Fall is in full swing, and that means winter is not far behind. Now is the time to get your small ruminants ready for wintry weather. Goats and sheep can be more labor intensive in the wintertime, so preparation is key to keep your flocks and herds warm and comfortable this season
Small ruminants need warm, clean, draft-free housing for the winter.
According to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff School of Agriculture, build shelters so one wall faces the direction of the prevailing wind. Three-sided shelters should face south so winter sunlight can provide additional warmth while stormy and cold northern and northeasterly winds will be deflected. Also, build a shelter on slightly elevated ground with good drainage. Shelters with puddles of water or muddy floors will chill livestock seeking shelter. They also create manure management problems and potential fly and parasite problems in warmer months.
If you have not cleaned and bedded your barn in a while, now is the time to do it.
“We clean out the housing areas and put down fresh sand,” Lesley Million, of Terrell Creek Farm in Fordland, Mo., said of her winter dairy goat barn preparation. “The waste hay from the hay feeders builds up over the winter and provides plenty of bedding.”
Feeding and Watering
Having plenty of hay on hand is crucial to managing your small ruminants in the winter.
“Hay is the fuel that keeps goats warm when it is cold outside,” Melton said. “During the winter months, producers rely heavily on feeding hay as a roughage source in order to meet nutritional requirements of sheep or goats. The first question a producer must ask themselves is, what is the nutritional composition of the hay I’m feeding?
“This is important to understand in order to provide the proper supplementation, if needed, to your sheep or goats. Contact your county Extension agent to find out more about hay testing and understanding your hay analysis,” said Chelsey Ahrens, Ph.D., specialty livestock/youth education specialist with the Arkansas Extension.
Putting up your winter hay starts in the summer.
“In June, we begin stockpiling chemical-free hay in our barn for the winter,” Kim Coulter of Peak View Farm in Seymour, Mo., said of her Katahdin sheep flock. “We try to get a mix of orchard grass, clover and other native species.”
When watering in the wintertime, never allow troughs to overflow when filling.
“We move water tanks inside and provide warm water when it is really cold,” Million said.
Herd and Flock Health
There are a few health precautions small ruminant producers should take before and during winter.
“We give all goats copper bolus and BoSe,” Million said. (BoSe prevents and treats white muscle disease). Peak View Farm makes sure their sheep continue to have minerals provided daily.
Start now with your winter preparations, and your small ruminants will thank you.