Keeping your caprine kids safe from injury is as easy as providing the proper housing and fencing. But with so many options what is the best way to house your herd? Is a small shed okay? Or do you need a whole barn?! Before you begin building or purchasing let’s first look at the fundamental elements that you need to consider.
Firstly, goats are pretty hardy critters and can withstand many environmental stresses like extreme heat and cold provided they are housed properly. No goat can live in a leaky drafty shelter without first succumbing to pneumonia, hypothermia, or death. Goats must be kept dry in order to stay warm, and must be provided with plenty of shade and cool water to stay cool.
If there is plenty of rain fall, causing flooding, a goat will NOT go out into the rain (not even to eat). So the shelter you build should provide your animals with a means of coming outside of their shelter even during bad weather. An awning encourages the animals to urinate and defecate outside, and not turn their shelter into a sty where the risk of respiratory illness is increased.
Also, raise the soil inside of the shelter (if you do not have some sort of flooring), and the area outside under the awning. The build up of soil will function to force water away from your goats, and their home. Remember, dry goats are happy goats!
Herd Size- the second thing to consider….
Before building/buying you need to count how many goats you actually have. There is no use on buying a barn for two goats! And a herd of twenty goats will not fit into a six foot by eight foot structure! Try to give each goat its space plus half. A goat measuring three feet long should get a space that is a minimum of 3 feet x 2 feet of personal floor space in a barn to sleep.
Also remember, if you are breeding your goats.. even if it’s just for your personal enjoyment, your herd size will increase every year as your does have babies. Your shelters will need to accommodate a space for mothers to give birth away from the herd, bucks that need to be kept separate until they are used for breeding, babies being weaned, ect.
One shelter may not be enough…..
Environment- the last, and equally important factor mentioned…..
Where you live will ultimately determine the basic ‘type’ of shelter you will need. After that is established, what the structure looks like is up to your imagination, carpentry skills, and/or amount of money you want to invest. Be careful that all nails, screws, bolts, wires, ect. are cut off in a way that the animals will not get injured. Also, be certain that your roof will be capable of holding up to the weight of snowfall, and if necessary you lay a proper foundation/footing to prevent your structure from toppling over and crushing your goats.
In a low-desert climate where snow fall is unheard of, and temps soar, a simple three sided structure with a large over hanging roof will often due. This type of shelter will provide plenty of shade, as well as three solid walls to protect your goats from the wind. Be sure however, that your shelter is designed to give ample ventilation--Heat can be a killer!
On the Coast, - Snow is sometimes infrequent, but not unheard of. The humidity can bring other challenges however.. tons of rain! Three sided structures with an extended roof over the entrance that forms ‘awning’ will not only protect your goats from the weather, but also give them room to roam in the rain where they won’t soil their bedding. However a four sided structure with awning is even more appreciated.
Folks in areas of heavy snow fall, and deep freezing temperatures should always consider a four sided structure. This type of structure provides a less drafty living space, and a warmer shelter.
**No matter where you live, be sure to align your shelter in such a way that the sides will actually protect your goats from the prevailing winds. Do not place the opening/door of your shelter into the wind.
How about bedding?
To sum things up, we use straw. There are lots of other bedding alternatives such as paper pellets, wood shavings (pine/cedar), and I’m sure there are others… However, goats tend to eat their bedding, the walls of their houses, and whatever else they think might feel good in their mouth. They are also at greater risk of acquiring respiratory illnesses being a smaller animal (closer to the ground) than larger hoof stock.
Straw is edible, digests, has a good absorbency, good insulation value, and is more economical since shelters in the winter need more frequent cleaning. It is far safer than pelleted bedding, and does not have the toxic oils that wood shavings are notorious for. Plus it makes a beautiful compost for the garden as well as mulch. When it comes to cleaning, we can remove compacted layers swiftly with the pitch fork; unlike shavings and pellets that require a whole lot of shoveling!
Whole bales can be stacked and secured to walls to insulate shelters, or even make an emergency shelter! We love straw for its versatility, and highly recommend it.
Pitfalls?--Sure everything has a downside. Straw is of no exception. It is baled and stored like hay, and like hay can be susceptible to mold. Be careful when purchasing straw to insure it was stored properly, and inspect it for wet, muddy, or discolored areas that may contain mold before use..
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