When the temperatures dip into the single and negative digits, the goats get chilly. Although they, and our chickens and rabbits, are tolerant of the cold (a few years ago, when it was -14, they all came through just fine), it is important to take extra precautions to keep them as warm as possible. According to my husband, who is the animal husbandry expert in our family, it is important to do the following when the days get extra cold:
1. Give all the animals extra food. This gives them energy to keep their bodies warmer.
2. Give them extra, dry bedding every day. He adds a couple of bags of leaves we’ve collected from the neighbors to the goat pen inside of the barn each day…they eat half of them (they love dried leaves!) and cuddle up on the rest.
3. Make sure they have water that is not frozen. Use a water heater/de-icer in your animal’s water. It’s a plug in contraption that you put in the water tank/bowl that keeps the water temperature just above freezing. There are also pet food bowls that plug in and serve the same purpose. Don’t use metal bowls…remember when you were little and you licked the ice on a cold metal pole? Yep…same thing can happen to your animals.
4. Check on them multiple times throughout the day. You want to make sure someone didn’t get their head stuck in the feeder (which happens to goats from time to time, but can be more dangerous on a cold day), or that one of the chickens didn’t get stranded outside the fence and can’t find her way in to roost with her warm bodied buddies.
5. Make sure they have shelter where they are protected from the wind and snow. At our house, they sleep in the barn. When they get up their guts to brave the cold and go to the main outside feeder, they tenderfootedly tiptoe as quickly as possible, grab a few bites and head back in.
6. Let the goats all sleep together. Usually, we separate the young goats and the male goats from the females, but on cold days and nights, we let them all bunk together. More body heat means more warmth.
7. Our rabbits have pens outside, protected from the wind and weather, but my husband moves them inside the barn to keep warmer. If they’ve never lived in the same cage with other rabbits, I DON’T RECOMMEND letting them live together (as we do with the goats) to stay warm. Rabbits can attack and seriously injure or kill rabbits they don’t normally pen with.
8. Keep a heat lamp on for the chickens? This is a question we often are asked. Many people choose to because they are concerned the chickens will get too cold. We don’t heat the chicken coop and our chickens are fine.
9. Keep the dogs inside. Usually, our dogs live outside. The main job of our Anatolian Shepard/St. Bernard mix is to protect the animals, so he spends his time around and in the goat pen. Our one year old Australian Shepard puppy was born outside and has lived her whole life outside, but in frigid temperatures, we bring them both in, and typically, they put up no arguments.
So there you have it in a 9 step nutshell. Please take the same precautions with your animals so you can be sure they make it safely through the winter cold spells.
– The Goat Cheese Lady
P.P.S. Also check out the article Bill Radford wrote in The Gazette on December 2, 2014 about Animals in the Cold!