I have to admit that I have come to enjoy the reaction we get from fellow hikers we meet while out on the trail. It seems that Tank and Kiff bring a smile to everyones faces and are perfect ice breakers for even the most solitary of hikers. In fact, we manage to strike up a conversation with almost everyone we meet.
Usually we are met with a barrage of fun questions. Ella always cracks up when we are asked, “Are those goats?” As funny as it sounds, we get asked this question fairly frequently, so we have thought up some pretty creative answers. My favorite is, “No, these are cloven-hoofed Labradors.”
All joking aside, we get some really good questions! One of my favorites is, “What made you want to hike with goats?” Although the short answer is, “Why not?”, the real answer is that I settled on goats after a year of research, and shockingly, I’m not the only eccentric goat trekker out there.
Goats are amazing creatures and apparently people have been drawn to their charm for a long time. Approximately 9,000 years ago, goats were among the first animals to be domesticated by humans. Over the years, they have filled many needs for mankind including, milk, meat, fiber and cart pulling.
In the early 1970s, there was a crazy goat breeder/U.S. Forest Service scientist named John Mionczynski who began fashioning pack saddles and panniers to carry research equipment to rugged mountain peaks. Although Mionczynski became better known for his supposed sighting of Bigfoot, he did write a book which became a definitive guide to goat packing in 1992. Since then, their popularity has grown within the hiking and hunting community.
Goats have filled a niche because they are economical in comparison to horses and mules, yet still have great stamina and the ability to pack 30 percent of their body weight over the most technical terrain (most full-grown pack goats can carry at least 50 pounds). But there are also other attributes that made a goat the natural choice as a hiking companion for Ella and I.
I love the intense bond that a bottle fed goat has with its owner. They quite literally will not leave your sight. Unlike a dog, a goat will never chase a squirrel or deer while out on the trail, or be tempted into a dog fight. It is their mild demeanor, which makes them very “kid safe.” In fact, should a goat bite, (which is fairly rare) they do not have top teeth in the front of their mouths, so it is rarely painful and usually just slobbery.
I also like that goats are “easy keepers” while on the trail. They nibble as they hike making it unnecessary to pack additional food for them, and with good forage, can go three days without water. They also “tread lightly” and cause very little soil erosion on trails. When looked at more closely, their hoof marks look exactly like those of little deer.
Although we chose goats as our pack animals of choice for logical reasons, it is truly their personalities that have become my favorite part of their companionship. They have breathed new life into my hiking by reminding me to be a “kid” myself: remain alert, curious and inquisitive, be enthusiastic, try new things, kick up your heels and have some fun, and stop to smell the flowers (maybe even eat a few).
I am also quite touched by the true love and loyalty that Tank shows us. I find it to be quite human when he looks into my eyes to try and figure out what I’m thinking.
Sometimes he even knows exactly what I need and will gently rub his head back and fourth on me, not in an attempt to scratch, but because in his mind he is “petting me.” Let me tell you, the love of a goat is a special thing.
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As always, we love to hear from you and welcome any comments or questions you may have. You can contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow our daily adventures by liking our Facebook page Goat Trek’n! Happy trails!