Raising Dairy Goats For Beginners: Goat Housing 101

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Goat housing is one of the most important things you need to have in place before you bring your first dairy goat home. Goats require shelter that is dry, well-ventilated, and not super drafty. The shelter should also protect them from the sun, wind, rain, and snow.

So, let's talk about the basic needs goats have for housing. We'll cover everything you need to know about goat housing, including bedding, space requirements, winter care, cheap and DIY goat housing ideas, fencing, and more.

Where should my goat housing be?

The location of your goat shelter is important for both you and your goats. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a location:

  • Accessibility – Is it easy for you to get to in both good and bad weather? Goats don't care if there is 5 feet of snow on the ground, they still need to be milked, lol. Make sure wherever you decide to put the goat housing it is going to be accessible by you and your goats in all types of weather.
  • Drainage – Make sure to take into consideration where water pools on your property. Your goat shelter needs to be on higher ground if possible. If your only option is to put your shelter in a low spot on your property, your goats will need elevated bedding areas in the shelter to be able to get out of the water if it should become an issue.
  • Wind – I'll write more about this in the next section, but you need to be aware of how wind and sun will affect your location choices. If you have places on your property that are particularly windy or where the wind funnels, I would avoid those locations. Those are usually spots that are not pleasant in the winter especially.
  • Sun – If you live in a hot dry climate, your goats will need plenty of space to get out of the intense sun. You need to make sure your shelter location allows for shady areas or is in a place where you can build some shade for them. On the other hand, if you live in a climate that is colder or wetter, you will want to make sure your shelter location gets plenty of sun during the day. Sun does a great job of drying out wet areas, and it sure feels good on a colder day.
  • Proximity to water and food sources – It is much easier to place your goat housing closer to a hydrant rather than having to run a water hose across your property. Same for hay and grain. It's so much nicer to have your goat food stored near your pens. Hay and grain sacks get heavy if you have to carry them very far. I suppose it might be a good workout though, lol.

How should I design my goat housing?

There are many many options for goat housing. Here are some considerations when designing your goat shelter:

  • Size and shape of the shelter – The shelter you use for your goats needs to have adequate space for the number of goats you have. (I also recommend making it bigger than you need since goat math is pretty much the same as chicken math, lol) Keep reading to find out the space requirements for goats. Your goats aren't really going to care what shape their shelter is made into. Square, rectangle, circle… it doesn't matter.
  • Ventilation requirements – Ventilation is a very important thing to consider when deciding on goat housing. If it is not ventilated, ammonia can build up and make you and your goats sick. It is also crucial for the hot summer months to keep your shelter from getting stuffy and your goats overheated.
  • Insulation – I think we all would love for our goat shelters to be insulated. Heated in winter, and cooled in the summer, lol. However, for most that is not realistic. My goats have a metal barn with no insulation and fair just fine. If you live in a very cold climate though, it may be something you need to look into.
  • Roofing – There really aren't any specific rules as to what roofing material your goats need. The roof just needs to provide shade and protection from rain and snow. So, in other words, it needs to not be leaky. If your goats can get on top of the roof of their shelter, you also need to make sure that it is strong enough to hold them.
  • Flooring – The most common flooring material for goat housing is dirt. (You might start with grass, but it will soon just be dirt). Concrete is another popular option for a permanent shelter or barn. There are other options like slatted floors and I just recently saw a goat enclosure that used elevated rubber mulch tiles! We'll talk about what to put down for bedding in the next section.
  • Door and window placement – When considering a door and window placement, they need to be easily accessible to you. They also need to be placed to facilitate good cross-ventilation for your goat shelter. Make sure the windows are safe for your goats and they can't break easily.
  • Wiring – Goats like to get into EVERYTHING. Be sure that any wiring is safely tucked away (and by that I mean hidden behind a locked door inside a vault with a fingerprint scanner). Joking aside, goats like to chew or “mouth” things to explore them. We definitely don't want our goats chewing on wires! Our barn was not built for goats and I can't tell you how many times my goats have turned the lights on! They really like playing with light switches.

