Different species of livestock react to heat waves and hot climates differently. Some goat varieties are more tolerant than others.
All animals should receive special consideration and adjustments during periods of high heat. Even goat varieties that are well-accustomed to high temperatures and hot sun should have plenty of water available at all times.
A few factors come into play when small ruminants, such as many goat varieties, endure high heat. Heavy fiber, such as with Angora goats, can raise body temperature. Lactating goats require more water in order to produce milk. Larger goats can be less heat tolerant than smaller goat breeds. The very young and the very old goat will be less heat-tolerant, despite the goat varieties they represent. In addition, darker-colored goats attract more of the sun’s heat and can overheat faster than a white goat. On the other hand, sunburn is a factor with light-skinned and light-colored goat varieties.
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Some goat breeds have loose skin or floppy ears. Both characteristics are good adaptations for heat tolerance. Horns can also dissipate heat. Angora goats are covered with a warm fiber coat most of the year; the horns are an adaptation that helps heat flow from the body, helping the Angora stay cooler if temperatures rise.
Basic Requirements for Goat Varieties in Hot Weather
Keeping your goats in good condition helps them adapt to weather stress. Goats that are not overweight, have a healthy diet of good quality forage, and plenty of fresh water available at all times, can survive periods of extreme heat. Goat varieties that are in good condition can even thrive in a climate of intense heat. Knowing the basics of caring for goats will help you decide on the best goat breed for hot climates.
Providing shade for your goats adds to their comfort. Trees add shade over a sunny pasture area but if you don’t have trees, run in-sheds, tarps, lean-to structures, and open barns can provide shady areas for rest. Try to make the shade structure big enough for all the goats. I have noticed that our goats often all rest at the same time. If there is access to electricity, a fan can provide cooling air flow and increased ventilation.
Goats need full access to fresh, clean water. Cleaning the water container more frequently is also necessary. Algae and scum forms in water that sits in the sun but a quick scrub will loosen the growth and it can be rinsed away before the container is refilled.
Let the Goats Rest During High Heat
Extreme heat periods are not the time to work your goats. If you do have to handle them for routine care, try to arrange the work for cooler morning hours. You and the goats will tolerate the hoof trim better during the cooler times. Wait for cooler weather before moving goats from one area to another.
Signs of Heat Stress in Goats
Heat stress can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Goats pant a lot when the weather is hot. If a goat can’t stop panting, stops eating and drinking, and can’t get up, it may be suffering from heat stress. Rectal temperatures over 105 degrees F are a serious threat to the animal’s recovery from heat stress.
During heat waves, our goats rest in the barn most of the day. They pant to expel heat. I frequently refill the water buckets. If I walk up to the goats, they will get up and check me for treats.
Look for the following signs of heat stress, during a heat wave:
- The goat is lethargic.
- Goat exhibits excessive panting.
- The goat is too weak to get up.
Act quickly to address these warning signs of heat stress. You need to take steps to bring the animal to a cooler location and bring the body temperature down. Frequently offer small amounts of water. Non-fiber goats can be misted with water to assist in bringing the body temperature down.
Goat Varieties for Hot Climates
Living in a hot climate might require more planning to successfully raise goat varieties. Research the effects of heat on different breeds before you begin raising goats. Next, think about the purpose you have for owning goats. Will you be breeding to sell kids, goat milk production, meat, or fiber?
Spanish explorers introduced goats of the Mediterranean type to the New World. The goats adapted well to North America and proved to be great at foraging. The Spanish goat breed is an American breed derived from the early goats and the purebred Spanish goat is on the Livestock Conservancy Watch List. It is considered a landrace breed of goat. Spanish goats were used for milk, meat, and leather. In many cases, they are crossed with Boer goats for meat production or bred for increased cashmere production. The Spanish goat is hardy, and the does are good breeders and prolific. They are horned, which adds to their ability to withstand high temperatures.
San Clemente Goats
There seems to be a mystery about the origin of the San Clemente Island goat. The feral breed was possibly left on the island by early explorers or at a much later date in a different story. In either case, the San Clemente goats were left to breed and run free. After the U.S. Navy began operations on the island, the goats became a problem for land use. The goats were rounded up and domesticated but most males were castrated before being moved, and the breed became critical in status. San Clemente goats are considered a dual-purpose goat for milk or meat. The breed forages well, is small boned, and quick.
Alpine goats are originally from the French Alps. Although that region is not known for extreme heat, the Alpine goat is hardy and adapts easily to most climates. This breed is usually kept for milk. Alpines can be almost any shade or combination of colors, and they normally have horns.
The Galla originated in Kenya and is the milking choice in the East African country. Gallas are large white goats, with calm dispositions. The Nyando district of Kenya is plagued by poverty and hunger so researchers developed the Galla breed as an answer to the hunger crises. High milking potential gives the people of the Nyando an alternative to the scrubby, mixed-breed goat varieties that populated herds. The Galla does mature early and are good moms. The breed shows great promise for the hot and drought-riddled area.
Pygmys and Nigerian Dwarf Goats
These small breeds of goats withstand extreme weather fairly well. Both breeds are efficient foragers and easy keepers. Nigerian Dwarf goats are a good breed for milk production, and hardiness.
Of the commonly found milk-producing breeds in the United States, the Nubian is one of the more heat-tolerant. Nubians prefer warm weather and often do not tolerate the cold as well. They have a thin coat and the large, pendulous ears may be factors in heat tolerance. Dairy goat buyers should look into the various dairy breeds available in their area. Take into consideration the level of heat that the goats will have to endure and compare the breeds based on heat and drought tolerance
Are you living in an area prone to hot, dry conditions? Goats will be a good choice for your homestead or small farm needs. Providing shade and plenty of fresh water help most goat varieties avoid heat stress.
Originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.