When it comes to shelter, goats don’t need a lot. In most cases, a simple hoop house will provide enough protection, which is good news for warmer climates like mine (central Texas). I’m not looking to spend a whole lot of money or time on a shelter if it can be helped. However, what happens if it can’t be helped and your goats need something a bit heftier? What do goats commonly need for shelter? Here’s what I found.
Most goats will get enough shelter from a hoop house, but in more extreme conditions a 3-sided shelter, shed, or barn will provide better protection. Goats need constant access to a shelter to seek cover from the rain, snow, heat, wind, and any potential predators.
But why do goats need shelter in the first place? Aren’t they used to staying out in the rain and snow from when they were wild? If not, then what are the pros and cons of the different shelters? Let’s take a further look.
Why Do Goats Need Shelter?
Like most other livestock, goats have three basic necessities for survival–food, water, and shelter. While a goat’s cashmere coat can offer it some natural protection from the weather, there are cases when goats need a shelter that’s a bit more substantial.
Goats need shelter because they are vulnerable to extreme weather and disease. Consistently harsh or wet weather can lead to frostbite, heatstroke, and infection, but providing a shelter with dry and clean bedding will combat these issues. Additionally, a shelter can protect them from predators like dogs and coyotes.
Despite the many problems that can arise from the lack of shelter, goats are fairly resilient and usually only need minor protection. As long as they have basic shelter against elements such as the sun, wind, rain, and snow, they should be fine. Keep the bedding dry and clean to reduce the chance of worms, parasites, and infection.
If you do have predators in your area, consider upgrading your goats’ shelter to be enclosed when they’re herded inside for the night. This could be something small like adding a door to an open shed. Goats that are sick, old, pregnant, or smaller are easy targets for many predators.
Which Shelters Work Best for Goats?
Having the best shelter for your goats will come down to cost, ease, space, and durability. Given that most of us have different climates and threats around the homestead, there’s no one solution here. However, there are a few common shelters that you can generally choose from, which makes it hard to go wrong.
The best shelters for goats are hoop houses, three-sided shelters, sheds, and barns. If you live in a mild climate without many predators, a hoop house will likely work for you. On the other hand, if you’re in a more extreme climate, a three-sided shelter, shed, or barn will provide better protection.
So, what are the differences between hoop houses, three-sided shelters, and barns?
A hoop house is a structure that uses piping and tarps to quickly establish a simple shelter. Hoop houses are fairly easy to install and can be quite portable as you can take them down and put them up with less effort than a shed or barn.
Depending on the size, and if you DIY, a hoop house for goats can run anywhere from $200 to $2,000 and up.
When it comes to the elements (especially the wind), hoop houses can be sturdy as long as you establish long ground stakes and secure the top of the tarp with rope, which helps hold it down in high winds. Hoop houses are generally an entry-level shelter that will work for most mild to moderate climates.
Using a three-sided shed is a common solution for goat shelters as it’s more structurally sound than a hoop house, but not as expensive as a barn. Building a three-sided shelter can cost anywhere from a few dollars (if you use scrap wood or pallets) to a few thousand dollars.
You can either opt for a three-sided shelter with a door or no door. The door can act as a gate to keep the goats in if you need an additional barrier. Just make sure you also have a good property fence for fewer escape attempts and higher protection.
Overall, a three-sided shelter is a great option for most goat owners. However, if you’d prefer a shed, you can also build one for a similar cost.
Barns are some of the most expensive options when it comes to building a shelter for goats. Depending on the type of barn and the materials, it could run you $4,000 to $30,000 and higher.
If you’re not needing as much protection from the elements, you can opt to build a pole barn. Here’s a cost estimate for different sizes of pole barns. This is a great option if you’re just looking for protection against the sun, rain, and snow. However, if you’re in a climate that experiences strong drafts, you may want to enclose the barn with walls to protect your goats from the wind.
If you’re not interested in a pole barn, and you’re looking to build a standard, closed barn, the average price can run $47,500. However, this cost can be reduced if you opt to build a barn with metal, such as using steel supports and beams, instead of wood.
How Much Space Do Goats Need?
When it comes to a shelter, many goats can share one stall. The exceptions to this are pregnant (or lactating) does, or kids. They’ll need their own space for safety from other goats, especially if you have bucks. But the size of shelter really comes down to how many goats you have. So, what’s the average space you’ll need per goat?
