Your First Big Trip
The following article was taken with permission from the archives of Goat Tracks magazine. This and many more wonderful articles are available for purchase in the back issues.

So....You're ready for your first Big Trip. You have raised your goat for two years now, with careful attention to nutrition and health concerns.You have trained it to lead, tie, and stay out of your gear. You have taken it on numerous hikes and put the saddle and empty bags on it. You have done everything you could think of in preparation for the first big trip.

As you plan ahead, some last minute thoughts cause slight feelings of apprehension. What if the bugs are bad? What if a stray dog attacks the goat? What if it runs off with our things? How about shelter? Should we tie up the goat at night or hope it stays at camp?How do we tie the goat if we decide to? What if we meet other people on the trail? Should we take in supplemental feed? The fear starts to build until you begin to wonder if this goatpacking thing was such a good idea after all.

Not to worry, goatpacking is as easy as you have heard. It is not without responsibilities on your part, but with a small amount of preparation you can hit the trail with confidence.

The most important thing for you to do on your maiden voyage is to have some realistic goals. Don't take a young half grown goat with only a few hikes under its belt and expect it to do a marathon march to a far away peak. You are asking for aggravation and disappointment. Plan on short trips of only a few miles of relatively easy trails to start. It will be easier on the goat and instill a feeling of confidence in everyone, human and animal.

Before you start, plan on a way to control your goat if the need arises. Examples would include meeting other hikers, horse back riders, or loose dogs. This is easily accomplished by putting a lead rope on each goat and looping it around the saddle so it is available to grab at a moments notice. One reason for restraining your goat will be to keep them from bothering other trail users. We may love our goats but I can tell you that outfitters and other trail users often do not share our feelings. We owe it to them and our image to let them enjoy their own trip without being mobbed by a pack of friendly goats.

If you encounter a loose dog, grab the lead rope to keep the goat from running. A running animal excites a dog and makes things worse. If the dog has an owner, ask in a courteous manner for them to please hold their dog until you are past. In the rare case where the dog is trying to actually bite the goat then use what ever means necessary to make it back off. A can of pepper spray works great for this purpose, but try to use the minimum amount of force necessary. Usually a stern word and a thrown stick is all it takes. The nice thing about goats is that they seem to view us as their security blanket. When they get nervous they move in close, making it easy to grab the lead rope.

On the trail watch to see that the goat is not getting too tired. It is common for goats to lag behind nibbling leaves while you walk ahead. Before you are out of sight they will jog to catch up only to stop again at the next interesting snack. After they begin to tire a little, they will fall into line behind you, stopping less and less. A little trail experience with the goat will let you tell at a glance when the goat needs a break. Don't go by how tired you feel because you are not the one carrying the pack. It is your responsibility to watch the goat.

Once at camp you can turn the goat loose to feed while you set up. Packing in feed for your goats is unnecessary as long as there is plenty of edible vegetation. Goats really do thrive on common old everyday leaves and weeds. Taking a little grain for treats is a good way to make the goat feel better about being away from the barn, but is not a necessity. Most National Forests are now requiring that all feed and bedding be certified weed seed free, so in many cases its easier to just leave it all home.

To tie or not to tie, that's the question....well at least a common question by novice packers. I answer by saying that most properly bonded goats will stay at camp if you are at camp. If you leave, they will leave. If they lose you or think they lost you, they will leave. I always tie new goats the first few nights until they get the idea that I didn't leave, I only went into the tent. After that I let them run loose. Exceptions to this would be if I was camped on a trail likely to have other hikers going by. Goats are known to head out with a stranger going in an interesting direction. Heavy rain or irritating bugs could also cause the goats to seek cover or head for parts unknown trying to escape the problem. If I suspect any of these might apply then I tie. Rare or delicate plants in the area, or a goat that bothers everything in camp might also be reasons to tie.

If you decide to tie, don't tie them to a tree or other object likely to be viewed as edible by the goat. With nothing but time on its hands, even the most mannerly goat will strip a tree of its bark. That not only gives goatpackers a bad rap, but it could cost you a hefty fine in some areas. One recommended way to tie your goat is the high line method. It consists of a line tied between two solid objects about five feet off of the ground. Loops tied in the line every fifteen feet or so allow you to tie the goats lead rope directly to the loop. Leave enough slack so the goat can touch noses with its neighbor but can't become tangled. Make sure you use a swivel snap on the lead rope or the goat could twist its collar tight enough to strangle itself no matter what method of tying you use.

If you use the high line, you can also put a tarp over it and secure the corners making a temporary shelter for the goat on rainy nights. An 8' x 10' tarp is adequate for two goats, tied in a lean-to fashion. A larger tarp is needed for a tent style set up. Experiment at home to determine the right size for your needs. If you don't tie the goat you can still use the tarp for a goat shelter but it has been my experience that if several goats are being used, the dominant goat hogs the tarp while the others shelter under a nearby tree. If it's a light rain, I let them all find a tree. If it is a heavy rain then I would tie them and use the tarp over the high line.

If you find yourself in an area infested with mosquitos or flies use regular bug repellant on the goats. Spray the bug spray onto your hand and wipe it on the goats, paying special attention to the head and neck areas. The goats will hate it, but the bugs will leave them alone. Speaking of bugs, if you plan to tie your goat then you need to check the area for ant or bee nests. It would be a very miserable goat who was inadvertently tied on an ant hill or within reach of a bee hive. If you are in an area with ticks then inspect each goat at the end of each day. Several brands of tick repellant are available and recommended, if you are finding them on your goat regularly.

Everything mentioned here is pretty basic trail sense. The more you practice it, the more natural all of it will seem. The majority of your trips will not require you to provide shelter, tie, or feed your goat, but if the need arises you will be prepared.

The first trip is always the most worrisome, but often the most enjoyable too because of the newness of the experience.The nagging apprehension will melt away as you and the goat learn what works best for you and when you have it all figured out, just imagine five years from now when a new goatpacker comes up to you and asks, "What should I be prepared for on my first trip?" You will give them a friendly smile and respond, "Don't worry there is nothing to it."
NICE ^^^
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