involves pushing the sheaves all over with their heads), it falls into the aisle and (as long as the aisle started out clean) and I can just pick it up and feed it again; huge reduction in wasted hay.

2.  Covered managers.  Reduce wasted hay because goats aren't pushing it up and out.  Much harder to fill and clean.  You can make a hinged top, but be sure (a) it won't fall on your head as you fill it and (b) the goats can't open it because they will injury themselves or another goat when they drop it again.

3.  How deep?  Most of my mangers stick into the aisle, so they can only be about 9" deep.  This is really too shallow -- the goats stick their heads/noses in, pull out a big mouthful and drop half of it as they pull out & chew.  I've recently built two deep mangers for the buck & wether (18" deep by 2' wide) and they are much better.

4.  How high should the sides be?  There's no perfect answer -- 3' would prevent the goats from throwing hay out as they root around, but then how do you fill and clean it?  I go with 'just a bit shorter than my arm' so that I can reach in and clean without doing aerobics.

5.  Head holes?  Keyholes aren't great -- goats are violent to each other and a goat with her head in a keyhole is terribly vulnerable.  That means that the most submissive either won't eat well, or will get badly beaten (especially bad idea if they are pregnant).  I prefer a straight hole about 5-6" wide and 12-18" tall (6" if you have a doe with a really big head, and for bucks).

6.  How high off the ground?  The books all say goats like to stand up on their hind legs to eat.  That's certainly true when they're grazing, but my does show a strong preference for the lowest of my mangers - they can just stand and eat.  However, because I use a deep-bedding system (more about that later), I have to build the mangers so that they are "stand on your hind legs" when the stall is freshly cleaned and "stand flat" by the end of the winter.  In order to make that work, I have to have a 2x4 nailed to the wall below the manger so the does can rest their front feet in comfort.


OKAY -- I have to go and milk now.  I'll take some measurements and post them in the next couple of days.  And add more about mangers (pros & cons). ... 

Cheers for now,
Lyn

January 14, 2016