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Housing Dairy Goats
Housing for dairy goats does not have to be elaborate, but it must satisfy the health and comfort of the animals. There are five requirements of good housing for goats:
- The building should be adequately ventilated but not drafty;
- The walls and ceiling should be free from condensation;
- The bedded area should be relatively dry and clean;
- The hay, grain and water receptacles must be well built and located so that feed is not wasted or contaminated; and
- The facilities should provide easy access to the animals and require a minimum amount of labor.
The comfort zone for dairy goats is between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Non-sweating animals are much less sensitive to declining temperatures than to rising temperatures.
Milk production, feed consumption and comfort are not affected by temperatures between 0 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit seriously reduce feed intake and milk output.
Therefore, the object is not how to keep the goats warm in winter, but how to keep them cool in summer.
The movement of air, either by mechanical or natural means, to remove heat, moisture and odors is a necessary part of a housing plan. Most pneumonia problems with dairy goats can be traced to inadequate ventilation. Wet walls and ceilings are the result of improper ventilation, poor insulation or a combination of the two.
The rate of air movement is influenced by the amount of animal heat produced and the temperature you wish to maintain in the building. Additional heat and insulation may be required to keep the stable air fresh and to prevent water pipes from freezing in the winter. An air inlet system also must be provided for good air distribution. Ventilation entails more than installing a fan to move some air.
Proper ventilation during the summer may require moving 150 to 200 cubic feet of air per minute per animal. Winter weather may reduce the amount of air to be exhausted to as little as 20 cubic feet per goat. Contact your local MU Extension specialist for assistance in planning the right ventilation system. With proper ventilation, you are protecting the animals, the building and the quality of milk produced.
Windows are essential in a closed barn. They permit sunlight for warmth and drying and provide a source of vitamin D for the animals. Well-lighted barns usually are kept cleaner. In summer, open windows are important for air movement.
There are two housing systems often used for dairy goats:
- Loose housing, where the animals run loose in a pen or shed
- Stall barns, where each animal is confined in a small box stall or tie stall
Loose housing is an old system with many desirable features. With plenty of bedding, the manure pack for a goat herd can be kept fairly clean and dry. Heat produced within the pack makes a warm bed. There is ample exercise area and an opportunity for the goats to move around.
This type of housing, however, presents a few problems. A built-up manure pack, even though dry on the surface, releases a lot of moisture into the barn air. In addition, hay racks should be located off the bedded area to reduce parasite infestations. Watering devices should be placed in an area where spilled water will not mess up the bedded pack.
Many goat owners use a shed or barn that is open on the south or southeast side, thus eliminating the need for mechanical ventilation. These are cold housing facilities that do not require additional heat or insulation and use normal air movement for ventilation. Goats move freely in or out of the housing area and into the paddock or feeding area. Hay feeders, watering devices, mineral feeders and grain bunks are located on concrete pads some distance from the built-up manure pack.
Housing for the kids and other young stock may be included in the plan for the milking herd. However, young goats must be kept separate from the milking herd. Frequently, the kids are kept in 4-foot-square box stalls with at least one side slatted to permit air movement. Do not make a box stall from plywood with all four walls solid; air movement will not reach the kids. Usually a gated front contains enough openings to allow air drainage. Provide a heat lamp for newborn kids and for kids that are ill. Older kids may be kept in a corner of the stable area inside a pen made from movable hurdles.
Buck housing must be separate and downwind from the milking herd. It does not have to be elaborate and often is no more than a 5- or 6-foot shed with an open side facing the south to give the bucks free access to an exercise lot.
The milking area is part of the housing plan, but it should be separated from the stable area. It should have a concrete floor to make cleaning easier, and the milking platform should be 15 to 18 inches higher than the floor to permit easier milking. The platform should allow 18 inches in width and 3-1/2 feet in length for each animal to be tied. The manger should be 6 inches deep and 1 foot wide. If several goats are to be fastened and milked at once, a lever that will open and close the stanchion head locks is helpful.
Some goat owners who keep their milking herds in stall barns milk their animals on a milking stand located in one corner of the stable. Dusty air and flies in the stable, however, may require you to place the milking stand in a separate screened-in facility to guarantee clean milk. A 5-by-8-foot room with a concrete floor and drain is adequate for milking a small herd, but be sure there is plenty of light either from natural sources or electric bulbs.
If the milk is sold to the public or to a processor, there will be state inspection of the operation just as is required for production of Grade A milk from cows. Check with your local health authorities and the state inspector before starting construction.
If the milk is to be used by the family, the degree of sanitation and cleanliness maintained and the size and type of building constructed can be based on the owner's good sense, pride, conscience and finances.
Equip the milk house with a double sink for washing utensils, a hot water heater, refrigeration, a small table or work space, and a rack for drying and storing utensils. At least 50 percent of the milk house should be open floor space with ample room for equipment.
Regardless of the herd size, refrigeration must be available to quickly cool the milk. A household refrigerator may be used, but cold water is more efficient in cooling milk than cold air. The refrigerator or cooler should be large enough to hold a pan of water. The pan should hold enough water to match the amount of milk in the milk bucket. If the herd is big enough and milk production is 5, 10 or more gallons per day, it will be necessary to purchase a water-immersion cooler or a bulk tank for cooling purposes.
Cooling is critical to milk flavor and quality. All milk contains bacteria, some of which comes from the air and the utensils. If milk remains warm for a short period, the bacteria begin to multiply and the quality of milk deteriorates. Therefore, cool milk immediately after milking to a temperature under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hold it at that temperature until processed and/or consumed.
Plans for building a milking barn and milking stand and for construction of the milk house area are available from your local MU Extension dairy specialist.
Fences serve two purposes that make them an important part of a housing plan -- they keep goats in and dogs out. They also keep foraging goats away from your trees and shrubs as well as your neighbor's flower patch.
Set 7-foot posts, either wooden or steel, on 12-foot centers. Then use either a 4-foot-high woven wire fence topped with an electric wire 12 inches above the woven wire or use a completely electric fence. If you use a completely electric fence, place the first wire 12 inches from the ground, then four more wires on 6-inch spacings to a total height of 36 inches. Use insulators on the post to attach the wires. The electric fence works well when weeds, grass and brush are not allowed to touch the wires and short it out or when the ground isn't bone dry during periods of drought. Your local farm supply store can recommend the proper equipment.
In summary, keep the plans as simple and economical as possible. Consider the health of your animals as well as the conveniences a housing facility might offer.