Raising Baby Goats in Cold Weather

How cold can baby goats tolerate?

Raising Baby Goats in Cold Weather

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When it comes to raising baby goats in cold weather, the important thing to remember is that when they are first born, they are not equipped to handle extreme temperatures so you may need to take a few steps to ensure their survival.  While livestock in general are well-designed to live outdoors in weather conditions we humans might not do well with, according to veterinarian and fellow goat owner Dr. Joan Bowen, “Kids who are not dried after birth and not bedded heavily out of the wind will freeze to death shortly after birth.  Since they have such a large surface area, they lose body temperature quickly when outside their thermal neutral zone – 60-77 degrees.”  That means that if your does will be kidding during the winter or early spring, you will need to take some steps to increase the kids’ chances for survival.

Baby goats can tolerate cold temperatures once they are dry and well fed as long as they have good housing, but it is imperative that you be prepared to assist with kidding during very cold spells.  Here are several keys to success when it comes to raising baby goats in cold weather:

  1. Know the doe’s due date so you can try to be there when she goes into labor.
  2. Provide a dry, well-bedded kidding stall that is out of the wind.
  3. Be ready to intervene if you need to warm up a cold kid and/or assist with drying off and feeding babies.

The first point, being there when the doe goes into labor, is easier if you are hand breeding or artificially inseminating your does as you will have a pretty good idea of when she is due so you can be watching closely around that date.  Full size dairy breeds have a gestation period of 150 days (plus or minus a few) while miniature breeds are more like 145 days.  If you know when she was bred, you’ll know when to expect kids.  This is much trickier if you just allow your does to run with the buck for extended periods during breeding season. 

It is also very helpful if you have a security camera of some kind in your barn when kidding and raising baby goats in cold weather.  You can watch the doe closely on the camera monitor, from the comfort of your home or while away from the barn, rather than having to make multiple trips out to the barn to check on her around her due date. And once the kids are born, you can keep an eye on them the first few days to be sure they are eating well and staying active.

The second point, having a warm stall, can be a little trickier.  While providing a protected indoor location for kidding that is bedded with lots of dry straw or shavings is a crucial part of raising baby goats in cold weather, the use of heat lamps is a much-debated topic.  Heat lamps start many barn fires every winter and can be extremely dangerous and destructive.  My own preference is not to use them unless I am right there, and if I’m there I probably won’t need one!  But many goat owners I’ve talked to use certain types, like the Premier1 Prima Heat lamp and Sweeter Heater infrared radiant heaters, with good results.  When these are properly and securely installed and kept away from flammable objects and bedding, they may be able to be used with caution.  My preference is to keep a close eye on things, intervene when needed to help dry off wet kids, and move them indoors temporarily if the temperature is really frigid.  But if you are going to use a heater, you also want to be sure that it is in an area where the kids and the doe can move away from it if they are getting overheated. 

The final point is to be prepared in case your kids need assistance.  If kidding happens on a very cold day, being there to dry babies off and get them nursing (or bottle-fed colostrum) quickly is imperative.  If you should happen to find a very cold kid, either right after birth or any time within the first few days while they are struggling to maintain body temperature, you will need to help warm it up before feeding will be safe or effective.  A newborn baby goat’s body temperature needs to be between 101 and 103 degrees for it to be able to digest milk properly, so if it drops below that you can try one of these tricks to warm it up quickly:

  • Use a hairdryer to dry it quickly and/or warm it up
  • Use a heat box – a big plastic box with a lid that has a hole cut at the top of one side that you can stick a hairdryer into can quickly warm the inside of the box and the baby goat within
  • Use a very warm water bath – I prefer to put the baby inside a plastic bag, keeping its head out, of course, and then dunk that wrapped body into a bucket of very warm water.  This way I can quickly elevate the body temperature without getting the baby wet, which will just lead to it getting cold again once out of the warm bath.

Once you restore body temperature, then you can attempt to feed the baby.  Just keep a close eye on things as you may need to repeat this warming process several times in the case of a very weak, hypothermic kid.

With all of these precautions, one may wonder why anyone would want to raise baby goats in cold temperatures.  There are many good reasons, from getting a head start on growth for meat or show season to having kids that will be mature enough to breed in the first year, or it may just be that this fits your schedule the best.  Of course, if you live in a place like I do here in Colorado, you could end up raising baby goats in cold weather even if you plan for spring kids, as we can have snow up until June!  Just be well prepared and ready to help if needed and your kids will not only survive, but will most likely thrive.

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