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UNP-103, November 2008, Robert Spencer, Urban Regional Extension Specialist, Alabama A&M University
Facilities for goats are an important aspect of goat production. More experienced goat producers understand the role of goat facilities. However, novice producers may not realize that facilities are equally important as fencing. Goats need access to minimal shelter in case of inclement weather conditions. Like humans, they suffer from various illnesses as a result of extreme weather conditions, including extended exposure to sun.
When designing, developing, or purchasing a facility it's important to consider structural costs, materials, affordability, and functionality. Fencing and shelter should be the primary consideration when determining appropriate facilities for goat production. Feeders, water vessels, and service equipment would be secondary; however, it's important to meet the needs of your animals. The ability to properly maintain and effectively sanitize feeders and water vessels is important to ensure overall herd health. Your selection of proper facilities will be based on herd management strategies, needs, and financial resources.
Goats, like other animals, have hollow hair that functions as an insulator that allows them to withstand moderate cold and heat. Although they originated from the wild, goats still have an instinct to seek shelter during inclement weather conditions. Once domesticated, however, goats tend to lose some of their survival instincts and cannot tolerate sudden temperature changes. By the same token, heating or air conditioning a shelter is not always feasible.
Shelters or housing for goats can be as basic or elaborate as the designer wishes. Some farmers have been able to modify former poultry houses. In areas where climates are mild, a simple-designed structure may be more desirable. However, keep in mind that the primary purpose of shelter is to minimize stress from extreme environmental conditions such as excessive precipitation, high or low temperatures, strong wind, and direct sunlight. Shelters also function as protection from predators, a nursery during kidding season, and storage for other relevant items such as hay, feed, medicines, and tools.
||Herd sire inside a facility (tilt table behind buck, creep feeder to left, and rain gutter feeder bottom right). Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
||Former poultry house converted into facility to house goats. Note kidding pens on left. Courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System|
Structure materials may vary depending on the designer, facility needs, and your budget. Many goat structures are made of wood, metal, and plastic. These materials are readily accessible, affordable, practical, and easy to maintain. For safety purposes, glass and sharp metal corners should be avoided at all times. Be cautious when considering compromising quality or needs. Creativity and financial constraints should be the only limiting factors.
When designing housing, the enclosure should allow a minimal amount of ventilation. Stagnate air flow allows moisture to build up, while dusty conditions cause respiratory problems or other airborne diseases. By the same token, it is important to prevent excessive drafts, particularly where newborns are housed since they are incapable of generating sufficient body heat.
Facility design should ensure each structure is sturdy and easily maintained. Occasionally, an overly aggressive animal will decide to test the sturdiness of a structure and, out of boredom, begin to head-butt walls and posts. This situation can also occur when two animals decide to test each other for dominance and have an "encounter" until one of them wins. Sometimes one animal will knock another one into the wall and damage the structure. If a structure is damaged, it should be repaired in a timely manner. In addition, it's important to design a building that can be easily accessed by equipment and workers with the intent of cleaning floor space of manure and debris on a regular basis.
Another factor to consider when designing goat facilities is the provision of adequate space for a relevant number of animals. Adequate space is important to minimize infighting among animals. While head-butting is a common method of establishing dominance among goats, infighting may result in blows to the abdomen or back of pregnant does, resulting in injuries to the fetus, abortions, or miscarriages. Other cases of fighting may result in various forms of injuries or possibly broken legs.
Allow for approximately 20 to 30 square feet per adult animal, less for younger animals. This space will allow each animal to move about at leisure. Confinement and overcrowding causes stress, and goats vent their frustration by taking it out on one another or on structures that causes damage to animals and housing structures.
Shelter types can vary by purpose and designer; there are a
large variety and types of shelters-some prefabricated, some makeshift,
some portable, and some permanent. All must be essential and functional.
Not everyone has the financial resources to build a state-of-the-art
goat containment facility, nor is it necessary. The important
factors when designing a structure for housing is to keep in mind
that it must be practical, affordable, sturdy, and suitable for
each situation. Not everyone has the luxury of a barn where they
can herd in their goats together at night or during inclement
weather; so, improvisation may be the best option. Keep in mind
that no matter what type of shelter is designed, adequate space
within that shelter for the appropriate number of animals is important.
||Permanent barn with potential for additions and modifications. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
Pre-manufactured shelters come in various forms; there are calf or goat hutches that can be readily purchased. They come in various sizes from small to large. The smaller ones have enough space to generally house only a few goats. In essence, they function as portable goat pens. Some larger hutches have the capacity to hold about ten adult goats and come with side feeder doors, a top air vent, a front feeder, a water holder, and other features. Any of these hutches are convenient because a livestock panel can be attached to one end to help contain the goats.
Lengths of metal culvert with sufficient height, such as those used in drainage ditches, can be positioned to serve as housing. Little modifications are necessary other than securing them in place. There are other objects such as large commercial fertilizer or chemical vats that can be converted into housing. Some modification may be required such as inverting the container, cutting in doors and windows (for ventilation), and installing lights. While it is important that all these items are sanitized sufficiently to ensure a healthy living environment, sometimes they can be acquired for a nominal investment.
Portable shelters should always be considered a viable option, especially when a farm utilizes small paddocks for rotational grazing that have the capability to move from one location to another. This type of structure may be built on skids to make it more convenient to relocate. These shelters also vary in size depending upon availability and ability of equipment to move structures as needed.
