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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone,

I've been enjoying the forum for quite a while now--lots of good information--but I would like to solicit some opinions on the sometimes controversial subject of when its appropriate to start introducing weight to aspiring packers. It seems that some advocate no weight/no packs until the fourth year, while others are packing yearlings at 10-15% body weight, and even packing some before the one year mark with very light loads--a couple down vests in a soft pack, let's say.

I have two boys in training, a Togg coming up on 10 months, and a Ober coming up on 7 months, about 95 and 85lbs. respectively, and I'm wondering if its safe to start having my Togg carry a few pounds in his soft pack. I want to be cautious, but he is in terrific shape, and watching their antics--leaping off the chicken coop, jumping over the picnic table--makes me think they are anything but fragile.

I have a fly fishing tour of the ECW coming up and thought my Togg might pack a couple lbs. of bulky cold cereal for me--if it's safe.

J. Duff
 

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Re: Adding Weight

I weighed the options and decided to go with the 4 year rule. It originated with Clay's site for High Uinta Pack Goats. I used that for most of my info before making my goat decision. It was further confirmed by the breeder I bought them from.

There are two aspects to it. One is that their skeleton isn't fully formed and set until that age, so putting weight on them could cause growth problems. I believe the counter to that is people use loads that are supposed to be too light to put too much pressure on their growing bones

The other concern is that soft packs provide no support for the weight, and it is not distributed correctly like it is with a saddle, so it can cause permanent nerve damage. Again, I think the main counter to that is that people keep their loads light and believe that solves the problem.

Many people with way more experience and way more goat knowledge start packing earlier, I just decided I didn't need to. The main cost-benefit analysis is if feeding and caring for a goat that will not be working for 4 years is worth it to you. If it isn't, then packing earlier may be a viable option. The goat gets to live a long healthy life in a good home, which seems to be a problem for many goats (and other animals), so the level of risk from responsible early packing is far outweighed by that life. For me, if I didn't have the goats, I would be carrying stuff anyway, so the minimal cost of goat care and the enjoyment of having them around and taking them on hikes without loads is worth it.

The main thing that I found important is the idea of training a goat with a soft pack when they are young. Young goats need to learn plenty, so there is plenty to teach without the soft pack. I have read in many places that a goat that is trained and bonded and accustomed to the other aspects of being a pack goat have no trouble when it comes to wearing a pack 4 years down the road. Many people also get older rescue goats and train them with no trouble. To me, that eliminates the need to risk the goats health just to "train" it by having it carry lunch and a bottle of water.

If your goat is conditioned enough to carry that maximum of 14lbs, that could be a real break for you and add a good deal of enjoyment to your trip. I have no idea what a pack weighs, now that I think about it, so I don't know what that translates to in actual gear. If it is a difference of 5 lbs of goods that get eaten along the way on your back or on the goat, my choice would be to bring the goat and let him do goat things, learning other things like manners, and carry the food myself.

I hope that provides a little insight for you, it is how I came to the decision to wait.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Re: Adding Weight

Thank you very much for the reply (and I hope others will still chime in),

I think for most of us, the health and safety of our goats comes first. We all want to raise happy, healthy animals who realize their peak potential as working animals during their prime. Personally, I want to err on the side of caution, but I don't want to waste two years of packing (again, with lighter loads for younger animals--say 15-20% body weight for a 2-year-old) if it's being 'overly cautious.'

I hope to hear what a few of the other members have decided to do. This seems to me a critical question for training and goat packing generally, so I'm a little surprised there aren't more people here talking about it. If my searches have missed an earlier thread that discussed the issue in detail, I'm sorry for rehashing a hackneyed topic!

J. Duff
 

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This is probably one of the most common topics as it comes up two or three times a year. Greg has summed up the arguments pro and con very well.

I started with very light soft packs when they were about four months old, more for my sake of learning how to balance and tailor a pack to the goat, and just being anxious to get started. When I got a couple older goats, I stopped packing them at all.

There are some here who take the 'never till they're big' stance, and others who take the 'go for it, just keep it light' stance. The thing you don't want to do is overload them or tangle them so they don't have good experiences going out with you.

Keep them safe, let them play and they'll be happy to load in the vehicle and go.
 

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Re: Adding Weight

duffontap said:
I hope to hear what a few of the other members have decided to do. This seems to me a critical question for training and goat packing generally, so I'm a little surprised there aren't more people here talking about it. If my searches have missed an earlier thread that discussed the issue in detail, I'm sorry for rehashing a hackneyed topic!
My (mostly) uninformed decision was to begin training with just a saddle at year two, adding empty panniers and eventually light weight by the end of the year, and a normal or full load at year three. I also backpack quite a bit, including with my children. At age 5 they were (eagerly) carrying backpacks and I had convinced my wife it was OK ... so I figured I couldn't tell my wife that I had to wait until the goats were "adults" before they could carry weight. :roll:

I also reasoned that I don't pack on a daily or even weekly basis. I wasn't backpacking the entire Appalachian Trail with my 5 year old child and nor was I packing 10 miles/day with a 2 year old goat day in and day out as an outfitter. We were hiking regularly and occasionally putting on a pack and always making the experience about having fun and making it rewarding for human and animal alike.

