Like fencing, shelter can be as elaborate and costly or as minimalist and economical as you want it to be. While we have a big huge old fashioned barn, I prefer to shelter my goats in small shelters, often made of upcycled materials.
How Much Indoor Space Do My Goats Need?
From my own experience, miniature goats need a bare minimum of 10 square feet each inside the shelter; double for standards. Any less than that can cause issues with overcrowding, such as bullying, increased risk of disease, fighting and even abortion – we temporarily used too tight a space a couple of years ago and a late term doe lost two of her three kids after being rammed in the stomach. If you live in a climate with a lot of rain in winter, you may want to provide more room indoors to compensate for their inability to be out as much.
What Kind of Shelters Work?
For year-round protection from the elements, a three-sided shelter is ideal. Three sides help protect from rain, snow, sun and wind. Goats are very cold hardy and can thrive in even negative temperatures as long as they have a draft free place to get out of the weather.
Goats are better able to handle cold weather than they are enclosed spaces with poor airflow. Creatures of the hills, they need plenty of ventilation for their delicate respiratory systems and can have greater instances of pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses if their shelters are too tight.
Quick note about heat lamps: don’t use them! Healthy goats who have free choice hay will not get too cold. While exceptions to this do exist, heat lamps have a high fire risk and should be used only as a last resort. Around here, the only time I’ll use a heat lamp is if we’re hitting teens or below during kidding season – kids born when temps are teens or lower are prone to frostbite, particularly in their ears and hooves. Then, I use a caged lamp from Premier 1 and only in my greenhouse, a building I can live without if it does catch. The heat lamp is accessible to kids only and turned off when kids are 2-3 days old.
Though everyone knows about barns and pole buildings for shelter options, let’s have a look at some common barn alternatives.
For a couple of goats, a commercial dog house will work well to keep in body heat during cold winters, but because they are only small enough to lay down in, dog houses are really best for sleeping in at night or as a shelter within a shelter to help retain heat in the cold. Here, we use them for heat retention for young kids in winter or for a summer nighttime shelter for a pair of goats.
Dog houses aren’t great for summer shade because they don’t have a lot of room for air movement. Trees, tarps and other inexpensive options will work for summer shade if you use a dog house.
They are one of the more affordable shelters if you have a couple of goats. Expect to pay anywhere from around $75-$200 for a new dog house, but you can often find them cheap or free on Craigslist. Look for the ones with broken tops – they’re often free and the replacement part is around $20 on the ones I’ve researched.
Another plus to dog houses is how much fun they are. Kids and adults alike all flock to the dog houses in each pen to jump on and off – they are one of the favorite toys around here.
If you live near a dairy or have access to a distributor, plastic calf huts are a great option for a handful of goats. You can often find used ones available on Craigslist or Facebook. Calf huts are easy to move, easy to clean and–these days–more affordable than wood built structures.
I recently priced them at about $400 each new. Though not cheap, they are long lasting and great for small groups.
For the budget minded DIYers in the group (show of hands, please, I’ve got mine up!), take a look at using pallets for shelters. We have several and have used them for both summer and winter shelter options. They are so versatile, easy to expand and adaptable to any weather conditions.
If you take two and lay them upright on their short sides, then put one across the top, you’ll have an upside down “U” that can be expanded lengthwise indefinitely. Leave the pallets as-is for cool summer breezes and attach plywood or tarps during the winter months to button things up and keep everyone warm. Either way, I like to put plywood or tin across the top to provide better shade and rain protection year-round.
The best part about pallets is that you can usually find them for free at local stores, so even if you’re not ready now, you can start scouting and accumulating pallets – they’re about as useful on the farm as baling twine!
IBC totes are another popular and economical shelter option for small groups. I know several folks who cut out a hole in one side and use them for kidding stalls or kid/buck shelters. Just be sure the ones you source can either be cleaned well or didn’t contain anything toxic. As an added bonus, the cages that IBC totes are housed in make great hay feeders!
You can usually find these on Craigslist or Facebook for under $100.
Canvas and metal carports can be easily finished to create warm shelters for larger groups of goats. We just put up a 10’x20′ shelter for about $250 and I expect my growing herd will fit comfortably in this for the next couple of winters.
Rent to Own Sheds
Have you seen those prefabricated “rent-a-sheds” around your area? With a little finishing, they make cute, affordable shelters that you can customize however you need. I like that they come in longer lengths now so you can house larger herds too. I had in mind to pick one up this year for the doe shelter but costs went up so we’re making do with what we have for now.
Depending on the size, you can expect to spend anywhere from $5-$20k, but since most places allow you to rent to own, this can still work out to an affordable option if you need something bigger than the options above but don’t have a lot of cash up front.
