Around the Farm
Training begins the day a goat is born. For a good packing goat, hand raising it a must (This means one-to-one feedings from birth, not "bucket " feeding). [If the goat is feed on the dam; daily physical holding of the baby is necessary to form the human-goat bonding.] This bonds the goat to humans; makes you a vital part of it's herd. The most important training rule to remember is "love and respect your goat". Cute cuddly "kids" grow to be big strong "goats." By nature goats butt and ram each other and will do it to humans unless this is trained out of them at a very young age. The best way is by the "no horns, no heads" rule. As the owner, and alpha of the herd, humans must never "invite" a challenge. This means you do not grab the goat by it's horns and tussle. And part two; if the goat lowers it head to butt, gently push it's head away on the side of it's face, with a sharp no. The first year this will be the most used training technique. But as a fully grown adult packer, that same goat is safe to turn your back on, will follow, anywhere, and wants very much to make you, the human dominant(s) happy.
Collar and leash training for your goat must also start very early. They love to walk, they love to be with their herd. They do not like to be on a leash, but many areas require leads on all pack animals, so start them, even before they are weaned. They will do very well on a leash if taught early. Never yell or hit the goat, this makes them resentful. But like a well trained dog, coax and reward the goat.
That first year is the best time to get them to cross water. Most goats don't do this naturally and will find many ingenious ways NOT to get wet. But if fording a river is necessary on a hike, your goat must be able to do it. We actually walk stream beds, so the goats at some point must go through water to follow. Often they will wait until we are out of sight before "plunging in" but all will come before being left behind.
Climbing Toys: We ask your goats to go everywhere with us. And we will traverse anything short of a cliff. This type of toy, helps them with their climbing, surefootedness, jumping, and balance. So we built a "mountain" for them, and added hopping "rocks" of wood. (We used scrap wood and old tree trunks for building material. The logs wobble a little, intentionally) One goat is always on the mountain, usually two. And "King of the Hill" is a daily game in our pasture. But when the two legged kids join in, they always win, as our entire herd would not dream of butting them, and if you can't use your head, you can't win.
You want your goat to be a working animal. But, most people can't just strap on a pack and go all day long and not hurt afterwards, neither can a packgoat. We walk the boys regularly. Two to fave days a week. For as long as time allows. Usually 3-6 miles of trail per trip. This keeps them (and us) in better shape. We push for longer distances as we get closer to long trips. And we start adding weight slowly each spring as we can't maintain the training during the winter with the snow we get locally. Milk jugs and soda bottles with water are easy to use to "add" weight, and our boys are used to full, heavy packs long before we go overnight or longer.
But these "training" hikes do one other very important thing for the boys. It keeps them on forage. We do no encourage eating on the trail, so we stop every now and again to allow them to browse. Although we will let them eat a bite here and there as they walk, if they stop they are "prompted" to move along with a squirt from a water battle. This wild forage keeps their systems trained to the food most readily available in the High Uintas and Winds where they will spend most their summer. The boys can forage on these trips and do not get sick from "sudden change of diet," a very real hazard for "backyard" livestock like our goats.
Once you get to know goats, they can be a very companionable and efficient pack animals, as well as a very real source of amusement and friendship. But by their very nature they are mischievous and curious. Sometimes they will do something that just can not be allowed to continue. (Like eating their saddles and panniers, or heaven forbid, your dinner) As I said, yelling, hitting and loosing your temper will get you nowhere. Tossing something "near" them can be very effective, especially if that something is a metal can, half filled with small rocks or dry beans (rattle can). The squirt bottle is another effective deterrent but should never ever be use "in fun" on your goats.
PACK & TRAIL SPECIFIC TRAINING
As a rule, goats don't need lengthy training sessions. They are generally accepting of the whole training process and not likely to object to the saddle and other equipment. Goats are already agile, if raised in a pasture environment and have things like rocks or spools to jump and climb on.
One area that takes time is Leading and Tying---The best way to teach a goat to lead is to teach him to tie well. This can be started when the goat is 3 weeks old by tying him while you working in the barn. Tie him at about 12" with a wide flat nylon or leather collar. This can be done daily for about 3 weeks. A goat who is tied this way and learns to give to the pressure will lead well forever. Don't leave the goat unattended when tied, ever. They need to be rescued occasionally. Also, don't tie him where he can jump onto something and off the other side. This will hang your goat!