Don't forget when you are designing housing for your goats that you will also need a place to milk them! Milking under or in a shelter is much more pleasant than milking outside when the weather is extreme. (Think rain, blowing snow, or intense sun and heat)

Do I need separate housing for my bucks and does?

Yes, you absolutely do need separate pens for your bucks and does for several reasons:

  1. If kept together, the bucks may harass and hurt your does. (Chase them, ride them, etc)
  2. If kept together, your does may get bred too often. It's really best practice for does to be bred once per year. This isn't such a huge deal with most dairy breeds as they are seasonal breeders (meaning they only go into heat a few months out of the year), but Nigerians, Boers, and some Nubians tend to breed year-round.
  3. If kept together, your young doelings may get bred far too soon. It's best to wait until a dairy doe is at least 80 lbs and over 8 months old to be bred. If bred prior to that, it can cause health issues for the doe and trouble kidding as they just aren't mature enough.
  4. If kept together, you have to deal with the stinky bucks every time you're in the doe pen. This one, honestly, is just more of an annoying thing for me, lol. I hate going in the buck pen because inevitably someone will rub on me and then I smell like a buck. If you've ever kept a mature buck, you know they don't just stink during rut, lol.

You can utilize the same goat housing for both bucks and does by sectioning it off and allowing each pen access to the shelter. For the stink factor, I much prefer a separate shelter for my bucks and use the calf huts for them.

goat housing idea, photo of a metal barn with a goat fence

Do I need separate housing for my baby goats (kids)?

The answer to that question depends on how you plan to raise your babies. If you plan to dam raise your kids (let the doe take care of them), then you don't necessarily need a separate pen for kids. That being said, I always try to keep a kid-proof pen (smaller holes in fencing, safe water source) set up, especially during the kidding season.

Sometimes I need a “kidding pen” for a doe. New moms especially sometimes need a little space and alone time to figure out what just happened, that they have a new baby to take care of and get nursing figured out.

It also can be used if you want to milk share with your doe and kids. You can pen the kids up overnight, milk in the morning, then put mom and the kids back together for the day in the main pen.

If you plan to bottle-raise your kids, then you definitely need a separate pen for them. They can't be kept in the same pen as the does at least for a while as they will just nurse from mom.

Either way, just like with the bucks, you can create this separate pen with access to the same shelter that your does are using (as long as they are separated by a fence) or have a completely different shelter.

Can my bucks, does and kids share fence lines?

Yes, absolutely they can share fence lines. You will hear a lot of people say that if your milk does share a fence line or are even kept close to the bucks, then the milk will taste like a buck. That is absolutely not true. The flavor of the milk depends on what the goats are eating and how you handle the milk after milking.

Your kids can also share fence lines with either bucks or does. Just remember that fence breeding is a thing and accidents happen. So if you want them to share a fence with the bucks, make sure your fence is tough enough and has small enough spaces that nothing can get through.

If you're bottle-raising kids or milk-sharing with them, you can still share a fence line as well, but the spaces in the fence need to be small enough that the kids can't get their heads through to nurse off the mom.

What type of Bedding should I use for my goats?

There are several popular bedding choices for your goats. Bedding in your goat shelter should be comfortable, absorbent, and easy to clean. One big factor in choosing the best bedding for your goats is finding out what is easily accessible to you locally. Here are some common bedding materials to consider:

  • Straw and Hay – Straw and hay are classic choices for goat bedding. It's comfortable to lay on, usually easy to find, absorbent, and makes a great mulch for your garden when you muck it out!
  • Wood shavings – Wood shavings are another great choice for bedding. It is much easier to clean your goat's pellets out of shavings than straw, which helps it to last longer. I would recommend not putting down all cedar shavings though, as they can potentially become toxic if your goats eat too many of them. Cedar is helpful as a pest deterrent though, so mixing a little into your regular shavings can be beneficial.
  • Pellets – Pellets are another good choice for goat bedding. They are sold in bags and you can usually find them in most farm supply stores. They are very absorbent, help with odor, and are easy to compost after you are done with them.

