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Alchemy Acres
Tip of the Month

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A great many people take much pleasure in using their wethers (maybe does, too) for so-called packing. As I have never taken part in this pass-time, and am ignorant of the subtleties of selection and training of pack animals, I received permission from Trish McKee to reprint an article that appeared in the Homesteader's Connection when she was owner/editor. This article was originally written by George Bogdan. I have also included some helpful hints from Lindy and Joe Jedju of the Big Sky Packgoats. I thank everyone for their cooperation and assistance. The following is lifted almost verbatim from the Bogdan article.

In my opinion, a goat is the perfect non-riding pack animal and I am amazed that it is taking so long for the hiking public to discover this. Here is an animal that carries more payload per body weight, costs less to buy and maintain, can pack in rocky and glacial terrain inaccessible to other pack animals, requires no lead rope, and lavishes affection on you after a hard day's work.

A goat will cost from as little as $25 to $300. Food costs without a pasture will be about $80/year for 3/4 ton of hay, some grain, plus a salt block. Vet costs for two visits per year for deworming shots for two goats runs around $60. A simple plywood structure will cost about $60. The pack frame and bag set will set you back from $150 to $310 per animal. Based on owning two of the most expensive pack goats and pack frames and a packing life expectancy of twelve years, I get a yearly cost of about $165 which is about what one might spend for videos and/or movies. I did not include the cost of a trailer or pickup to carry the goats since the pickup does duel duty. (ed. This article was written in 1995, so costs may be somewhat higher at this time)

The two most common breeds are Saanen and Alpine, followed by LaMancha, Oberhasli, and Toggenburg. Few people use Nubians due to their reluctance to carry a load for a long distance. To date, I'm not aware of anyone using Boer crosses, but I have purchased two and will later report on this breed. In general, the Saanen will be the heaviest, around 250 pounds and is more docile than the Alpine, which is about 40 pounds lighter. The most expensive goats come from what is called "packgoat" stock. These animals have been selectively bred from large bucks and does with good body conformation to produce good, sound packing wethers. Keep in mind, however, that unlike thorobred race horses who prove themselves on the track, neither the bucks nor the does have done any packing. A good source on where to buy "packgoats" is John Mionczyski, author of "The Packgoat". I started goat packing long before I'd heard of John, so I've used dairy goat wethers just as John did when he started. I've not had any problem goats, finding that they will carry a full load all day long. I will agree that if you lack the knowledge to select an animal, the one to try is your own breed - your Nubian may work out just fine.

The standard frame is usually aluminum with nylon webbing, which is light-weight and trouble-free. The bags are fairly standard at around 2000 cubic inches per side, although I sometimes use a 3000 cubic set for carrying a pair of square plastic buckets per side or when I've got high volume items. I should mention that I've been criticized for using aluminum that can attract lightning. My response to that is that I and most of my friends have back packed with aluminum framed packs for over 40 years and have never heard of a problem nor have I read of any lightning strikes on the thousands of aluminum irrigation pipes on the ground.

At maturity, you can expect a goat to carry 25% to 30% of his body weight, which amount to 40 to 80 pounds, depending on his size and temperament. I've used a rule of thumb for my goats of limiting them to 20% body weight as yearlings and not putting any significant weight on until they get up to 80 pounds. They will let you know when you've overloaded, have gone too fast, or too long by lying down at the first opportunity. You can and should take the little guys hiking as soon as you get them. If they tire out, pick them up and carry them for a while. My wife says that they're auditing the course at this point.

Training to carry a pack is the easiest thing to do, and is accomplished in about a half hour by putting on a saddle and walking the animal around. If he appears happy with the idea, put on the very light bags. Do this away from home, and don't put noisy things in his bag at first, which might scare him. Training to water is another story. Most goats have an aversion to water, and will go to great lengths to avoid it. On one of John's trips I attended, he carried two-week-old kids into the water and made them swim to shore. I've never gone to that trouble, and have found that I can pull them into the stream and continue across and they will follow. After a couple of trips, I just walk across, and they follow, afraid of being left behind. Have your packs on tightly when approaching narrow streams, and have your camera ready, since they will go airborne. Be careful about crossing streams deep enough to reach their belly, especially with packs, since they could be swept downstream and drown if the pack catches on a log, etc. In doubtful situations, I've carried the bags over or led the goats across one at a time. Use good judgment when you're out with your close friends.

Lindy and Joe Jedju recommend beginning training at birth. Hug and cuddle you trainee, and call him by name as he is fed. Encourage him to follow you by offering him a bottle as he follows you about. Get him used to being handled by grooming him, picking up his feet, and trimming his hooves. Traits such as being willing to follow, being cooperative, friendly, and responding to his name are important. A kid that will approach you rather than run away is a good packgoat candidate. Wethers are preferred rather than breeding stock because their undivided attention will be on their owners and hiking rather than breeding. You can train your goat to a collar and leash, because some state and national parks and forests have leash laws.

The real value of pack goats is to carry gear for extended overnight trips, but consider them for day trips carrying your lunch, rain gear, extra clothes. et. Or consider just having a couple of goats as pets with whom you go out and play after your work the same as you do with your dog. As a breeder, I know I'd much sooner sell a surplus buckling as a packgoat trainee than as a meat animal, and hopefully, other dairy goat breeders will begin to market to the packing community. I hope this article is useful to you. We hope to have another article on packing in the near future.

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