Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Raising a Pack Goat

6/18/2009 9:54:02 AM

Tags: Cold Antler Farm, country skills, goats

Pack goat

A few weekends ago, I found myself at the equivalent of a livestock tailgate party. I was in the thick of the Schaghticoke Poultry Swap — a shindig that happens every spring. It's quite an event. What started as a small gathering to trade and sell chickens has evolved over the years into a parking lot festival of sales and bartering. Since the swap’s inception, the stock has expanded well beyond chickens. This year, there were ducks, geese, quails, rabbits, lambs, kids and more (I swear I walked past a box of puppies). And while it wasn't on the roster — had someone walked through the fairgrounds parking lot with a horse — I wouldn't have blinked an eye.

I was there with a short list. I needed some new laying hens to replace birds that passed away over the winter, nothing drastic. But I was also there hoping to find a very specific animal. I wanted to drive home with a young goat kid, hopefully a spunky buckling. I had been researching pack goats (goats trained to help carry gear on hiking trips via panniers or saddlebags), and if the stars aligned I planned to take home my own backcountry prodigy that same day.

The circumstances had to be perfect though. I wanted an Alpine, a breed known for its trail-hardiness and loyalty. I also wanted an animal that could be bottle-fed and hand-raised, learning from its earliest stages to follow and depend on me. (A job I thought would be endearing and simple ... not a strict regime of mixing milk replacer at 4:45 a.m. But you pay as you go in this world. And I had plenty of time to learn how much would be involved in my first goat.) Consequences were not on my mind. I was about to buy a goat.  

When I arrived at the goat pen, I melted. I watched the dozen kids and lambs romp in the back of the truck and then leap out into their grass-lined pen. You haven't seen adorable ’til you've seen a pile of two-week-old goats trying to decide who gets to drive the truck home. They butted and leaped, ran circles and bleated up at the sky. They pretty much terrorized the tepid lambs and loved every second of it. I was one of dozens of people hanging around the pen, laughing and smiling, but unlike most gawking at the show, I was shopping.

"Do you have any bucks?" I shouted across the pen to someone with a clipboard, trying to sound like I knew what the hell I was talking about, "I'm looking for a buckling I can raise for draft work?" They didn't point and laugh at me. My confidence grew.

"Just that one!" The man in charge pointed to a small brown pile of hell leaping out of the truck bed, crashing into a random siblings, and then getting up to do it again. Uh oh. Maybe this goat business was a little more than I could handle? After all, my sheep don't mosh for kicks. But it was too late. He noticed a sucker in the crowd, shook his big floppy ears, and looked up at me with his childish brown eyes. This guy was going home. Might as well clear off the front seat of the car.  

I paid the enabler and quickly found out my new adoptee was half Alpine and half Toggenburg. Two breeds known for their mountain savvy. He was mostly brown with white stripes across his face and along his underbelly. I carried him over my shoulder like a toddler. As we made our way back to the car, I heard more than one person say, "Well isn't he cute? Better her than me!" My confidence waned.

I drove back to Cold Antler with new laying hens in the back of the station wagon and a new kid curled up in the front passenger seat. I could not get over how calm and small he was in the car. He slept like a lamb on valium the entire ride. Goats, huh? What could be easier? I named him Finn.

As it turned out, many things are easier. Most things are easier, actually. Since Finn's came to my farm, he's been a delight, but he's also been a nonstop source of trouble and trickiness. There have been the highs of feeding a suckling darling in my lap on the cabin porch during a soft morning rain — and the lows of screaming at him to get out of the lettuce patch when he broke into the garden (several times). Guess what? Goats can learn to climb chain-link fencing. Over the past few weeks, this kid has gnawed on my last nerve, and yet still managed to brighten my worst days. It's hard not to laugh when you watch a young buck jump and twist in the air or headbutt a rooster. The highs are high.

I'm lucky to have a job that lets its employees bring pets to the office. So, while Finn was being bottle-fed we'd show up at the grind together. He'd wait in the car in a big dog crate until lunch and then run around the company lawn, picking play fights with Labradors or doing some landscaping around the building while we ate out on the picnic tables. Welcome to Vermont, where everyday is bring-your-kid-to-work day.

My hope is that Finn's pack training will be the ambassador I need to discover the great outdoors again. Before I had a farm, you couldn't keep me out of hiking trails and National parks. Now, if enough free time from the homestead reveals itself, I'm too whipped to hike. Free time is currently spent in hammocks or playing the banjo on the porch — never on the trail. But that's all going to change, and soon. As summer rolls in, the garden is planted, and all the young animals are maturing, you'll find me out in those Green Mountains from time to time. A girl and her goat, paying as they go.

P.S. If you want to keep track of Finn, stop in anytime at http://coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com

Photo by Tim Bronson



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Liz_9
7/9/2009 7:27:33 PM
Goats,wonderful goats!! Always my goal to keep them and was lucky enough to inherit one with a property we bought.Sadly she was too strong to manage and it was about 20 years too late to be going into goat keeping.Adore the cheese and milk!Could never eat one!Buddy went to a good home incidentally where she cleared blackberries and did goat things on 100 acres. So my advice..get into it early as you can, get the right set up with strong high fences,protect everything you can't take a risk with like lettuces and try to keep one step ahead, think like a goat and use food to train as with all birds and animals.Good luck!

donna_51
7/9/2009 9:20:07 AM
MY neighbor has Fainting goats and they are constantly getting out of their pen and eating my vegetables, fig tree, raspberry and other trees and shrubs. I no longer think they are cute. Just pests. Good fences make good neighbors!

