The Truth About Coats for Goats!

Those Goat Sweaters Are Cute, but Do They Really Need Them?

The Truth About Coats for Goats!

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How many times have you seen an adorable picture or video on social media of a baby goat wearing a sweater and wondered if coats for goats are really necessary? I’ve seen goats in pajamas, goats donning raincoats, goats stylin’ fleece jackets, and more. And yes, they really are fun to look at. But most of the time, they are more for fashion than for function. 

If you’re wondering how to keep goats warm in cold weather, here are a few things to consider:

  • Do they have adequate shelter?
  • Have your goats acclimated to the cold weather?
  • Are they at a good weight?
  • Do they have a good source of unfrozen water to drink?
  • Do they have plenty of good quality hay and minerals?
  • Are the goats very young, very old, or in some other way more vulnerable to the cold?

As a general rule of thumb, coats for goats and use of heaters will not be necessary if they are healthy and have adequate shelter, hay, and water. But raising baby goats in cold weather can present some challenges and there are exceptions to this rule of thumb. 

Here’s what they DO need:

1. Good shelter: It doesn’t have to be fancy as long as they can get away from the wind, moisture, and extremes (heat and sun or cold and snow). I like to bed the shelter with plenty of clean straw in the winter to give them some extra insulation.

2. Access to clean, unfrozen water: I like to use heated water buckets but even with those, I still check a couple of times a day in case the electricity goes out or the bucket just stops working. If you don’t want to use heated buckets, you may have to carry warm water out to the barn several times a day during cold spells.

3. Plenty of roughage: Good quality hay in their bellies will work like a little oven keeping your goats warm from the inside out. Roughage will also help keep that rumen functioning properly. If it’s especially cold, I may throw the goats an extra flake of hay midday and again at bedtime to keep them warm, rather than more grain, which doesn’t really do much for warmth.

Most of the time coats for goats aren’t really needed and might even be a hindrance. We want our goats to grow their own good winter coats and this may not happen if you start blanketing them right at the beginning of the colder season. Also, wearing a coat or a goat sweater can actually rub off some of their fur. But there are times when I might think of using coats for goats:

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Capella in her coat after getting home from the hospital.  

1. When they’re sick or recovering from an illness: I had a doe get very sick one December and she was in the hospital for five days. Thankfully she survived, but she lost a lot of weight during that week and also had several shaved areas where she’d had IVs inserted and ultrasounds done. When she got back to the farm, I ended up keeping a coat on her for most of the winter until she had gained the weight back.

2. When they’re very young or very old: Tiny babies have a harder time regulating their body temperature and older goats may have thinning hair or trouble keeping weight on. If you see them shivering when everyone else looks comfortable, you might consider coats for goats, in this case, to keep from having freezing goats.

3. When it’s cold really early or cold really late: If it’s been 80 degrees and all of a sudden there’s a hard freeze, your goats might not have had time to grow a coat or acclimate to the colder temperatures. Or, if it’s late in the spring and they’ve already shed out their winter coat and then there’s late snow, this may be time for coats for goats. Also, if you’re clipping your goats for show, they may need a little extra support in the form of a goat coat or blanket.

Of course, I’ve been known to throw a little coat on my baby goats when I want to get a cute picture. Nothing wrong with that!

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In addition to coats for goats, many people are tempted to use heat lamps when it’s really cold. Using heat lamps can be very risky. The two biggest problems are barn fires and over-heating your goats. If you feel you must use a heat lamp, be sure it is very secure, in good working order, and far away from anything flammable like hay, straw, or wood shavings. Also, be sure that the goats can choose whether they want to be near the heat or get away from it if they are feeling too warm. 

I think the best way to keep goats warm in cold weather is by having lots of goats! They will all pile together and keep each other toasty on those long winter nights. Just another excuse to get a few more goats!

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Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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