Sometimes the best ideas for goat management and housing are stumbled upon accidentally. In fact, one of the best goat shelters I have ever found was just that, an accidental discovery.
We had several dogs and provided them with an inexpensive "igloo" hut for shelter from rain or cold. These igloo huts are available at any Wal-Mart or most animal care/farm and feed stores. When I fenced part of the former dog yard for the goats, I left the igloo hut in without even thinking about it. At the time our dogs weren’t using it anyway.
The first time I learned the goats liked the dog house was when I went out to check on my new mom and her three babies, then two days old. I looked out of the kitchen window-and, in a sudden panic, thought the babies were gone!
Frantically I rushed out to check on them, but Sugar, the doe, didn’t seem upset at all. I saw no signs of blood or foul play. Finally I leaned over and looked in the dog house, and there they were-all cuddled up, warm and cozy, despite the near freezing weather outside. Because the plastic dog houses are small, they contain the body heat and help keep in the warmth for the babies born in the dead of winter better than a large shed could.
As the kids got older and were moved from the birthing shed into the main herd, they continued to use the dog house as a private club. They found the igloo a great escape from the older goats who were eager to establish dominance in the herd. When chased, the kids simply ran into the house at times of conflict. Once out of sight, out of mind, the older goats forgot to pursue them. It was comical to see the young kids peeking out to see if the coast was clear. The dog igloo also made a great place to hide out for an undisturbed nap. I found it also worked to feed the kids separately in there by pushing their feed way in the dog house where the older goats couldn’t reach them and their chow.
I have found the dog house to be a particularly important tool if one has purchased young stock from another herd. The home herd goats are not welcoming in the beginning and even try to keep the new goats out of the larger shed. This past year I purchased three young goats and they did not use the shed for many weeks. They slept together in the dog house and had their own little herd separate from the main herd for quite some time.
As they got older, watching them disentangle themselves and tumble out of the dog house was like watching a miniature car full of clowns spill over at a circus.
The goat igloo became a source of entertainment for my goats after they reached about five weeks of age. They began jumping on top of the house, using it as the hill in "King of the Hill" games. Every late afternoon the echo of little hooves hitting the top of the dog house was standard noise in our valley.
We now have a dog house in each of three goat pens with a total of nine babies using them. We have chairs between the two pens so we can watch their antics for entertainment. It is a difficult feat for a young goat to master gravity enough to jump on a slick, slanted surface-and stay there while several other goats are trying to do the same thing. These houses encourage exercise, and contribute to playtime fun. I believe it is important to keep healthy goats from becoming bored and these dog houses go a long way towards accomplishing that task.
I also currently use one dog house as a temporary shelter for young bucks. I put them in a field to separate them from the herd until three month of age. Each dog house is big enough for two or three bucks, and ideal for that two-to-four week period after they have been weaned but before they go to market.
Using the huts also allows me to graze off an undeveloped, overgrown field without having to build a permanent goat shed.
Moving the bucks who are going to market into a new field also gives them a little more time before having to be wormed. I try to make sure the bucks who go to market at three months don’t get wormer or antibiotics. If they, or their mom while nursing them, has had antibiotics, this field gives them the required withdrawal time.
We purchased the dog igloos two years ago and they still look as though they will last forever despite their daily beating. They are made of hard plastic and there are no moving parts which can be broken off. The house has a separate floor, but walls and roof are one piece.
One drawback we had found is that occasionally the goats will get heavy enough to roll the dog house over (we live on a hill). By the time they get big enough to do this, they no longer sleep in the house due to their size, so I put several heavy rocks in the bottom to keep it from rolling. This keeps the house steady for several more months of play.
The funniest sight I have ever seen is a very pregnant doe who crawled into the dog house, rump in the air, udder bulging, and got stopped in the doorway by her massive size. She had to slowly inch out backwards to escape. I’m so glad I didn’t have to go pull her out.
Goats are naturally curious and a dog house contributes to their intellectual stimulation, always important within a goat herd. It also makes a great affordable shelter.