Michael Metzger, Michigan State University Extension Educator
(Previously Published on the Michigan State University Extension page: November 15, 2017)
Most goats and sheep spend most of their time outside, but livestock that live outside may need special care when the winter weather sets in.
All animals need some kind of shelter even if it is only a windbreak. They need a place where they can get out of the wind. Shelter can include a building, a three-sided shed or even just a tree line. Ideally, goats and sheep should have access to some type of free choice shelter with a roof so they can get in out of the rain and snow. Michigan State University Extension reminds owners not to completely enclose an animal shelter. Proper ventilation is vital to avoid a buildup of ammonia from urine which can cause respiratory problems in goats and sheep. Sheep tend to handle cold weather and the elements much better than goats, but the exceptions to this are hair sheep or wool sheep that have been sheared late in the year.
Animals utilize more calories to maintain body temperature in cold weather to stay warm. Be sure that they have plenty of hay to eat, as the digestion of this hay in the rumen will help them create heat and stay warm. In very cold weather, you may need to supplement your animals’ diets with some kind of concentrate – cracked corn, oats, sweet feed or a complete pelleted feed to add calories to their diet for the overall health of the animal, especially if they are pregnant. Goats and sheep that are giving birth in the cold weather require even more care. Animals should be checked at regular intervals. Newborns need to be dried quickly after birth in sub-freezing weather to prevent frostbite, especially to the ears. It is also important to get colostrum into these newborns as quickly as possible so that they have the calories they need to create body heat and survive. Extra bedding may also help during the cold months to keep young kids and lambs warm. Heat lamps should be used very carefully and sparingly and not within reach of any animals.
Access to fresh water is essential. As temperatures begin to drop, water troughs and buckets can freeze. Be sure to check all your animals’ water at least twice a day as the temperature drops below freezing. Any time there is a layer of ice on top of the water trough, it needs to be broken so the animals can get to the fresh water. You may want to consider a submersible water heater to keep the water from freezing.