When we decided to pick up some backyard goats for our little urban homestead, I had a bit of trouble getting started with the how-tos, and must-dos for goats, since most information circulating the web is aimed at people with rolling acres or farmland to spare.
So I figured I would share what info I have gleaned in the process of building our own backyard storage barn and goat shelter for our two Nigerian Dwarfs to pass on to anyone else thinking of raising backyard goats for milk or pets!
Basic Guidelines for Goat Shelters
Goats do best in what is called, “loose housing” – basically, instead of being confined to individual stalls or kept with their heads in stanchions like miniature cows, they should free to move about in a common pen. Goats are sociable animals and need companionship, keeping goats locked up away from their playmates is just no fun (and makes for some LOUD goats, I’m told).
Goats, in general, are not awfully particular in their housing needs. Ideally, it should be easy for you to enter and exit the shelter for routine cleaning, the goats feed and bedding should be stored conveniently nearby, and running water and electricity should reachable to make cleaning and upkeep easier and safer.
For warmer climates like here in the Central Valley of California, goats do not have to be kept overly warm if conditioned to the cold through the fall. In any climate however, they will need a place to stay dry and out of the wind. (Goats are very susceptible to pneumonia!) Goats are also active animals and need exercise, so including some kind of shade, climbing or play element to your shelter (or at least in the pen) is always a good idea!
The size of the barn depends on how many goats you intend to keep in your herd. Standard recommendations range from 12 square feet per goat for small breeds like my Nigerian Dwarfs and up to 25 square feet for larger breeds. Here in the Central Valley where the climate is warm, breeders and dairies tend to go with even less indoor square footage per animal, since they spend so much time outside. So there’s really no hard and fast rule as to size!
Basically, when it comes to goat barns and shelters, you can pretty much let your imagination, budget and experience be your guide!
What We Did With Our Goat Barn!
Our goat barn / shelter is simple, basic, attractive, economical and practical for up to three goats. It is made out of standard lumber (plyboard and cedar panel siding) and has an earthen floor with straw bedding. It offers protections from the elements and good ventilation, and can be built for under $300 even with all new materials (we used a combination of new and recycled materials).
The core of our shelter was originally an upright storage container.. thingy. This shed-thing was left in the backyard when we bought the home (I really have no idea what they were trying for with this odd structure.) This is pretty much what we started with:
Since our goats didn’t need much more space than this bad boy tipped on it’s side would offer, I decided this would be the perfect base to make the goat barn! I figured this awkward looking boxy thing, if given a little love, just might do the trick for all our goat shelter needs. We tipped it over on its side, took the roof off (which we later used as the side shade for the goats to climb on!) and then covered it in new wood panels and some salvaged wood that was original to the property and that the previous owners had left behind!
Here are a couple of side by side images, to really get a feel for the total transformation! Keep in mind, the “befores” were taken in the springtime, and we didn’t finish this project till mid-winter, so forgive the pitiful looking leafless fig tree in the foreground! lol..
The Floor of the Shelter
We decided to stick to earthen flooring with standard straw bedding. Wooden floors can be warm and dry, however wood can absorb urine and has a tendency to rot. This means we’d have to go through TONS of highly absorbent bedding, and would need to clean out the bedding frequently. With a toddler and another baby on the way, I wanted to give myself some leeway in my changing out the bedding / barn routine.
Concrete isn’t much better, since it is cold and can sweat when the air is warm and humid. Urine can’t run off, so concrete also requires frequent cleaning and thick bedding.
Earthen floors are by far the easiest to maintain. Excess urine drains away, and less bedding is needed, along with less frequent barn and bedding cleaning sessions. Soil is also warmer and more comfortable for animals. Earthen floors do require occasional sanitizing and deep cleaning from time to time to keep insects and bacteria down, but I’m told deep cleaning is only required once or twice a year. We’re going on 4 months now with our two goats, and the floors are still in great condition from weekly straw bedding changes.
The Shade and Play Ramp
We took the roof of the original shed, and attached it to the side of the barn with a side door and ramp, so that they goats can enjoy sitting under the shade or climbing up and playing on the roof. They LOVE it! I’ve found that the tin shade is the perfect place to sprinkle their minerals for free choice grazing, and the shade works as a great place to put their food when it’s rainy. Also, it appears this makes a good jungle gym for human kids as well, judging by the reactions of Tessa and our friends children who come to visit and play with the goats.. they enjoy climbing on it almost as much as the goats do!!
Storage Space for Goat Supplies
For storage, we built a feed and supplies shed onto the side of the barn, which makes an excellent stocked goat supply closet! The wood is from original fencing on our 1950 property that we repurposed for the shed, and hubby whipped this up from scratch.
As an unexpected and very happy touch, while purchasing some old citrus fruit crates to use as a compost bin, I managed to locate a local barn in Ivanhoe, California that had been torn down, and the vintage shake roofing tiles were for sale. The lovely lady selling the crates threw some of the shake tiles into the crate for me when I told her about my project, and how I thought they would look darling on our storage shed roof! So now we have a little infusion of local history in our little backyard barn!
The storage shed fits everything we need for the goats except for the alfalfa and straw bedding, which we keep outside the pen under a tarp, and the milking equipment and “medicine cabinet”, which we store in the kitchen in the house.
This small and simple supplies shed contains:
– The goat feed (alfalfa pellets and grain) in metal water and rodent-proof storage cans.
– Goat supplements and treats (baking soda, minerals, black oil sunflower seed and dried kelp) in glass, waterproof screw top storage containers.
– A basket of miscellaneous goat supplies, including leashes, brushes and hoof trimmers.
– A jar of sanitizing wet wipes and antibacterial spray for cleaning udders before and after milking.
– A general work bucket to hold supplies while milking or working in the pen.