You might be wondering – with all the emphasis on pasture rotation, and the goats getting everything they need from the land around here, what happens in the winter time?
Well, as far as eating goes, goats primarily will subsist on hay from about November until sometime in May. Hay is the dried, mowed grass that is harvested periodically from a pasture or “hay field.” Although any pasture can be a hay-field, some hay producers have land that is strictly maintained for the production of hay – they will use heavy equipment to harvest, bale, and fertilize a field. Baling, a process that requires the use of – you guessed it – heavy equipment, is when the mowed grasses are collected into a machine and compressed into either a square or round shape, wrapped in twine, and then deposited on the ground where it is then picked up and stored under cover.
One of our plans for the future is to be able to make all of our own hay. For now, we partner with a local dairy farmer and have an arrangement wherein the farmer gets to keep some of the hay, we get to keep some, and then the remainder we can buy back at a reduced price. This kind of transaction is essential to our farm and our animals’ livelihood; without it, the cost of hay would be exorbitant, and we would not be able to keep as many goats, nor our cows. However, once we are able to afford the equipment, we plan on making our own hay on a smaller scale, on a different schedule. Currently, we typically get one good cutting in August, though we are always hopeful that we can get two — preferably late june/early July, and again about 6-8 weeks thereafter.
For the goats’ diet, variety is the spice of life! While cows and sheep are predominately grass eaters, goats prefer to browse – so much so that the word browse is often used as a noun to describe their preferred diet.
In the winter time, without access to a wide variety of pasture, it becomes paramount that we get our goats some time outside of the barn. We use any period of cooperative weather to take our goats out, in small groups, on walks around the property. We keep them moving so they can’t really graze down any single area, and this also encourages them to vary their intake. Around the middle of fall, when the days are getting shorter and the average temperatures begin to fall, our goats begin to grow their thick winter undercoat, which helps to insulate them against the ambient outside temperatures. It is, however, as it is with all livestock, important that we keep them dry and protected from wind gusts or drafts throughout the cold months.
Goats do not thrive stuck in one place for a long time – any goat owner will have tales of how their goats will figure a way out of any pen. We don’t typically have this problem – we try to ensure that our goats are happy and are able to express their true “goatiness,” regardless of the weather outside. When we are in the doldrums of january and february, with average daytime temperatures sometimes not getting out of the 20’s we always allow for space for our goats to move around and get as much activity as they can. We do this by making sure there are a variety of feed locations, and by ensuring that there is plenty of space for everyone to move around, play, sleep, and eat.