This obviously is not a comprehensive list of the types of bedding you can use for your goat housing, but these three are the most common. If I could set up my “dream” goat flooring and bedding, it would be some combination of concrete or slat floors, pellets, and wood chips.

That being said, the most important thing to remember when it comes to bedding is to use what works best for you. Different climates have different needs and what works for me might not work for you.

How Much Space Do Goats Need?

Goats need enough space to move around comfortably and engage in their environment. Here are some guidelines for space requirements for full-size dairy goats:

  • At least 10-15 square feet per adult goat in the shelter. If you live in a very rainy or snowy/cold climate, I would suggest doubling that as your does may spend a lot of time indoors.
  • At least 25 square feet of enclosure per adult goat for room to exercise.
  • The amount of pasture you need to graze your dairy goats is so varied it would be hard to give you an estimate that is suitable for your location. It depends on whether you plan to solely graze them for their roughage needs or to supplement them with hay. It depends on if you live in a dry arid climate (like me) and there is no way in the world dairy goats could survive on what I can grow. Check around the area for other goat or sheep farmers and see if they have any recommendations as sheep grazing requirements are similar to goats in the amount they need.

Regardless of where you live or how you plan to feed your goats, remember to always build bigger than you think you might need. When your does kid, you will need extra space for the kids to live or to build a kidding pen for your doe. It's also very easy to add a new goat or two to the herd so keep that in mind.

goats in a wooden barn with goat fencing

Do Goats have special Shelter needs for Winter?

If you live in an area with harsh cold winters, taking care of your goats during this time is very important. After all, nobody likes being cold and miserable, right? So, how can you make sure your goats are warm and cozy when the temperatures drop?

First, make sure your goats have a suitable shelter to protect them from the elements. The things we covered in housing basics above are the same things you need for a winter shelter. You do not need goat housing for winter versus the other months, you just need to make sure it's ready for the cold snowy weather. You don't want your goats standing out in the snow or rain, shivering and uncomfortable.

Once they have a shelter, fill it with plenty of bedding to give them a soft place to lie down, help absorb moisture, and keep them dry. Straw is especially beneficial as a bedding medium in the winter because it is very insulative and the goats love to snuggle down in it!

It's essential to keep the goat housing as dry as possible. Damp conditions can lead to illnesses, which, of course, is the last thing you want, especially in winter. If there are drafts in the shelter, it will be harder for the goats to maintain their body heat, which can lead to hypothermia. Make sure the shelter is free of drafts and that your goats have a dry place to retreat to when needed. (Side note, drafts and ventilation are not the same things, your shelter still needs ventilation, even in winter.)

Lastly, make sure your goats have access to fresh water and food throughout the winter. Goats need a lot of water, and it's essential to make sure they have access to plenty all the time. You would be amazed at how much water they drink in the winter, lol. You may need to invest in a tank or bucket heater for when the temps get cold. They are not cheap, but they do beat having to go out and break ice several times a day.

Be sure you're feeding them plenty of hay and other high-fiber foods to help keep their rumens working well and their bodies warm.

What are some Easy, CHeap, or DIY Goat Housing ideas?

Building goat housing doesn't have to be difficult, expensive, or pretty. Remember, we are all about keeping it real over here. Here are some easy, cheap, or DIY goat shelter ideas:

  • Pallet sheds
  • Shipping container shelters
  • Three sided shelters
  • Simple hoop houses
  • Calf huts – We have been using PolyDome calf huts for close to ten years now. They have been amazing, and I can't recommend them enough! The only goat that has been able to break one of them is the Boer buck we currently have, and he is basically just on a mission to destroy all things I think.
  • Dog houses – Yes, even dog houses can work for miniature breeds or for kids

The possibilities are about endless for what you can use for goat housing. Just use your imagination and you might be surprised by what you come up with. Check out this list of 10 DIY goat shelters to get your ideas flowing!

What Fencing do goats Need?