Sandy Eckert
7/9/2009 8:24:58 AM
Several months ago, I began milking goats at a nearby preserved farm; I had goats as a brand-new adult in the 70's, and am very nostalgic about those days, so it was a labor of love. As I have come to know them, the goats' personalities have become so evident and varied! They are such intelligent, funny creatures! I bought my own goat to add to the herd (I'm milking 16 does right now), and love her dearly. She was a bottle-fed baby, a Nubian, and walks with me like a dog. There's nothing like the company of goats after a hard day in the classroom! I call it "barn-therapy"; the best part of my day. Add seasonal kidding to the mix, and you couldn't ask for more interesting or funny companions. Personally, I could never eat a goat (I couldn't eat anyone that communicates with me on a personal level!), but I am enjoying the milk and cheese these days!

Suze_2
7/8/2009 5:30:59 PM
Don't wait too long to train that goat! We got a kid for brush control some years ago and to pull a cart at events. I had had and trained ponies so I waited until he looked big enough to learn to pull, like you do with a horse. WAY too late for a goat! "Giles", a Saanen we loved dearly, was much too aware of his status as an "only goat" to train by then. You need to work this little guy every day. Giles could also climb chainlink, he ate all the hawthorn trees and roses (he also ate all the blackberries, as we'd hoped) and anything else that looked interesting. He ate the black plastic we put on the outside of his chainlink pen by using his rather prehansile lips to pull bits of it inside. He BENT his pen because we had fallen in lov with his beautiful horns and hadn't gotten him disbudded. He used his horns like the claw part of a claw hammer, to twist and bend things. He was very, very clever. (I still don't know where I stand on horns...) Eventually he got big enough that if I got knocked off my feet while leading him, he would tow me around the yard on my stomach at high enough speeds I had to find ways to wrap my "tow rope" around something to stop him. Still, we loved him a lot and cried when he passed away from some weird lung fungus at 14. (We lived in a swamp and there was a LOT of fungal stuff on the plants.) Get your little one checked for goat arthritis, and if you want to take him "on the road" be sure he gets his injections, as many organizations won't let an un-innoculated goat in with theirs. If he has arthritis (they get it from their mother) you can treat it with the same glyco-nostrums as humans, with decent results. Giles' arthritis never seemed to bother him. Make sure he gets enough selenium. TOUCH him a LOT. Don't let him get the notion that since he's the only goat in the family, he's therefore the best goat and should run you. Giles always thought that by the time

Amy Greeman
7/8/2009 11:10:35 AM
This is the best! Even after telling your trials and tribs, I still want a goat. Maybe he'll keep my dachshund in line.

Amelia_2
7/8/2009 9:18:20 AM
The first two commenters are subscribers to the government's party line, to wit: the world is a dirty, dangerous place, and all animals are carriers of pestilence. Welcome to the neo Middle Ages. What dreck. If you're that scared of the world, focus on dismantling big agriculture, not on helping spread the "nature is the enemy and only government can save you" propoganda. My compliments on a piece which focuses on goats as companions and helpers, rather than food.

elizahleigh
6/22/2009 6:12:39 PM
Ahhh, what a relief. I love it when people actually sing the praises of goats. Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I've seen an awful lot written about the topic of goat meat lately and I really think that there are so many other practical things to do with goats rather than munch on them for supper. As a member of an online green social network at www.greenwala.com, I conduct a lot of research and even write about a vast range of environmental topics. Guess what chinny-chin critter constantly comes up at the top of the heap -- you got it -- goats! Did you know that GOOGLE, the holy grail of instant gratification information, has employed goats to maintain their grounds? This is a service that has taken off like wildfire (literally) -- and goats are even USED for wildfire mitigation. This quick video clip paints a great picture: http://tinyurl.com/narwpl Personally, I think that they are the unsung heroes of our globally-warmed times, and while they are packed with personality (which is a definite plus) they are also diligent workers, too: http://tinyurl.com/narwpl ... http://tinyurl.com/nyajc9

Lucy_3
6/19/2009 6:39:16 PM
Unfortunately, those types of swaps are a great way to spread disease, including pathogens and parasites. If you went to an event like that, and their was a disease outbreak, you'd likely lose your animals as the government "depopulates." If you do go to one of those, you at least should have a month quarantine period. I have quarantine areas set up on my farm. You can find good information online by typing in "biosecurity animal," for example, biosecurity poultry. Here's one such article: http://ohioline.osu.edu/vme-fact/0009.html People seem to believe that if they're not running a factory farm that diseases aren't a concern. Not so. Poultry commonly have parasites, caged or not, and factory farms have created super-pathogens that free range birds can also get. And then there are other diseases floating around, such as coryza, which once you have it in your flock will never go away. Plus, aren't you concerned about where your animals are going? I always visit the new home and look at their setup and the other animals. In my experience, there are more bad homes than good, unfortunately.







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