Winter can be a stressful time for livestock as well as your pastures. As farm managers we can help to reduce the stress our farms face by providing proper care, feeding practices and pasture management to navigate your livestock through to a healthy and thriving spring.

Winter grazing can pose health risks and issues to both your goats and your pastures if not conducted effectively. Prepare yourself, your pastures and your tribe for the increased extreme elements of winter for a successful winter grazing season.

As we enter into the beginning of New Zealand’s winter months, it is essential to address the practice of winter grazing and implement tried and tested strategies to improve the health of your tribe and their pastures. Yor goat breed may alter your decision to graze through the winter as some breeds will fare better than others in colder climates. Investing in a purpose built livestock SmartShelter will protect your goats from the cold, help with management practices and protect your pastures during these vulnerable months.

Can goats graze in the winter?

If you are breeding goats for meat you likely have Boer, Spanish goats or Kiko but if you breed goats for milk then you’ll likely have Saanen or Togeenburgs.

Goats are extremely hardy animals and are known to thrive on rough terrain. They are also resilient in most climates but they’re not quite as hardy as their subfamily, the sheep and are likely to require some kind of basic shelter during the cold weather.

Snow on the ground does not always mean the grazing season ends and won’t stop your goats from digging to get to the grass. Goats have the ability to dig through the snow as long as it’s light and fluffy and not deeper than about a foot. Wet snow or drifted snow is a lot harder for the goats to get to and iced over snow will inhibit them from reaching their feed.

Dairy goats are more sensitive to weather conditions due to the energy they need to produce milk. Decline in milk production due to cold stress has been proven to be of greater magnitude than that of heat stress.

Keeping your tribe sheltered from the elements in a custom built livestock shelter keeps your tribe warm, safe and easily managed. The use of our SmartShelters leads to easier feed management and will inevitably save you on health and feed costs.

How many hours a day should goats graze?

Goats spend between 6 and 12 hours grazing per day but grazing time can be influenced by several factors, including but not limited to: 

  • The season
  • The temperature 
  • The humidity
  • The topography
  • The nature of the plant canopy
  • Pasture availability
  • Social interaction among animals

Changes in day length and intensity of sunlight throughout the seasons, causes goats to graze in varied patterns. At mean temperatures below 10C, goats spend very little time grazing at night. At mean temperatures above 10C, they may choose to graze at night. 

What can I plant for goat winter grazing?

In a pasture situation goats are “top down” grazers and very active foragers, consuming only the best parts of a wide range of grasses, legumes, and browse plants. Browse plants include brush, shrubs, trees, and vines with woody stems. Their small mouth, narrow muzzle and split upper lips enable them to pick small leaves, flowers, fruits and other parts of the plant, thus choosing only the most nutritious available feed.

As natural browsers, given the opportunity, goats will select over 60 percent of their daily diet from brush and woody perennials such as multiflora rose, saplings, small deciduous trees, black locust, briars, brambles, sumac, privet, honeysuckle. And broadleaf plants such as pigweed, dock, horseweed, plantain, lambsquarter. They will likely choose these over herbaceous species such as fescue, bluegrass, orchardgrass, crabgrass or bermudagrass. 

In spite of their grazing preferences, goats can be grazed on pasture alone.

Goats will likely:

  • Choose to graze young grass over clover;
  • Prefer browsing over grazing pastures, and eat more browse than other domestic ruminants;
  • Eat a wider range of plant species compared to sheep or cattle;
  • Prefer foraging on rough and steep land over flat, smooth land;
  • Graze along fence lines before grazing the centre of a pasture;
  • Graze the top of pasture canopy fairly uniformly before grazing close to the soil level;
  • Travel further in search of preferred forage compared to other domestic ruminants.

Where do you keep goats in the winter?

While goats can be grazed in pastures into the winter months, they will require some form of shelter from the elements to keep them safer, warmer and more productive.

Providing your goats with protection, particularly in often harsh and hostile New Zealand conditions, is best practice for many reasons. This is particularly the case for goats bred for optimum dairy genetics, as the very DNA that allows them to produce such high yields tends to leave them susceptible to weather extremes, as they focus their energy on milk production rather than on hardiness.

What’s more, providing your property with a hub from which to maintain your tribe will allow you to maximise your investment.

If your farm is in the lowlands and you’re lucky enough to not be bombarded with numerous feet of the white stuff, it is possible to keep your goats grazing throughout the winter months, or at least until the weather declines past optimal standards. This is an excellent time of year to consider rotational grazing practices or adopting a sacrifice paddock to enable your other pastures to rejuvenate.

At SmartShelters we have an enviable reputation for our custom built, top quality, reliable and cost efficient livestock shelters to enable your goats to thrive during the winter months. Our shelters earn you greater control over the feeding, milking and management of your tribe as well as keeping them protected from the elements, keeping them warmer and healthier while increasing milk yields.

Goat Pasture management

Control grazing

Control grazing allows goats to graze for a limited time, leaving leafy stubbles before they move onto another pasture or paddock. The forage plants left behind can then use the energy from the sun through photosynthesis to grow back without the use of their root reserves. By utilising this resting period, the pastures can recover instead of the goats killing off the brush through continuous browsing.

While following this practice, legumes and native grasses may reappear in the pasture come springtime creating a more diverse plant community. Control grazing can improve the quality of the forage and also help to reduce internal parasite problems as long as they are moved to a new pasture before the forage is grazed too short.

Strip grazing

Strip grazing is effective during the cooler months because it results in high pasture utilisation. By creating small slices of pasture for the goats to graze on with the use of fences the goats will consume more of the forage in a smaller space so grazing can be rationed throughout the cooler months and moved on to the next slice of pasture once the whole area has been cleared.

Once you are convinced that your pasture has given up growing, bring your goats in from the fields. Our livestock shelters are designed to keep your animals warm, safe and comfortable during the winter months, keep the stress off your pastures and give them the break they need to thrive during the next season.