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Goat Facts – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Goats

Goatpack

If you have ever even thought about homesteading, then you’ve thought about getting goats. These intelligent, curious and delightful animals are often considered a “graduation” of sorts: Most homesteaders start with chickens and move onto goats before considering larger livestock.

Goats can provide homesteaders with milk which can also be used to make cheese, soap or butter. Here are ten things you may not have known about domestic goats (Capra aegagrus hircus).

  1. Goats can vary in size from the 35 lb. Pygmy goats to the 230 lb. Boer goat. Both goats are actually raised for meat production, however, the Pygmy goat is also known for its high-quality milk.
  2. Genetic tests indicate that all domestic goats are descended from the wild Bezoar Ibex of Anatolian Zagros, a part of the Middle East. Scientists believe goats are one of the earliest domesticated animals, with evidence that suggests they were domesticated at least 10,000 years ago.
  3. Goats are naturally curious. While they don’t actually eat tin cans and paper, they are often seen chewing odds and ends mainly to find out more about these objects. Behaviorists think goats chew these items to find out more about them and to see if they are edible.
  4. That curious nature may be the root of a legendary story about goats and coffee. An apocryphal story on the discovery of coffee goes like this: Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder, started chewing coffee beans after his goats started dancing when they ate the beans.
  5. The largest number of goats in the United States resides in Texas. Goats can be raised, however, anywhere in the United States.
  6. While calling a group of goats a “herd” is acceptable, the more proper names for a group of goats is a tribe or trip.
  7. Cashmere, the super-soft and desirable wool used in many garments, is harvested from Cashmere goats. The wool is shorn from the goats and then “de-haired” which separates the coarse outer hair from the soft inner downy coat. The softer hair is spun into yarn and thread for textiles. Originally the goats were cultivated in Nepal and Kashmir, but they are now raised all over the world.
  8. The famous fainting goats don’t actually faint. A condition of the central nervous condition called Congenital myotonia, in which the muscles of the animals are temporarily paralyzed when they panic. The condition causes no pain, but the animals do fall over. Older fainting goats, however, keep themselves braced against a wall or other support, so they don’t fall over.
  9. The London Telegraph reported last year that goats have accents. Scientists at the Queen Mary University of London discovered the calls of goats change as they grown older and move into different groups. Goats in the same group sound similar to each other as they spend more time together.
  10. Milk goats should be separated by gender. If does (female goats) are kept too close to bucks (males) their milk can take on a “goaty” flavor, influenced by the strong scent of the buck. *Although, it should be stated that this is a controversial topic for goat dairy farmers… With many people stating that they would NEVER separate the goats. And many saying that they would never dream of having the goats live together in the same quarters because of milk flavor and breeding practices.

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Goatpacking in the Back Country

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A cool breeze blows as Rose and I bask in the sun atop an alpine ridge, high in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. A stunning view of the Three Sisters, a trio of 10,000+ foot peaks is our reward for a steeply uphill climb. We are both hungry, so I munch on an apple while Rose grazes on some bear grass and lichen. Rose is an American Alpine goat, and she and I have packed ten miles into the backcountry on a three-day backpacking trip.

My fascination with goatpacking began with John Mionczynski’s book The Pack Goat. My husband and I are avid hikers and backpackers; when we met, our first “dates” were morning hikes to watch the sunrise. Having raised Alpine and Nubian dairy goats for a few years, we began to wonder if our affectionate dairy goats would be willing to carry a light load into the backcountry.

We began daily training walks around our forested, hilly property, first without a pack, and gradually adding a saddle, panniers, and then weight. While we were prepared to guide them on the trail with collars and lead ropes, we found that the goats willingly followed us on the trail, only pausing for an occasional snack from their surroundings.

Goatpack

Our first backcountry adventure was full of trial and error. Lacking a proper livestock trailer or pickup truck, we piled into a friend’s Volkswagen Vanagon, with Rose and her yearling Lupine in the back, and a Nubian doe named Hazelnut in the passenger area. Packing the goats’ panniers with a small bag of grain, water bowl, leashes, ropes, and tarps, we kept their load light for this trial hike.

On trail, the goats eagerly followed us for about five miles. At this point, Hazelnut, the Nubian decided enough was enough, laid down on the trail, and refused to continue until we enticed her with a bit of grain. A few miles later, we reached our destination – a beautiful rocky ledge overlooking an alpine lake.

The goats settled in on the warm rocks, chewing their cud, and resting with a dreamy look on their faces. It seemed as though the Alpines were especially content, perhaps feeling at home on the high rocky slopes.

With a successful trip under our belts, and confidence in our goats’ packing abilities, we continued with twice yearly summer backcountry adventures. Breakfast granola and hot coffee with fresh goat milk were just a few of the perks of bringing goats along. My husband and I continued to carry our own backpacks, but gratefully accepted the help that the pack goats provided. And the goats’ antics and companionship brought much fun and laughter to our adventures.

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Fast-forward a few years: I was seven months pregnant and desperately wanting some pre-baby backcountry time, but it was increasingly difficult to carry a fully loaded pack around my growing waist. It was time to ask our goats to carry a bit more weight, which they willingly did. We now filled the goats’ packs with our tent, food, and cookware. Reducing the hiking mileage to three to four mile days kept everyone happy!

Our family has now grown to four people, and we continue to enjoy backcountry adventures each summer, with the help of our goat companions. With two children on our backs, we rely on three to four goats to carry our personal gear. Base camp life can be a little hectic with so many beings to tend to, but we have learned a few tricks to keep things manageable.

Most importantly, we keep the goats away from the camp area and all food preparation. By tying a rope between two trees, and using a carabiner with a three-foot leash, we allow the goats safe access to browse and water, while keeping them out of camp.

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We have found that morning and evening milking is best accomplished with a team of three people: one person to hold a bowl of grain, one person to keep the human kids occupied, and one person to milk. Enjoying warm, sweet goat milk in the backcountry is still one of the best rewards of the effort it takes to get there.

Our family is frequently stopped along the trail and asked about the goats. It is truly a gift to witness the looks of astonishment and joy upon fellow hikers’ faces when they see our herd of pack goats approach on the trail. Their bright red packs and shining wood saddles do make for quite an attractive image, and we are often asked for photo opportunities.

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We use our interactions as an opportunity to educate people about dairy goats, goat packing, and homesteading, and as a chance to connect with people who share our love of accessing wild places.

Packing with our dairy goats has allowed our entire family to experience the backcountry together. My children, ages 2 and 5, get to enjoy some of the most pristine and remote wilderness areas in our country, and my husband and I continue to feed one of the passions that first brought us together – being in the outdoors.

About:
Teri Page from Homestead Honey. In October, 2012 our family of four packed up our Oregon homestead of 13 years and moved to Northeast Missouri, where we are creating a radical homestead on 10 acres of raw land. We are creating and cultivating organic gardens, and planting food forests while we camp on the land, building our off-grid, 250 square foot home. Follow their radical homestead journey on their blog and Facebook page at: homesteadhoney.wordpress.com