Fencing is important to keep your goats safe and contained. Fencing is also important to help keep unwanted predators out. There is a saying among goat owners that says “a fence that won't hold water won't hold a goat.” While that might be a teeny tiny bit excessive, it's not all that far from the truth!

Goats are notorious for getting out of their pens! I mean… they are little escape artists. I've been keeping goats for over 12 years, and have come to kind of learn what will work and what will not. (Except for Nigerians, those little guys get out of everything!) Let's go over some different types of goat fencing.

• My absolute favorite goat fence is welded wire panels. You can get them at almost any farm store. They are sturdy, and you can get them with small enough squares that most goats can't get through and can't get their heads through and get stuck if they have horns. These are easily held in place by t-posts or other types of fence posts.

The panels with bigger squares are usually called “cattle panels”, there are shorter ones called “hog panels”, and the ones with multiple sizes of squares are called combination panels. The ones with the smaller squares that I like the best (of course they are the most expensive) go by various names and are sometimes called horse panels.

• Next up is woven wire fence. It comes in a roll in varying lengths, heights, and square sizes. Of all the options, this is probably my least favorite simply because it's the most labor-intensive to install correctly. The fence is flexible, so you need to stretch it really tight to keep it from sagging when the goats stand on it. (Oh, they will stand on it, I promise)

It's easiest to use wooden fence posts with this fence as you can just staple it into place. It does require a special stretching tool, so figure that cost in as well. Another way to use woven wire fencing is to use it to line fencing that has holes goats could easily go through like corral panels. It doesn't require stretching that way.

• You can also use an electric fence for your goats. I know some people out there say you can not, but I would disagree. We have a portion of our pasture fenced with electric wire. We used 5 strands, and should probably add a 6th strand on the top. The bottom one is just off the ground to discourage them from going under, then the other 4 strands are placed at varying intervals to about 3 feet high. This fence is held in place by t-posts with insulators to attach the wires.

image of examples of electric goat fencing, welded wire panels, and goat housing
In this picture, you can see our electric fence in the foreground, the PolyDome calf huts, and welded wire panels in the background. As I said, it's not always pretty, but I love showing you the “real life farm life”.

• Electric netting is another choice for fencing. I can't say that I recommend it, but I know it works great for some. The first time we used it, my goats got scared and ran straight through it like it wasn't even there. The fence got torn apart and the company wouldn't stand behind it at all. We were not using the Premier1 brand though, so it might be a higher quality. (Thank supply shortages for that) Maybe it would work better in areas that aren't quite so dry and your goats are grounded better.

There are many types of goat fencing. The ones I listed are some of the most popular, but use what works best for you and your animals!

Do Goats Need Shelter at Night?

The short answer is, yes, your goats do need shelter at night, but why? First of all, they need shelter at night for most of the same reasons they need shelter during the day.

Yes, goats need shelter at night to protect them from predators and to keep them warm and dry. The shelter should be large enough for them to move around comfortably and should provide adequate ventilation.

Are there Additional goat housing Requirements for Areas with Heavier Predation Issues?

If you live in an area with a higher risk of predator attacks, you might need to take extra precautions when building your goat housing and fencing. Some things to think about or implement are:

  • Is their shelter tough enough? Do you need to reinforce it or add extra security measures?
  • Is their fencing tough enough? Is it tall enough? Is it no climb?
  • Do you need to add motion-activated sound or lights to scare off predators?
  • Do you need to lock your goats in secure housing at night?
  • Do you need to get a livestock guardian dog (LGD) or two to keep from coming in the pens?

If you are unsure if you have any predators in the area or what kind, you can talk with your neighbors or contact your locate Department of Wildlife. They'll be happy to help you figure it out!

Conclusion

Ok, so that turned out to be a lot more info than I had planned to write about, lol. That being said, I hope it gives you some good ideas of where to start when planning and building your goat housing. As always, if you have more questions or comments, please drop them below!

Don't forget to head over to the Raising Dairy Goats For Beginners: Series Roundup post to check out all the other articles in this series. You'll find tons of info for getting started in raising dairy goats!

Rachel's signature below the tagline "Learn, Do, Grow"

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