Goat Bedding: Shallow vs. Deep Bedding Methods
Reading Time: 4 minutes
If there’s one thing every caprine owner agrees on, it’s that they want their animals to be comfortable while indoors. That means having suitable goat bedding to provide cushioning, cleanliness, and warmth. Beyond this, there is endless debate about specifics.
The most common bedding for goats is either pine shavings or straw. Pine shavings smell divine and are highly absorbent, but they’re more expensive and have a habit of clinging to every article of clothing. Straw is cheaper, less messy when dry, and easier to remove (with a pitchfork). It’s also less absorbent and tends to compact. Between these two popular options, go with what works best for you and your goats.
Beyond this arises the question, how often does a pen need cleaning? In this article, let’s examine two more common goat bedding methods: Shallow bedding and deep litter.
A Note on Lime and Fresheners
But first, a note about barn lime and stall fresheners. It is recommended to use barn lime (crushed dehydrated calcium carbonate, naturally derived from limestone) to absorb moisture and neutralize the ammonia. When sprinkled between the floor and the bedding, lime absorbs moisture and discourages flies, fleas, and other parasites. Make sure you’re using BARN lime (also called ag lime or dairy lime), which is gray. Do NOT use hydrated lime (sometimes called mason’s lime or builder’s lime), which is white. Hydrated lime is caustic and dangerous for people and animals (the bag it comes in should carry a warning).
Additionally, don’t hesitate to use a stall freshener. This consists of powdered or granular minerals (generally clinoptilolite/zeolite), which neutralize ammonia and other odors. This, in turn, safeguards the respiratory health of animals. Stall freshener absorbs urine and other moisture and is even better than lime for odor control (though not fly control). As an added benefit, clinoptilolite is a beneficial amendment in compost piles.
A stall freshener isn’t just a matter of olfactory fussiness but health. A buildup of ammonia vapors created by their urine is toxic to the delicate lungs of goats, especially in enclosed pens where ventilation isn’t the best.
Some people add a diatomaceous earth layer to the stall floor to discourage insects.
If you give the goat pen a thorough cleaning once every 10 to 14 days, you’re practicing the shallow bedding method of pen cleaning.
This is often the preferred method during warm weather. It’s simply the process of mucking everything weekly, sweeping up any remaining goat pellets, sprinkling the floor with lime and stall freshener, and laying down fresh bedding.
The advantages of shallow bedding are obvious: Your animals have clean, fresh stalls regularly. The disadvantages are also obvious: It’s more work.
An alternative to weekly stall cleaning is the deep litter method, which SHOULD NOT be used in warmer months or warmer climates because it will provide a substrate to breed flies and other parasites. But for winter months in colder climates, creating a deep litter adds an element of composting warmth which can benefit goats.
Before starting a deep bed, clean the pen and then wash or wipe it down with a diluted bleach solution. Rinse the pan and let it dry thoroughly. After it’s dry, sprinkle the floor with lime and stall freshener. The amount should be heavier than what you would use during warmer months. (This is when people would apply a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth.) Over this, apply a layer of straw or pine shavings.
Then, whenever the bedding gets too messy for the rest of the cold weather, simply add another layer of fresh bedding on top of the old. As each layer is added, the waste (manure and urine) breaks down along with the bedding material. Heat generates by the decomposition process and provides the goats with warmth during the cold months. The newest bedding layer will help keep the smell down and contribute to the deep-litter microbial activity.
When do you add fresh bedding to the layer? Most people use the “smell” test. If things are beginning to smell, it’s time to add bedding.
However, a warning: If you employ the deep bedding method, the barn MUST have ventilation. Otherwise, the buildup of ammonia can be harmful to the goats’ lungs. Additionally, some caprines have experienced hoof rot using the deep bedding method, so make sure the bedding layer is deep enough to keep the animals’ feet dry.
The deep-bedding method essentially creates a compost pile. When spring comes, and it’s time to give the barn a massive cleaning, the resulting compost is excellent for garden beds. One of the disadvantages of the deep-bedding method is the amount of work necessary to clean the barn in the spring, especially if the cleaning must be done by hand. It can take days.
On the surface, the deep bedding method sounds more appealing. It’s the ideal “lazy” method of barn cleaning, at least during winter. But make no mistake: It should be done properly, or the animals suffer.
We knew of some negligent renters on a nearby homestead who cruelly confined their animals in their barn (without ever cleaning it out) until the animals climbed over six feet of waste. The renters let the animals outside so seldom that most people weren’t even aware they had any livestock at all. When landlords finally evicted these renters, it required a front-loader tractor to remove the massive amount of animal waste. In short, don’t let the “deep litter” method be an excuse for neglect.
Nothing says you can’t use a combination of both methods. Many people clean pens frequently in warm weather and let the litter buildup (for warmth) under more inclement conditions. Others clean throughout the year.
Whatever method you choose, ensuring your animals’ health and comfort is your top priority. Happy cleaning!
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.