Because of the make-up of their fleeces, and lack of an outer layer of body fat, goats suffer severely from cold, wet conditions and very cold winds.
They can, and will, shelter from the latter by seeking out undulations in the ground or lying up in the lee of rocky outcrops, logs, weed clumps, etc. But shelter from cold rain or hail is another matter.
Bush or the like, are excellent, but there is always the problem that the goats will eventually kill out the trees or scrub, unless the trees are really mature or the trunks are protected.
But the main point is that shelter is absolutely essential, particularly during the post-shearing period.
Pampas is being adopted by a number of farmers, since it provides both shelter and feed at a time when both are essential.
The other alternative is man-made shelters. Those built on skids so that they can be moved from paddock to paddock, have two advantages. In the first place they can be positioned where they are required, so that goats do not have to leave their grazing area to seek temporary shelter from adverse conditions. The other advantage they have over permanent shelters is that they reduce the risk of disease build-up.
During trials with milking goats, goats were provided with arks, which they used frequently. But it was found that these created a health hazard. When they were removed, the health of the flock improved and the goats seemed to cope well without the shelter.
But milking goats are not normally shorn, and it is then that shelter is most necessary. It is also an advantage, if no natural shelter exists, at kidding. Newly-born kids left in the cold are even more subject to hypothermia than young lambs.
Does will usually take advantage of shelter for their kids, but several small units are better than one or two large ones, where kids may be trampled or the doe bullied by superior-rank females.
There are three key factors in overcoming climatic stress:
a) having goats in good condition (i.e. with good body reserves),
b) providing access to good shelter, and
c) providing good feed.
Two of these requirements at least must be met if winter shearing is to be undertaken.
An animal’s body reserves may not seem relevant to discussion of shelter requirements, but in fact the two go hand in hand.
Goats that are in poor condition (low body reserves) are at far greater risk at such times as shearing, even if good feed and shelter is provided at that time.
Conversely, if shelter is not available a doe must use available feed to counter loss of body heat, instead of using it to grow fibre, put on weight or provide milk for her kid.
There are those who suggest that goats should not be molly-coddled, as they tend to become “soft”. It is probably true that a hardy strain can be achieved if the weaker members of a mob are allowed to die out, but at present values this seems hardly acceptable.
On the other hand many farmers do comment on the fact that goats will scamper for cover at the first sign of rain, thus reducing the time spent grazing. There is no real evidence yet as to just how far we should go in pandering to goats’ instincts in this regard.