The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) recommends keeping at least 15 sq. ft. of bedding space and 25 sq. ft. of outdoor pasture per goat. This figure doesn’t include space for supplies or play structures. The total size of shelter will depend on how many goats you’re planning on housing and running on the pasture.
Even though 25 sq. ft. is the minimum outdoor space, goats prefer a pasture of 250 sq. ft. each. Since goats are not lone animals and prefer a herd of two or more, this would mean keeping a pasture of at least 500 sq. ft. This spacing is a good minimum requirement if you’re looking to get goats.
Also, you may want to rotate their pasture so parasites don’t build up in the soil. By giving land some time after grazing, the parasites will gradually die off.
If you think you’d want more goats one day, allow for more space in the shelter and pasture so you can expand.
But besides allowing for enough space for goats, what other objects will take up space in the goat house and pasture?
Other Things That Take Up Space in a Goat’s Shelter
With your goat’s shelter, it’s important to factor in space for storage and cabinets for supplies such as feed, bedding, grooming equipment, and medicine. This also means leaving space for your goats’ feeders and waterers.
If items like the waterers are too close together, or placed over the bedding, it can soak and rot the goats’ feed and bedding.
Also, consider including a climbable structure inside of their pens. Goats need to climb and play often. This is especially true if they don’t get enough outdoor time, which most commonly happens in the winter months. If goats don’t have enough play or outside time, they can develop psychological issues and poor health.
Just make sure not to place the structure in a place where the goats can use it to escape or jump over a fence.
Depending on your weather, goats might also need at least a few inches of bedding, such as straw for proper insulation and cleanliness. If you’re doing a deep litter method for your goats’ bedding, then allow for about six inches in height.
With this, factor in the increased height of the goats from their bedding when you’re building their shelter so they don’t jump over the fence and escape. For a goat, there’s a big difference between a 4-foot fence and a 3.5-foot fence.
To recap, consider that some objects like these will take up extra space in your goats’ shelter.
- Supply cabinets (feed, bedding, equipment, and medicine)
- Feeders and waterers
- Climbing structures
- Bedding (increased height)
Remember that the 15-25 sq. ft. of space that goats require is purely living and pasture space and does not factor in any objects or structures.
How Much Space Do Dwarf and Pygmy Goats Need?
If you’re planning on raising dwarf or pygmy goats, you’re in luck. They require much less space than other, full-size goat breeds.
Dwarf and pygmy goats need about 9-10 sq. ft. of indoor space and a pasture space of 10-15 sq. ft. each. However, if the small goats don’t have much access to the outdoors, they’ll need 20 sq. ft. of space indoors each.
As mentioned, when spacing and sizing things out, make sure you aren’t including feeders, waterers, or any other supplies in this calculation. The figures above are just living space. Goats will also need full access to the feeders and waterers, especially when they’re crowded, so try to include enough to go around.
Also, consider building separate kidding pens, depending on how many kids you’re expecting in the future. Each kidding pen is normally 25 sq. ft. While this can take up a lot of space, you can stagger the births so you don’t need to build as many.
Lastly, keep in mind that smaller goats and kids are more vulnerable to predators, so keeping a stronger and enclosed shelter is likely a good idea in the long run.
What Kind of Shelter Do Goats Need in the Winter?
How aggressive your winter is will determine what kind of shelter your goats need. If you have little to no snow or wind, then hoop houses, three-sided shelters, sheds, and most other types of shelters will work. However, what if you have standard to extreme winters? What shelters would work best for goats?
The best type of winter shelter for goats is one that will keep the snow and draft out. This usually means at least a three-sided shelter or even an enclosed barn. If you get extreme winters, consider adding heating elements such as heaters and heated buckets.
If you do end up adding heaters, it’s important to remember to take proper fire-safety precautions when placing them and planning your shelter.
Three-sided shelters are the most common choice for goat owners with a mild to moderate winter, as long as the opening is facing away from the snow and wind.
If you’re living in an extremely cold climate, your goats will likely do better with a barn or a shed with a door. This is especially true if you have any old, sickly, pregnant, or kids. These goats will often need more warmth and attention from you.
Other Considerations for Your Goats in Winter
Not everything in winter has to do with the goats’ shelter. There are other events and tasks you should also be prepared to help your goats with. Let’s take a further look.
