Raising a Pack Goat

| 6/18/2009 9:54:02 AM

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.

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!

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!

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