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MailTribune.com
  • Heavy Lifters

    Goats are becoming increasingly popular as pack animals on forest trails
  • They're nimble. They're hardy. They'll carry your food, water and tent during the day and hang around the campfire with you at night. Friendly as dogs and mule-strong, pack goats are becoming popular trail companions.
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  • They're nimble. They're hardy. They'll carry your food, water and tent during the day and hang around the campfire with you at night. Friendly as dogs and mule-strong, pack goats are becoming popular trail companions.
    Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt of Willow-Witt Ranch had been raising goats for food and fiber for years when a Sierra magazine article turned Suzanne on to their potential as trail animals.
    "I said to Lanita, why don't we try that?"
    They began their enterprise by crossing Cashmere bucks with Alpine does, then started selecting for specific characteristics. The ideal pack goat is tall with a straight back and strongly curved hind legs, which help the animal spring.
    "There's also an ideal personality," says Suzanne. "They have to be willing."
    Most pack goats are wethers, or castrated males. Though it takes diligence, training them is a straightforward process.
    "You want them to bond to humans right away," says Suzanne. "Then they'll follow you anywhere."
    She and Lanita start bottle-feeding the kids at two weeks. They first train the young goats to follow, using a bit of grain as an incentive. They also teach them not to jump, butt or press their heads against you.
    "Manners, basically," says Suzanne.
    Though it seems like harmless play in a kid, a pushy adult goat can topple a person. To discourage bad behavior, Suzanne holds the animal's head and blows air into its face — the equivalent of a goat reprimand.
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