Cattle Panel Hoop Shelters
I’m a big fan of cattle panels. You can make so many things from them! From rabbit tractors to vegetable trellises, I’ve explored various widths and sizes and concluded that 4′ wide is ideal if you will need to support a snow load. To make a cattle panel shelter that works for all seasons, simply hoop a cattle panel until it is 4′ wide at the base, then secure it with a metal t-post on each side. This makes a shelter tall enough for you to walk in. You could easily cut a panel in half and make a short shelter. They’re easy to expand as well. Add as many hooped cattle panels as you need; simply wire tie each panel to the next so they stay together and form a cohesive roof. Every panel will need 2 t-posts to stabilize it.
For the roof, you can use heavy duty tarps or, if you have a bit more funding in the budget, tin sheets. In summer, leave about a foot of the cattle panel open on the bottom of each side to ensure adequate airflow. In winter, go all the way to the ground and add a solid end to make a 3-sided shelter that will keep everyone cozy.
Bedding for Shelters
In summer, I like to leave out the bedding on our dirt floors. The goats are usually out and about and spending little time indoors anyway. If you have a wooden floor, something absorbent will probably be needed year round to protect the wood from soaking.
Shavings are more costly but also more absorbent than straw. If you’re in a more urban setting or transporting in your car, plastic wrapped bales of shavings are going to be the easiest to manage. Pine shavings are generally the accepted type because cedar contains oils that can be harmful to respiratory systems and fatal to some animals. If you have a sawmill nearby, you can check with them for bulk shavings at a lower price than the bagged options. For kidding, I don’t recommend shavings because they tend to stick to just birthed kids and make it hard for does to clean them.
My personal choice, straw is absorbent and affordable. The goats love to sift through it to find little bits of wheat too, so when I put out a new bale, I simply remove the strings and walk away – the goats will do the work of spreading it for me.
One critical note about straw – it is becoming more common to desiccate wheat crops just before harvest. This is done by applying an herbicide such as Roundup to the entire crop to achieve a uniform kill and ease of harvest. The end result is straw that has recently been treated with a deadly toxin that most folks with holistic inclination would not want near their goats. Additionally, straw treated this way will kill off any garden it is spread in – I know a local farmer who no longer sells to gardeners because his straw was killing garden plants. Be sure to ask your supplier if your straw has been sprayed and with what.
While waste hay is commonly mentioned as a bedding option, it tends to hang onto moisture which can create more ammonia issues and respiratory trouble. I don’t recommend using hay as a bedding option and I discourage folks from feeding hay in the sleeping area for this and other reasons we’ll go into in the feeding section.
Pine pellets are an option I hear more about these days. I have no experience with them but feel like they would be uncomfortable to lay on so would recommend using them with something softer such as shavings or straw on top in areas where you need the extra absorbency.
The old timey bedding method was simply collected fall leaves. If you’re on a budget or into doing things the old fashioned way (again with the raised hand) you can try collecting your fall leaves for at least a partial replacement for purchased bedding.
We buy grain in one-ton totes that the grain dealer won’t take back so I try to find clever ways to reuse them. They work great for holding large amounts of fall leaves that can be fed out or used as bedding.
Deep Litter Method Vs. Regular Cleaning
When choosing how to bed your shelter, there are a couple of options you can go with that determine how often you’ll need to clean. The first, and my preference, is deep litter.
With the deep litter method, you add a good foundation of clean straw. Be sure to spread lime or a product like Stall Fresh first to help combat ammonia.
As time goes on, the straw will become soiled and flattened. Rather than removing this soiled bedding, in the deep litter method you’ll simply add another thick layer of straw on top of it. The soiled bottom layer will begin to break down and as it does, it will add heat to the bedding, or at least that’s what everyone tells themselves they’re doing deep litter for. 😅 In reality, the coldest part of winter is when you want that heat accumulation but the microbial activity responsible for breaking down the straw is at its lowest during cold so the effect is minimal. If you live in a warmer climate, take care to be sure it’s not heating up too much for comfort for your animals.
The real benefit to deep litter is the time it saves. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of mucking out the shelters. It’s plenty enough for me to have to do it once every spring – there’s not a chance I’m trekking out every few weeks all winter long to remove the bedding, forge a path through feet of snow to a compost pile, trudge back over with fresh bedding and rinse, repeat until spring.
Done properly–ie, adding bedding regularly–this method will not cause a buildup of stink, but it does make for a softer bed to lay on all winter long.
The downside is that you have a lot more cleanup to do in spring if you use the deep litter method, but I find that my energy for such tasks is a lot higher in spring than it is in the dead of winter.
If you live in a warmer climate or have a setup that makes deep litter difficult, you can clean out as often as you need – some folks do a stall cleanout weekly, so it really depends on your situation. The only wrong way to bed is a way that results in deteriorating health for your goats.
The bottom line for creating an effective shelter is to be sure you can provide ample ventilation through windows or open sides and clean, warm bedding during winter months. With so many options to achieve those ends, you can effectively shelter your goats on any budget.
Continue the discussion in the Management forum.