Permanent shelters are every farmer's dream; however, budget constraints may place limitations on those dreams. Temporary or make-shift structures are often very practical in certain situations. With the right design, they can be low cost to build, readily disassembled, and easily moved and reassembled at another site.
||Premanufactured goat hutch. Courtesy of Pat and Ken Motes/Clear Creek Farm|
||Metal culvert modified into goat shelter. Courtesy of Pat and Ken Motes/Clear Creek Farm|
||Fertilizer vat converted into goat shelter. Courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System|
||This structure is on skids and can be towed to another site using a tractor. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
||A temporary structure can be disassembled and relocated with minimal reassembly. Courtesy of Pat and Ken Motes/Clear Creek Farm|
At times bucks, does, expectant or new mothers, kids, or sick goats require separate housing. Bucks may likely need separate paddocks and housing in order to be kept away from does and doelings during off-breeding season. Such areas and facilities should be situated at least several hundred yards away from areas where does and doelings are housed. Housing and fencing should be properly designed, built, and maintained to contain bucks that tend to try to escape. Experienced producers are well aware of the challenges associated with containing an "eager" buck.
Expectant mothers and new mothers with kids will have special needs also. They have unique nutritional requirements and need protection from aggressive or annoying animals. Expectant nannies or mothers with newborns may need a nursery area where then can have private space to nurse without disruptions. New mothers need space to clean and tend to their newborns without distractions. Mothers and their newborns also need time to bond, and newborns and young need to take in the first colostrum and milk on a regular basis.
Newborn kids may require a location with a heat lamp during certain times of the year in their first few days following birth. Make sure these areas with heat lamps are safe from fire hazards. It is a good idea to have a protected space where mobile kids can get away from dominant adults and older kids. And it is always a good idea to have a protected area for kids just learning to eat. This is known as a creep feeder, where kids can access supplemental hay and rations, allowing them to consume adequate nutrition without competition or being bullied by older animals.
||A mature buck this size may need a pen of his own when breeding season is complete. Courtesy of Alabama Cooperative Extension System|
||Homemade creep feeder. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
Concrete, soil, and gravel serve as suitable types of flooring, but function, needs, and practicality will be the determining factors for each situation. Slotted flooring and wood are impractical and unsanitary. Concrete may be desirable and easy to clean with the proper equipment, but the initial cost may be prohibitive. Concrete flooring also requires slightly slopped flooring to allow for drainage of urine and excess water. Soil and gravel-type flooring are affordable, practical, and will generally facilitate drainage (when built elevated above the surrounding area). The only time a dirt or gravel flooring is not practical is when the stocking rate of animals is excessive and adequate drainage is not possible. Whether utilizing concrete, soil, or gravel flooring, be sure to clean and remove manure and debris and other waste using power equipment or manpower. Choice of flooring will depend upon individual farm situation and budget.
Feeders come in variety of shapes, sizes, designs, and materials. Some are manufactured and some are made at the farm site. Materials, affordability, and ease of use are the primary considerations. Whatever feeder is used, it's important that it is easy to maintain. There are prefabricated bunk feeders and hay racks that can be purchased from any commercial feed store or equipment vendor. Or, a farmer may choose to construct his or her own feeder based on needs and facilities. A feed trough or insert made with plastic or PVC is generally practical and easy to clean. Never use a feeder where the feed is contained in wood. Wood holds bacteria, can transmit disease, and is not easy to sanitize.
Water vessels come in metal, plastic, or rubber; all are practical but require regular cleaning for sanitation purposes. The size of the water vessel will depend on the number of animals drinking from it. You want the vessel to be accessible to goats but not where young kids can climb into and drown because they are unable to escape. Depending on the time of year and other farm concerns, cleaning vessels on a regular basis is essential to provide clean water. Remember, an adult goat can easily consume 4 gallons of water a day, so an appropriate-sized water vessel is determined by the number of animals drinking from it. An accessory such as an automatic float valve attached to a running hose or pipe will ensure an ever-present supply of water. After all, water is one component of essential nutrition for any animal.
||PVC pipe cut in half, held in place with wood, and attached to a metal stand (plastic, wood, metal), affordable and practical. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
||Made on the farm, practical, affordable, and easy to clean. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
||Water tubs of various shapes and sizes. Courtesy of Sydne and Robert Spencer/Spencer's Farm|
The ability to properly and effectively sanitize facilities such as buildings, feeders, water troughs, and hay racks is essential for herd health and to minimize stress on the farmer. Utilization of water, chlorine, and sunshine are generally a good combination to maintain sanitary conditions. In extreme situations or conditions, supplemental use of other chemicals may become necessary to eliminate severe disease outbreaks. The ability to eliminate mold, mildew, and funguses are an important aspect to ensure healthy housing and equipment. Management styles and capabilities will determine a suitable strategy.
Goats can live, thrive, and reproduce under a variety of conditions as long as they are not extreme. Goats will tolerate moderate amounts of inclement weather but have their limits and will seek shelter appropriate to the weather conditions. Facility design and the ability to maintain and clean these facilities greatly impacts herd health. Ease of function, access, and use is important for regular maintenance and sanitation practices. Therefore, it is important to consider these factors when determining appropriate facilities and equipment suitable for each situation. One last word of advice: When designing a facility, it is wise to exceed initial expectations to allow for future expansion and to minimize stress on the farmer and goats.
McKenzie-Jakes, A. (2007). Getting started in the meat goat business: Establishing the meat goat facility, Bulletin I, Vol. IV. Florida A&M University CESTA. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
Schoenian, S. (2007). Housing, facilities, and equipment for commercial meat goat production. Fact Sheet 817. Maryland Small Ruminant Page. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
Spahr, L. I. (2008, April 4). General overview of meat goat production. Penn State Cooperative Extension. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
Published by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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