One of the most important tasks to know about in the winter is taking care of newborns. If you end up having to deliver any newborn kids during the winter, it’s important to dry them off as quickly as possible. Their skin is wet from birthing, and if they’re exposed to the freezing cold for too long, they may not survive.
For this reason, many goat owners plan to breed their goats in late October or early November so the kids will arrive in March and April when the weather is warmer.
Keeping in mind the common goat gestation of 5 months, you may want to stagger multiple births across different weeks to spread out the work you’ll have to do when helping to deliver and nurse them.
Clean and Dry Bedding
Remember to clean goats’ bedding often to reduce the smell of ammonia. The fumes of ammonia from their urine can easily damage their sensitive lungs and cause them to develop infections. If you’re keeping your goats in an enclosed shelter during the winter, consider providing lots of ventilation in combination with your cleaning.
Also, if goats are exposed to wet bedding or ground for too long, they can develop footrot. Keeping the shelter dry and draft-free is especially important in the winter as it can further reduce the chance of infection not only in their lungs but also on their feet.
Flooring and Bedding Types
Choosing the right flooring and bedding is also important to provide proper insulation and cleanliness. So, what are the best floors and bedding to use for a goat shelter?
Concrete or dirt floors work best for goat houses as wood floors can soak and hold the ammonia from the urine easier. It’s best to use straw or hay bedding as they’re both naturally water-resistant and can provide fluffy insulation from the cold or freezing ground.
If you’re finding their bedding isn’t draining well, consider using 1-foot of sand on the concrete or dirt floor. From there, place their straw or hay bedding on top. The loose bedding and sand will allow for great drainage and less work on your part.
Keeping Goats Warm
How cold your goats get can also depend on their breed. Nigerian goats can grow a nice cashmere coat which is extremely helpful in the winter. Normally, goats can tolerate temperatures down to -15ºF, but this depends on the goat’s health and condition.
Kids and goats that are pregnant, lactating, old, or sickly will have a much harder time regulating their body temperature, so it’s important to keep a close eye on them and help stabilize their body temperature with more bedding and heat (again, keeping fire-safety in mind).
Water buckets can also quickly freeze in the winter, so consider getting a heated bucket so you don’t have to worry about thawing the ice. To be safe, checking on goats often and consistently, especially during the winter, is a good call to make sure they have everything they need.
Can Goats Stay Outside in the Winter?
Depending on your winter, you may consider keeping your goats outside at some point. But, how cold is too cold for goats? Can they freeze to death?
Keeping goats outside in the winter is a good idea if your weather is mild and the goats are supervised. Goats need as much time and activity outside as they can get in the winter. However, goats shouldn’t be left outside after dusk or in extreme conditions.
Most goats will be able to handle temperature down to -15ºF and lower, but they should always have access to a shelter that’s protected from the elements. Goats that have a thicker cashmere coat will often fare better in the winter than others, unless they get wet from the rain or snow.
Goats can freeze to death, so it’s important to provide the proper shelter and supplies they need to outlast the winter. Wet and windy weather is some of the most dangerous in the winter as it will severely lower their resistance to the cold and freeze their skin. A goat that has a wet coat won’t last long in extreme winters. If they do survive, they’ll have an increased risk of infection and frostbite.
Can Bucks and Does Be Kept Together?
When you’re considering a shelter for your goats, you should know that some goats cannot be kept together for safety reasons. Bucks can be very aggressive towards kids or pregnant does and can cause harm to them. To help make this easier, I’ve put together this chart for keeping goats in the same pen or shelter.
|Goat 1||Goat 2||Compatible?|
|Does||Bucks||Only when breeding|
|Kids||Wethers/Does||Yes (after 4 weeks old)|
If you are newer to goats, then you should know does are females, bucks are males, wethers are castrated males, and kids are babies. Also, keep in mind that bucks shouldn’t be kept together.
Providing your goats with a shelter can be relatively straight-forward if you live in a mild to moderate climate, have enough space, and keep the right combination of genders together.
When winter comes around, stay prepared by keeping extra feed, bedding, and medicine. Try to stagger the births until springtime if you can.
While this post focuses on a shelter for your goats, don’t forget to use proper fencing to keep your goats in and the predators out!