Goats are hardy animals that can adapt and thrive in nearly any environment. However, like all animals, they do require protection from predators and bad weather. An inadequate shelter can potentially harm the health of your goats, and a poorly planned shelter may need to be revised and rebuilt to suit your changing needs. Here is everything you need to know to build a goat shelter that will last.
Building Your Goat Shelter: Before You Begin
Before you begin planning and building a goat shelter, here are some important things to remember.
Goats are capable of scaling sheer cliff walls in search of food
A healthy, active goat is likely to climb, stand on, or jump off of various architectural features in your shelter, including horizontal cross-braces, objects fixed to the wall, gates, ladders, etc. Items that are within a goat's reach should be very durably constructed, and items that you don't want goats to interact with should be stored very high, or out of the shelter.
Be attentive to wind and water flow on your property
Goats need protection from wind and rain, and it's important that their hooves stay dry. Situating your shelter on low ground, in the path of strong winds, makes it more difficult to build an adequate shelter. Some goats also need daytime sun protection in certain climates. Situating your shelter in a place with good soil drainage, good wind protection, and some sun protection already in place makes it easier to build.
Know your local wildlife
Goats will attract predators. If your area has bobcats, coyotes, foxes, wolves, and other predatory animals, your shelter will need to be stronger and more secure. Goat feed and feces may also attract rodents and other pests, which may in turn attract snakes, so keep the shelter secure and clean, with proper storage.
Planning Your Goat Shelter
Whether you are building or buying your goat shelter, there are a number of factors to consider.
Number and breed of goats
As a rule of thumb, goats require 10-15 square feet per goat for overnight shelter, provided they have good outdoor exercise and foraging space. If your outdoor space isn't very large, or if you have a rough climate where goats may be spending a lot of time indoors, allow 20 square feet per goat. Altogether, goats need a combined indoor and outdoor space of about 250 square feet per goat. However, pygmy goats and miniature breeds can get by with less space, and large meat goats or very active breeds will require more. You should always have a minimum of two goats together, and three is better. You should also plan for your herd to increase in size over time, as dairy goats need to be kidded regularly, and you will be adding baby goats to the herd.
Every kidding doe needs a separate indoor pen of her own, where she and her kid can be together and protected. Kidding pens should be 4-5 square feet. If you have multiple does that come into season at the same time, you should allow 4-5 feet per doe.
If your breeding is spaced throughout the year, kidding pens can be cleaned and re-used. These pens can be temporary, and put away out of season, but you should allow for that space inside your goat shelter if you plan to breed your goats.
Food and Water
In mild climates, where goats will only be sheltering overnight, having an indoor feed supply isn't strictly necessary. However, if they will be in their shelter for longer periods, there will need to be a food supply. And goats always need access to clean, fresh water. You need to have enough watering stations that all your goats can drink at the same time, if they choose to. Make sure to plan enough space for food and water.
If you have goats, you will need to store food, bedding, supplements, medicine, cleaning equipment, grooming supplies, and perhaps milking or kidding supplies. While all those things don't need to be stored inside your goat shelter, it's good to anticipate where you will store them and how you will easily get those things to and from the goats.
Keep in mind that you may need kidding supplies or medical supplies in a hurry, and they should be readily accessible. Keep in mind that you will regularly be transporting goat feed and bedding to the goats, and regularly cleaning and hauling away soiled bedding.
Giving yourself room to access the shelter with a wheelbarrow, planning for a ramp, adding high shelves, or other storage and access solutions should be anticipated at the earliest stages.
Designing Your Goat Shelter
Once you have determined all the things that need to go in your goat shelter, you have a good idea of how large it needs to be, and where it will be situated on your property. Now it's time to look at design.
If you have a mild climate, no pests or predators, and good kidding pens, you may not need doors at all, and you can allow goats to come and go from the shelter at will. A door-less goat shelter solves the problem of needing indoor and outdoor feeders and waterers, and means that you don't need to put goats indoors at night and let them out in the morning.
However, if you need more protection, then you need doors. Doors need to be large enough to give you free access to the inside of the shelter, along with a wheelbarrow if necessary, and sturdy enough to keep out predators. Many people like split doors (also called Dutch doors) as a way to let in light and air while containing the goats.
Most pre-fab goat shelters do not offer much of a roof overhang, if any. But a roof overhang can be a great way to keep an outdoor feeder or equipment dry, and act as a rain shelter for outdoor goats during damp weather. Depending on your climate, an overhang can also prevent excessive shoveling in snowy climates. When possible, an overhang is a good idea.