If you start training with an older goat, you can use a goat halter to teach him to lead. Leading by the head is recommended for goats who don't give well to pressure, and makes them much easier to handle.
The basics for leading are just like dog obedience, except I teach mine to follow me, rather than lead in the heeling position. Most packers (including us) let the goats go on the trail with no lead, but it's necessary sometimes to be able to lead them; around lots of people, on dangerous roads, and some areas do require leads on pack stock. Once your animal leads well, you can pack string them more easily.
In their 4th year (after their 3rd birthday) they are ready to pack. And if taught manners this is easy. For this year, 10% to 15% of their body weight is the recommended limits. Never ever use a "dog" pack on a goat. Any pack that sits directly on the goats spine is a no-no. Always use equipment designed for a goat.
The long version Let them smell and see the saddle first. While talking normally to them, set it on their shoulder and slide to place on back. They may small it again. Some may move a little. Some may ignore it. Fit the saddle to the goat and label for that goat. (repeat sizing as needed as goat ages. Each goat should have their own saddle) Strap down and walk them a bit with just the saddle. Do this several times during the day.
Next day, let them wear it all day. (watched by you as accidents can happen. A goat should never wear a saddle unattended).
The third day introduce the panniers. This may be "exciting". This is usually where you may spook the goat. The noise of rubbing or the shifting of load is usually the issue, not he pannier itself. Remember to allow smelling of the panniers before adding them to the saddle. They might ignore them in the pasture and freak on their first walk in the brush. Their first walk with panniers should always by on a leash. Always remain calm yourself and when the "excitement" is over lavish approval on the goat. Remember to lavish approval on the ones that do not freak out too. Continue the walk even after the goat has settled down. Gradually add weight -5 to 10 pounds each outing- to the pack on each successive walk up to the maximum of 1/3 their total weight on flat easy ground. 1/4 ratio is better for actual unlevel hiking conditions. Once trained your goat is ready to be your hiking companion for years to come.
The Short Version All of the above steps can be accomplished in one session on an accepting goat. In our personal experience; we have never used the long version. The average is 15 minutes. One literally only took putting the saddle and panniers on his back filling them with some weight and he was golden. One accepted the saddle and panniers until we put weight into them; at which point he freaked, jumped, twisted, rolled, ran, and after 20 minutes stopped. After that show, he too was golden.
You should never just saddle up a goat. Like humans they should be in good physical shape before attempting strenuous exercise. Packing is an exercise for goats.
Odds and Ends
We have two goat watering systems. We have a large un-insulated trough that holds extra water for the hot summer months, with an automatic fill system. We have smaller insulated trough with an electric water heater in the water for winter months, filled manually each day so piping doesn't break. (the heater only maintains the water temp about 35-40 degrees) We also have goldfish in the tank to keep down the algae.
We use individual feeders on the outside of the fence. One to three goats can eat at each feeder. This system also cuts down on the “waste” since goats (as a rule with exceptions) will not eat hay that has fallen to the ground. We have also covered the feeder tops to minimize the amount of snow that gets into them in our winters. Note the salt block and loose mineral salt in tubing. The two salts have different mineral mixes.
A Question of Trail Etiquette Who has the right-of-way?
(Note: We do not dislike horses per say, any derogatory sounding comments are based solely on personal observations of them and their reactions to us with our goats.)
It is our experience that very few back country users know the answer to this question. Thankfully our boys are familiar with both backpacks on people and horses, so are total unconcerned beyond there natural wilderness alertness. Most hikers hate the idea, but as the most mobile they should get off the trail on the low side. In a goats vs horses the same rule applies. We move to the low side as the goats are much more agile than the horses. (Horses are much easier for the rider to control on the high side of the trail. Move approximately 30 feet off the trail for horses). We have decided that horses think people with packs are bears, and llamas/goats with backs are devils from their darkest nightmares. With horses it is a excellent idea to keep talking to the riders as they pass, as this helps the horse with their tiny little brains identify you as a person rather then a scary unknown.
There are times when passing is not an option. (The east fork of the Duchesne comes to mind. A 1/4 mile, six inch ribbon of trail across a 70 degree slope of loose dirt.) In these situations the most mobile should back up to a safe place to pass. (Don't be surprised if it is you and your goats that do the backing up. With horses you should, and most hikers will not think they should.)
Pack strings of any sort should be given consideration over any kind of person with a lone creature. But we seldom argue with a spooky horse and just give way. And our boys watch the horse dance fitfully past with silly grins on their faces.