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Deep Litter- shelter technique for winter

I really like the opportunity to share from experience what has worked and not for me regarding some of the popular things done in the world of goats and lamb.

Moving to the north has me trying new things specially to ensure the safety of the heard in the winter months. While leaving in TN the coldest days were and average of 13 degrees F.

Here in Michigan, January and February average temperature in 2019 was (-8) degrees Fahrenheit and I was concerned how would my animals adapt to their first winter in such a drastic climate.

I must say that was a fairly amazing lesson to see how they grew to adapt, on the first windy brutally cold days they would gather around the fence gate and beg to be brought inside the barn, specially the cloudy days.

Definitely the goats and I suffered from Winter Blues, if the day was sunny we managed to spend many hours outside but for some reason “cloudy with a change of snow balls” were hard days to pass by.

I could probably say that they got to sleep indoors 60 nights out of the 150 winter days, my first approach based on the feedback gathered from people who have goats and lamb was the deep littler. Interesting concept, as I red articles online I got excited about composting their waste for my garden and I believed that if you do it properly, one could manage well for a chicken coop

However, with goats? Let me sum my experience.

Goats are WASTERS!!! Yes! They waste 20 to 30% of their hay consumption specially if they are bored and sitting still in a barn stall. I started originally with topping the concrete floor with a good layer of fresh straw, it seemed fine to keep them warm, as I saw their feces and urine soaking I added more straw, it became a mix of straw, wasted hay, poop and pee. Deep inside the pile I could check the beginning of decomposition taking effect so my hope towards the end of December '18 were okay.

They got Lice!! Yes, lovely don’t you think? As you may have heard we are trying to avoid dewormers, and insecticides to the maximum, I research and per lots of articles stating that they had tried natural resources without luck I treated them diatomaceous earth, Black pepper oil and clove oil, no good result, started a dosis of Ivermectin and weekly powdering with phytonutrients dust. I saw improvement on the Doe that started the issues right away, I separated them and dusted until I saw she was clear but little did I know it was a vicious cycle!

I decided to clean all that hay, soaked in feces, super heavy, smelly... it was very hard labor! that is when I decided to work "smarter not harder". I got horse mats and contacted a local carpenter to get clean sawdust, he was already bagging maple, pine, and cedar to sell for animals and on a separate pile he had all the negative dust such as red walnut. I got for $7 a very hefty heavy super sized bag, and I purchased 10 bags that lasted me last winter and this winter so far. My stalls were used for the remaining part of winter '18-'19 only on the very cold days after kidding began and I couldn't be happier with how easy is to maintain a healthy clean environment.

We all as farmers tend to make penny wise dollar full decisions often. I agree, buying great quality horse mats was expensive but in return I have saved my back and neck from being sore after cleaning nasty deep litter, the barn smells like goats not like their feces, and clean up waste can still be composted! Win Win!

We changed from Nasty to Clean to Sustainable. This winter '19-'20 I no longer do deep litter on the outdoor hutches either. My goats have learned to enjoy the Michigan winter with no issues, they look happy, still play outdoors and I have decided to only bring them in post kidding to keep those babies warm until they are ready to sustain very cold days.

So here it's my take, I am a female farmer dealing with goats and chickens. I have to make it easy and fun. I can now also tell you there is no way on earth I would ever do deep litter on chicken coops either! those articles suggesting to save work and time with deep litter method may be okay if you do not care about the life quality of your animals, that is smell is nasty! Imagine the poor chicken smelling their own ammonia to sleep? My system is easy! I have made several small portable coops, they get clean once a week. (it takes literally 2 minutes per coop) and I have 7 coops hosting 7 hens each. I add shredded paper to absorb the poop and it goes right into the chicken manure dehydrating bins. ( yes, you can sell your dehydrated chicken poop and that income pays their feed)

Just to add to the story:

I recently had to pick up extra hay and visited a farm near Ann Arbor where they host an average of 3000 lambs under a barn roof, they go to the slaughter house after few months... I honestly couldn't breath, could not stop thinking on the conditions of these poor lambs traveling from West to East being held under a massive deep litter system. I am sure that lamb farmer/broker just has to pull his tractor inside and scoop out all that junk, but seriously?? That is not happy meat!

If you are a Homeasteader or trying to make an income out of farming try to be fair with the animals and yourself. I can assure you from the bottom of my heart, you wont have as much maintenance if you are able to avoid deep litter methods.


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