Dairy goats are capable of growing a thick hair coat complete with downy cashmere to keep them warm in even the most severe weather and/or climates. This combination with the harsh outer hair coat, which is virtually water repellent, gives them excellent protection. There are times, however, when goat health is compromised and it is at that time the owner must find a way to help. Often a goat coat is necessary to save a life or just comfort an ailing caprine. I can think of three instances in the years we have had goats when goat coats were life saving equipment. I always pack a set in the tack we take to shows, have a few for general farm use, and have made a "surgical" version with white cotton lining for post operative care.
We have had few cases when we used the surgical model of coat, but when we needed it we found that it was more valuable in keeping the goat and her pen mates from chewing out the stitches than it was for warmth. The surgical coat was invented when one time we had a yearling who managed to peal a good portion of her hide back in an entanglement with a sharp piece of cattle panel. The vet stitched her back together but the suture line was long and torturous. His instructions were to keep it clean and dry and hope for the best. When she returned home we coated her to keep her from rolling her side in the straw of the pen while she recovered from her anesthesia. I made this coat from an enlarged dog coat pattern with a smooth white cotton lining.
The second consideration in which the coat was a useful component in recovery was that it kept the dog from licking the wound, and her pen mates from chewing on the stitching. It was difficult to keep this one yearling separate from her herd mates and she offered to jump the fence to remedy her difficulties with loneliness. Her friends felt that they could be of great assistance to her recovery by removing the stitching ends sticking out. However all seemed to feel it was quite normal for her to be wearing her coat. So wear it she did for the greater part of two weeks.
Our nine-year-old doe suffered a cesarean section last February and needed a coat for surgical recovery and warmth as well. She was weak, listless, and had no appetite. She was enduring below freezing outside temperatures. We coated her and blanketed her with a blanket as well, until she began showing interest in her surroundings. The goat-keeping team helped her to her feet several times a day and walked her. Her goat coat kept her from losing precious body heat. She had lost her rumen activity so without this internal source of heat she struggled against fatal low body temperature.
Another time we had a visitor who brought in a virus causing high fever. We lost two newborns before we realized what the correct remedy would be. It was quite traumatic to see these 10-day-old babies spike a fever that would send the mercury almost to the top of the thermometer. As a result they lost all the hair on their bodies. The extremities-head, legs and tail, which naturally have cooler temperatures-maintained hair cover. It was a shocking proposition to maintain these kids throughout recovery. The answer was to provide them with an artificial means of containing their body heat. In this case we were unprepared with kid coats.
We needed something for these infants and our need was immediate. In a survey of possibilities we hit upon sweat pants legs. We had some with the sweater cuff at the bottom, meant to close around the wearer’s ankle. This became the neck of the kid’s coat, and leg holes were cut for the front legs. We left the back of the coat long enough to cover neck to tail. Our patients wore their coats for four weeks, sending them in for frequent laundering. When I see sweat pants of this style at garage sales I pick them up for the emergencies of the future. Light colors are preferred, as the kind of "dirt" they show can be very diagnostic. Seeping wounds or bleeding needs to be readily noticed, for example.
Traveling with goats, as our family likes to do, sometimes brings unplanned weather conditions which can chill goats, especially those that have been show clipped. Pens in drafty locations in show barns or during the trailer ride to the show might call for the benefit of a set of show coats. We tarp the outside of pens to keep out the wind, in addition to coating the girls. Preventing chill is a strong step in keeping the immune system healthy. Coats used in the trailer need to be well-fitted to the animal and monitored several times en route to be sure no one has become entangled. Those with adjustable Velcro belts and straps would be a good choice for adjustable fit.
A healthy goat is a happy goat, and there are management priorities that can maintain that happiness. To aid natural goat coat attributes it is important to be sure that they are given a shelter that is dry and draft free, as prolonged wind and moisture is taxing to their immune systems and can cause unnecessary stress likely to result in disease. The caprine rumen, in its workings, provides heat as hay and grain ferments and digests. So a goat in good health is quite comfortable even in the coldest weather. There are times, however, when the natural heat is not enough. Whether goat coats are needed for warmth with style, or for necessity in cases of illness, it pays to have a variety of sizes on hand. All of our goats who have had the need to wear a coat have seemed to accept the proposition with grace and dignity. This is an item that has a worthy place in everyone’s tack box.