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Hiking and camping, with goats
Seeing if the boot fits: Exploring the Bays
Martha Reben: staring down the Great White Plague

One of the fun, and free, options in Saranac Lake is the monthly lecture series held by Saranac Village at Will Rogers. They open their cozy Great Room for talks on all kinds of subjects. So when they announced the lecture for August was to be "Goat Packing, our passport to the back country," I could not resist.

As it turned out, this lecture and slideshow told the story of how challenges didn't keep our lecturers, Don & Nadine McLaughlin, away from hiking and camping in the Adirondacks.

It just took them a little more ingenuity. And two delightful goats.

Goats are irresistible

This blog comes with a warning, just as the moderator of the talk said. "This will make you want to get a goat." In fact, she had two, all because of the McLaughlins. So what's the thing about goats? Well, there's this picture of their first goat, Monty:

Monty played ball. And made sure everyone got their turn.

When the McLaughlin grandchildren began raising goats for 4H, they wound up with a surplus of baby male goats. This is how their grandparents got Monty. He was an adorable and delightful companion, and the only drawbacks were entirely not his fault.

As an only goat, he wanted constant play and companionship. And he died at only two and a half years old. Heartbroken that Christmas, the McLaughlins swore they would never get another goat. This vow lasted until the spring, when there was a new batch of baby goats.

This time, they took two.

Meet Frankie, on top of table, and Barney, in lap.

Having two goats to play with each other helped the energy issue. Their first goat, Monty, didn't have a herd of his own, and he wanted them to be his herd. They resorted to taking long road walks to burn up his energy.

New additons Frankie and Barney, could play with each other when their humans were not available. For the next three years they were delightful companions without any additional skills on their resume.

necessity is the mother of invention

And then Nadine hurt her foot. She could walk, but she could no longer carry the heavy backpacks that let she and Don camp in the wildnerness after a long hike. They started looking at their goats in a whole new way. As beings who could go hiking and camping with them. As someone who could carry stuff.

They got a lot of ideas from the North American Packgoat Association, whose mission is promoting the use of packgoats to the public. This low impact wilderness transportation and recreation option is exactly what would help Don and Nadine.

going for short hikes to see how the goats behaved away from their home grounds

So they began training their own goats. They tried short, local hikes to expose them to a variety of terrain. The goats responded well. Their herd instincts meant they didn't want to wander off from their fellows.

The packs were small at first. Their trust of their humans helped their confidence in negotiating things, like bridges, that were new to them. While each new thing was met with puzzlement, they soon shrugged off whatever was going on as non-frightening, and enjoyed these new games.

After continued increasing of the size and poundage of the packs (just like humans, they should carry no more than 25% of their own weight) Frankie and Barney learned they were now "double wides" and had to allow for greater clearance around obstacles.

Starting with small loads and practice for what they will encounter while hiking

Don and Nadine had observed that their goats handled tricky terrain well, even when they were babies. After all, "nimble as a goat" is an old saying for a good reason. Seeing goats on low roofs around the farm had become a common sight. When Don was using a ladder one day, Frankie climbed it, rung by rung, to see what he was doing.

These events reassured them that the goats could handle the packs, the terrain, and new challenges. Another point was, as Nadine put it, "Finding a goat sitter is never easy." They felt somewhat confident going into their first full hiking and camping outing, but there were surprises still to come.

goats are better hikers than people in some ways, because their four nimble feet work on tricky terrain

And goats make four 

Even with all their planning and preparation, there were some things that they had not anticipated. They had noticed that goats walk a little slower than humans, but this became more of a factor on a longer trip.

While during training they had made do with things like old bicycle paniers, they had been so pleased with their goat's progress that they got them professional pack harnesses. This has a three point system that keeps the the load from sliding around, which is especially important on those uphill and downhill sections.

They set out with plenty of salted peanuts in the shell, Frankie and Barney's favorite treat. This provided motivation if it was needed.

It turned out that all of Don and Nadine's worries about the goats wandering off had been for nothing. The goats were there at all times; watching dinner being prepared, escorting Nadine to the privy and back, and greeting them in the morning.

when camping with goats, this is the first thing you see when you wake up

They grazed on things along the way, had their own collapsible water bucket to keep themselves hydrated, and after the hiking part was over, all they wanted was a nap. The goats would always stay close.

This strong herd behavior sorted out the hiking order according to the wishes of the goats. Nadine went first, then Frankie, followed by Barney, who made sure everyone was in their proper places, with Don bringing up the rear.

This turned out to be a key training tool as the goats encountered different kinds of bridges. Rocks were fine, but the different kinds of rough bridges, common on Adirondack trails, made them uneasy. When the humans indicated they were going to continue with or without them, the goats would complain... and figure out a way to get over the bridge.

when hiking with goats, everyone wants to meet them!

Another part they hadn't entirely anticipated was the excitement shown by the other people meeting them on the trail. They expected some notice. What they didn't expect was that every single person they encountered would stop and want to talk to them, and meet the goats.

That's the way I feel. I would love to have some goats... but my husband pointed out we live in a third floor apartment.

Find the next fun event in our events calendar. Find your next hiking trail. Celebrate your return at one of our nightspots.

Author:Pamela Merritt
Categories:Camping, Hiking
Seeing if the boot fits: Exploring the Bays
Martha Reben: staring down the Great White Plague

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