Windows and Ventilation
Goat bedding will become soiled with urine and feces. Proper air circulation allows that material to dry and air out, dissipating unpleasant odors. Dry air also prevents the buildup of moisture that contributes to mold, mildew, and other potentially harmful microbes.
While a goat shelter needs to provide protection from wind, it is also essential that it be well-ventilated, with good air flow, in order to be a healthy environment. Place windows high on the wall, out of the reach of goats and predators, and on opposite sides of the shelter in order to promote air flow. You may also want to consider a cupola, which allows air movement and keeps a shelter cool.
You may not want to go all the way and wire a goat shelter for electricity. But it is a good idea to consider how you will light the goat shelter. If you live in a climate with long nights during winter, if your goats have a medical condition or are kidding at night, or even just for thorough cleaning, adequate lighting will be necessary.
Consider adding battery-powered LED lights. If you can take them off the wall or ceiling and bring them down low for close examination of a goat in the dark, that's even better.
Building Your Goat Shelter
Some people prefer cement floors because they are easiest to clean. However, they are also cold, hard, and uncomfortable, so you will need to give your goats extra bedding or other padded materials to compensate.
Packed earth floors are certainly affordable and easy. However, they can retain moisture from rain, water, and urine, and take a long time to dry. Goats should not be standing or sleeping in mud, so it's important to provide excellent ventilation that allows moisture to evaporate.
Pressure-treated wood is a popular choice because it is stain- and rot-resistant. However, some people are concerned that such floors are treated with toxic chemicals that may be harmful.
Untreated wood, often with a narrow gap between boards, is a popular choice.
Gravel, sand, etc.
Many people who keep goats use a layer of sand or gravel between the flooring and bedding in order to allow moisture to drain and dissipate, and find it's a good solution for them.
Goat shelter roofs are typically made of plywood with tar paper and sometimes shingling that you would find on any other outdoor shed. In some climates, you can use a metal roof, but be mindful that those roofs can be hot in some climates. Remember that, unless your goat shelter is tall, your goats may find a way to climb, jump, or walk on the roof, so it may need to be more durable than you expect.
People make goat shelters from all kinds of materials, including using old sheds, pre-fab shelters, plywood, wood pallets, unused fencing, etc. Provided that the shelter is well-designed, well-constructed, and well-situated a wide range of materials can be used.
Furnishing a Goat Shelter
For small goats and a small herd, your indoor furnishing needs may be minimal. However, here are a few things to consider for the inside of your goat shelter.
To increase floor space and keep bedding dry, you may want to consider adding a loft to your goat shelter. Goats are ready climbers, and enjoy being up high, so lofts are a popular option in goat shelters.
In addition to a watering station, you may want to add a nutrition station for minerals and other nutrients that goats require. This station can be kept indoors or outdoors, but many goat owners keep it in the shelter to keep the nutrients dry. You should offer your goats:
Domesticated goats usually require a mineral supplement, unless they have access to exceptionally wide range and diversity of forage. Minerals can be offered free-choice, because goats will only consume as much as they need. Minerals generally come in the form of pellets or in a block, and must be specifically formulated for goats (not sheep or other animals).
Mineral blocks and supplements often have a high salt content to attract the goats; note the label on your mineral block, because if it already has salt, then you may not need to give your goats additional salt.
Just as for humans, baking soda calms digestion and can help soothe stomachs. Goats should be offered baking soda freely, so they can eat as much as they need.
Goats like salt, and need it for survival just like any other animal. Goats have smooth tongues and may not be able to get enough salt from a salt lick, unlike horses and cows. Goats should be given unbleached natural salt, in a loose form, with no additives that prevent clumping. Natural, unbleached salt with no additives often also has essential trace minerals.
Selenium is another nutrient that is essential for goats. In areas with selenium-rich soil, when goats are allowed to forage and browse, they often get enough selenium naturally. In areas with low selenium in the soil, you may need to add a selenium supplement.
Does and kids need a private, quiet area to give birth and to bond naturally. However, you will also need access to the space to assist with birth and do other tasks. Prepare a small, private pen that will contain baby goats and keep them protected from drafts.
You may want extra lighting in the kidding area, storage for medical supplies, and easy access for cleaning. You may also want a stanchion for help with milking a new mother, if she is resistant.
Following these steps while planning, designing, and building your goat shelter will allow you to create a comfortable, inexpensive goat shed, or the ultimate goat palace. But either way, your goats will be kept warm, dry, comfortable, and healthy in your new goat shelter.