Can Goats Swim? Dealing with Goats in The Water
Udder Moisture Perils and The Search for Good Goat Shelter
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Can goats swim? What should you do if you find your goat stuck in a stock tank? And what health issues should you watch for?
I’ve snickered more than once when my LaManchas and Toggenburgs raced for their barn when it started to sprinkle. And my Boers, who carried more muscle, usually did not. So here are some things to consider when life gets wet.
Goats, especially dairy goats, will not usually tolerate water hitting them from above or under/around their feet. These instincts are for self-preservation. Bad footing can cause a goat to slip, and a fallen goat is more susceptible to predators. This is why your goats may fuss if feeling out of balance when you trim their feet. Mud makes them more susceptible to foot rot in goats, rain rot, or other fungal issues of the skin. Excessive moisture in the air, especially when combined with a wet or cold goat, is a recipe for a lung challenge such as pneumonia in goats. So most of the time you will not find goats in the water.
Can goats swim? While they can “doggy” paddle, they won’t usually choose swimming on their own accord. Swimming for a length of time requires endurance and muscle training, and most of our goats don’t need to swim across water to obtain feed or shelter.
I have seen cute videos of goats swimming in pools. Just be aware of possible chlorine exposure; clean and support the liver if you have one of these swimming pool goats. When I see goats in the water, my brain more often jumps into first aid or protection mode because I know mine didn’t have a logical reason to get there!
Too often I’ve seen kids at shows get sick because their owners shaved them and bathed them in less than optimum weather. If the weather isn’t in the 70-degree range or warmer, or the cooler evening is approaching, I do not bathe my goats unless necessary. In those cases, I towel dry and blanket them to keep drafts off until they are toasty dry. If I’m bathing them in the evening for a show, I leave them blanketed until the next morning, which keeps them cleaner anyhow. My only exception is when the night stays warmer than 75 degrees.
Who has had a kid get stuck in a stock tank? Thankfully I was across the field when one of my bouncy doelings failed her ballerina moves, and I quickly scooped her up and dried her off. A kid stuck in a tank at 50 degrees can get hypothermic in as little as 30 minutes. We keep one-foot-high water tanks in our kid pens to avoid these problems.
We’ve also had to fish a couple of does out of tanks. I still have no idea how they got into them. We had to lift one large milker with difficulty; she had been in there for a while and was so cold her legs weren’t able to help us. Drying her off with towels, and a fluffy well-bedded straw stall combined with hot water to drink, got her turned around within the hour. Her hot water contained a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses for calories, minerals, and natural B vitamins for stress, and a big pinch of cayenne to undo any early hypothermia challenges. I love using this anytime a goat is off or needs their system “jump-started.”
The view of goats in the water along creeks and lakes is romantically beautiful in pictures. It can be on your farm too as long as you check for slippery footing, leg-catching branches or rocks, strong currents, damaged wire fencing hazards, snakes, bees, and predators that may also be drawn to the same body of water. Parasite issues can also be worse near water areas such as snails that host internal parasites, giardia, mosquitoes, horse flies, and other unwanted pests. I personally leave the romantic moments to the pictures and keep my goats on dry ground.
Storms can create water where there was no water. If your property is prone to flooding and you get word of an incoming storm, move your goats to high ground well before the storm and to have that plan in place before there is ever a need. Even if your herd is tucked safely in their barn, beware of water that creates an environment on your pasture for parasite overpopulation in the following months. Being proactive for goat worms and other parasite issues will save you time, money and stress, rather than trying to deal with a severe problem after it takes hold of your herd.
Storms can also blow rain sideways and create wet areas in your barn. Gutters or roofing can fail. A sunny day is a good time to look for any maintenance issues and to take care of them. Barn moisture can also rise to unhealthy levels if you do not have good airflow or don’t clean stalls as needed. Air should move freely above your goats’ heads. I like it above mine too so I don’t get cold from drafts. So at about eight feet high, I like openings above the walls but below the roof overhang so that fresh air can whisk away urine smells, air particulate, and moisture.
Your pens can end up having your goats in the water too. For a while last winter we had a puddle in our large pen. We resolved that by building up the pen level with additional dirt. I also like to build a thick straw and bedding trail to their water outside, eventually filling their entire paddock with bedding each fall. This keeps their feet out of the mud through our rainy months, which avoids hoof rot issues. It also keeps them more willing to take advantage of winter sun breaks to encourage healthier skin and lungs and more exercise for the pregnant does.
Wishing you many sunny days and dry, happy goats!
Katherine and her husband Jerry continue to be managed by their ever-crafty herds of LaManchas, Fjords, and alpacas on their farm with gardens, orchards, and hay in the Pacific Northwest. She also offers hope through herbal products and wellness consultations for people and their beloved creatures at www.firmeadowllc.com as well as signed copies of her book, The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal.
Originally published in the March/April 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.