Teaching a goat to pack is just a matter of putting the saddle on. The goat will usually turn and smell it and may try to taste it. Most usually accept it with no trouble.
Take the goat for easy hikes with no weight or panniers at first. The goat will associate the saddle with a fun outing. After a couple of hikes, add the empty panniers and later start adding weight a little at a time.
If your goat is still growing, keep the loads light so you don’t injure it. Once it has reached maturity, it can be loaded to 25% or so of its body weight.
If you have more than one goat, you will notice that they seem to compete for positions on the trail. After they get it worked out, remember the hiking order. If you have to tie the goats together in a string, tie them in the right order. It will make the difference between an orderly hike and a tangled mess.
It is normal for goats that are hiking loose to stray 30-40 yards away to eat while you travel. They will run to catch up only to stop and nibble a tasty plant and let you get ahead again. They will rarely let you get our of sight though. This eat and run behavior will decrease as the goat tires after a couple of miles. Most goats file in behind you plodding steadily along on the trail.
Conditioning is probably the most important aspect of goat packing. Simply stated, the more you hike with your goat the better it will be. Start with short trips and build gradually.
While hiking watch the goat for signs of tiring. If it stops repeatedly or has its mouth open and panting then stop and give it a break. If it stands around eating, give it 5-10 minutes or until it is breathing normally before heading out. If it lays down when you stop, give it 20-30 minutes rest before starting again. You will soon be able to easily tell when your goat is in need of a rest break. The important thing to remember is for you to control the break times. If a goat gets tired and lays down while hiking do not stop for it. Keep going and the goat will get up and follow. After a short distance you stop and give the goat a break. If you stop when the goat does, you are teaching it that it can stop the hike anytime it wants by simply laying down. It is up to you to watch the goat and give it a break before it feels the need to stop you.
Other things that would make a goat want to stop or lay down are saddle sores or rubs, injuries, and sharp objects poking the goat from the backside of the panniers or saddle pad. If the goat doesn’t want to go, you should take some time to make sure everything is ok, before going on. Keep this in mind when loading panniers and put soft conforming materials against the “goat side” of the pannier.
On the trail, goats quickly learn how much room they need to keep the panniers from hitting obstacles. You can help teach your goat how to detour around narrow openings by always walking a path the goat can fit through. The goat will learn to follow the same path you take after it gets stuck a few times trying to take a shortcut. Speaking of shortcuts, you should never let your goat cut across switch backs. The easiest way to prevent this is to make sure the goat or goats are piled up tight behind you prior to the switch back. A lagging goat will almost always try to shortcut the corner straight to you.
Streams are one of the biggest obstacles for the new packer. Goats have a natural dislike of water. They will avoid stepping in it if at all possible. They will almost always jump a small stream and may refuse to cross larger ones. If your goat refuses, pull it into the water and lead it across. After a few crossings the goat figures that it isn’t that bad and will start walking in without any trouble. Leading your young goat around in a creek before hand makes it easier when you get on the trail.
One of the most commonly asked questions is about predators. After several years and lots of miles of packing, we have never had a bad incident. Of the goat packers who have had problems, most were with other hikers’ dogs. On rare occurrences, cougars have also caused problems. Most people take some type of protective measures, carrying a firearm, can of pepper spray, or guard dog. A first aid kit for the goat is also recommended.
Probably the most important thing to remember when packing with goats is to pace yourself. Goats can commonly travel six to twelve miles per day but not all in one shot. A slow steady pace with short rest breaks will allow the goats to cover a lot more trail. A hard fast pace will wear the goats out quickly requiring longer rest breaks and less trail covered at the end of the day. One of the biggest attractions to goat packing is that they allow us to enjoy the surroundings. So take your time and “smell the flowers”.
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