Do fiber goats need special care during the winter months? Caring for Angora goats and other fiber breeds requires a little more attention during the cold and wet season.
Goats do not like wet weather. Unlike sheep, which will stand in a field munching grass in the pouring rain, most goats hate wet feet or wet hair. They will tiptoe and run back to the barn at the first sign of rain or snow. For this reason, goats need a large barn space or large run-in shed during winter. Dry bedding in the form of straw, or something equally insulating and absorbing, will keep them comfortable. Keep in mind that hay has a higher moisture content, and therefore does not stay as dry as straw.
When you are caring for Angora goats or other mohair goat breeds, you have an additional reason for protecting fiber through the winter weather. If the fiber gets wet, then dry, and any rubbing occurs during the drying, it can felt on the goat. This greatly impacts the amount of good fiber you can harvest during shearing season. Heavy, wet felted fiber can also damage skin as the weight of the fiber causes sores and pain to the goat.
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Keeping Fiber in Good Condition
The last few weeks of winter, leading up to shearing day, are particularly challenging to a fiber goat owner. The changeable weather can cause goats to rub and try to remove the warm covering.
Keeping goats in a dry area will help fiber stay in good condition. Resist the urge to use goat coats on fiber goats. Friction between the coat and the animal fiber will cause rubbing and felting. In some cases, the fiber may wear off. Also, keeping the goat covered prevents it from fluffing up and allowing the cashmere undercoat to trap heat near the body. This is the goat’s natural method to stay warm. The outer hair and mohair covering protects, and the undercoat traps the heat.
If the goat suffers any significant loss of nutrients from a food change or lack of roughage, the fiber will show this stress. Illness, worm overload, and poor nutrition can all result in a condition called wool break. This is a weakness in fiber that can prevent spinning the fiber successfully. Other stress factors related to caring for Angora goats can cause wool break. Ask an experienced shepherd to show you an example of how this looks.
If your goats get wet or the fiber has ice hanging from it, carefully remove the ice. Using a dry towel, gently squeeze water from the fiber. Do not rub! That causes the fiber to felt. If the animal is shivering and the wet coat is hard to dry, you might need to put the goat in a well-bedded crate. Crating the goat deeply bedded with straw will help it stay warmer. Cover the crate with a large tarp or blanket to keep heat from leaving and to block any drafts. Bring the crate indoors if possible, until the goat is completely dry and stops shivering.
Keeping Fiber Free of Debris
Caring for Angora goat fiber, and keeping it clean, is difficult when feeding hay from a manger and hayrack. The goats pull hay down and lots of debris will fall on the goat next to them. This gets trapped in the fiber and will have to be skirted out before processing. As winter ends, the fiber is at its longest point. Adding extra debris to long fiber, along with possible dampness, can cause a real mess.
Try using only the manger part of the hayrack. This will keep hay off the ground, yet the goat won’t be pulling it out from overhead.
Shearing Time Approaches
Shearing time happens in winter if you want to get an early date. Many shearers will communicate by email when they are ready to schedule farm visits. If this is your first year caring for Angora goats or raising other fiber animals, ask around for a recommendation. Get on that person’s email list as soon as possible. Explain that you are new to the business and give specifics of how many wool-yielding animals you need to shear. Stay in contact with your goat shearer or plan to be flexible in doing it yourself. Once the fiber starts to blow, you need to act quickly.
Is My Goat Cold?
Even fiber goats with a full coat can get cold if certain conditions are not met. If you have a goat that is shivering and looking miserable, check on the surroundings. Is there a big draft in the stall? Can the goat find a dry place to lie down? Is there plenty of dry hay available? Is unfrozen water available?
Unless you sheared late in the fall or had an early cold snap, I don’t recommend using coats on goats. One spring we had sheared early. And of course, we then had a late cold snap and a blizzard! The goats were shivering so I cut off the sleeves of old sweatshirts and made them all coats. It helped them get past the cold spell when they had no fiber covering.
Should You Feed More Grain?
Many owners end up with obese goats because they think giving more concentrated grain feed will help the animal stay warm. While there is nothing wrong with feeding some concentrate, and the right amount helps balance nutrient intake, the best food source is plenty of good quality roughage. This does not mean you need to buy pricey alfalfa hay. A good quality, dust-free, timothy/orchard grass mix will provide plenty of nutrition for your goatherd. When it’s cold, snowy, and wet, make sure the goats have extra hay. Munching on hay frequently throughout the day will keep their metabolisms going and keep them warm. Long-term warmth comes from rumen continuously digesting hay, fodder, and other grasses.
Winter Stall Maintenance
The goat shelter should be kept clean and dry. Moisture causes chilling and goats will be susceptible to illness. Fresh, dry bedding helps goats stay off the cold ground while sleeping. Raised resting platforms can be built or made from pallets or lumber. The area under the sleeping platforms will add insulation between the ground and goats. The platform also keeps the fiber cleaner, since the goats are not lying on the bedding. I made a simple sleeping platform for my goats by using two pallets stacked. If space between slats is too large, place plywood over the top and nail it to the pallet boards. The pallet allows air to be trapped underneath for extra warmth.
The deep litter method is appropriate if done correctly. Remove any obvious wet areas. Continue to add dry straw overtop the old straw. This provides layers of insulation, keeping the goat warmer when lying on the stall floor.
Straw is my preferred choice of bedding because it is easiest to pick out of goat fiber. If you use sawdust or wood chips, the bedding gets trapped and can irritate the goat’s skin. Wood chips are hard to remove from fiber.
Keeping Water from Freezing
Goats love warm water when the weather is cold. Supply plenty of water to avoid rumen problems and urinary tract issues. Keeping the water supply from freezing will become an extra chore but there are some ways to make it easier. Depending on how many goats you have, using a stock tank de-icer will keep water from freezing. If you have only a couple goats, a large bowl that plugs in and keeps water from icing might work for you. In our barn, we carry jugs of water to the goats in the morning. Break up and remove the ice, add the warm water. Repeat this later in the day if temperatures stay below freezing. Often, our nights are very cold but the day is warm enough to keep water thawed. Honestly, we have been doing this for so many years that I don’t even think about it much anymore.
Minerals are important in the formation of fiber along with being part of a healthy diet when caring for Angora goats. Find the right mineral mix for fiber goats. We use a sheep mineral that does not include copper, as copper can be very toxic to fiber-producing animals.
In a nutshell, caring for fiber goats during the winter months isn’t too complicated. Keep the goats dry and comfortable in a draft-free stall on plenty of dry straw. Make sure water is available during the day and avoid dietary stress. Plenty of tasty hay keeps rumen working and generating body heat. Look forward to shearing your healthy fiber goats in just a few months.
Originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.