So, I personally don't get too hung up on the idea that they must be a specific age before carrying weight, but I do think it matters how much, how long, and how frequently.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for the help everyone. It sounds like a major crux of the matter for those who choose to pack younger goats is the poor weight distribution of the soft pack vs. the heavy weight of most cross-buck saddles, pads, panniers, etc. (equaling a low 'net'). Maybe I'll try to whip up some ultralight cross-buck saddles for a middle option.

By the way, I returned to The Pack Goat again for a reminder of what John said about adding weight. He doesn't seem to mention an age to start packing (although he may allude to a yearling packer in the stream crossing disaster), but he is the only person I think I've heard advocating using enough weight to keep the goat in training too tired for mischief, and he puts the upper limit for mature packers at 40% body weight! Maybe someone who knows John's system well could clarify his thoughts on packing yearlings?

Thanks again,

Josh
 

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The problem is that there is no good evidence one way or the other. So we fall back to thousands of years of horse use. Its common for younger horses (2yr olds) to be broke to ride prior to their full development but I have yet to see anyone using a two year old as a pack animal carrying a fully loaded pack. I would suggest the same could be applied to a goat. Younger goats can certainly carry a saddle and a few pounds without serious risk of injury. Most people prefer to play it safe knowing they will have the goat a long time and putting too much weight on them could jeopardize their skeletal structure while it is still being developed.

I advocate nothing but empty saddles on a goat till around age one. Light loads of 10% of the goats weight up till 2 then gradually increase it till the goat is 3 and a half or four when it is carrying full loads of 25-30%.

Its been a long time since I read The Pack Goat book but I do remember the 40% comment. Keep in mind that most packgoat related things you read are simply one persons opinion. Unless of course they cite some study or other hard evidence. After more than a decade and a half of packing with goats I would only load 40% on a goat for a short period of time. Like hauling an elk out of a canyon a couple of miles in. Putting that much weight on a goat for an extended trip will slow you to a crawl if there are any steep stretches, off trail bushes or it is hot out.
 

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Our goats see their first saddle at 2.5 years. Often I think the urge to start them at a younger age comes from those new to goat packing and can't wait to get started. I understand that, it sure was for me back when I got my first goats. If you start with kids, you need to pay the piper and wait it out. Not only are there plenty of physical limits at young ages, mental growth is a factor too.

Every goat is unique and has their own "max" load. Best thing that can happen is you never see their "max" load. When you are on the trail and a goat is "maxed" out, part of the load either gets diverted to other goats or it's now your load to carry. I like to start with loads that are reasonably minimal. If the goat shows no stress, I'll add some weight the next pack and will continue to do so until I see some signs we're reaching the upper limits. Hitting the "max" on the trail slows all progress down, frustrating for myself and more stress than the goat needs. 20%, 30%, 40%.....they are all estimates, learn what each goat can do and save the headaches.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thank you very much for the thoughtful replies! I think I have a better sense of the various approaches now.

Rex and Herb--you bring up a very good point about the traveling speed being reduced with greater loads. That is something I hadn't given much thought to. I tend to like to keep moving, so I may ultimately find myself loading on the lighter side for higher mileage. I once carried a 178 lb. Yew log down one side of a steep canyon and back up the other side to my truck. I had it on an old WW2 pack board. That's about 90% of my weight and man did I move slow! Ten feet, fall over and rest...ten feet, fall over and rest...repeat. 1/2 mile = 2 painful hours.

I'm tentatively planning on saddling them as yearlings and progressing through very light loads as they move toward their prime years. Admittedly, being anxious to get started is a big factor in the decision.

Thanks again everyone,

Josh
 

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duffontap said:
I once carried a 178 lb. Yew log down one side of a steep canyon and back up the other side to my truck. I had it on an old WW2 pack board. That's about 90% of my weight and man did I move slow! Ten feet, fall over and rest...ten feet, fall over and rest...repeat. 1/2 mile = 2 painful hours.
LOL...Josh,

You must have really wanted that log!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
:) I wanted it out whole so bad. I ended up getting three very nice English Longbows out of it--one 83# bow I hunted Elk with a few years ago (unsuccessfully of course) and a couple 110# warbow replicas (just in case I get attacked by an armored knight).

I actually found out about pack goats through an archery magazine. I thought it would be a riot to have some hunting buddies who didn't mind carrying my woodcutting equipment for me in the off season. Now, with lots of outdoor interests and a growing family, the goats just made too much sense.

Josh
 

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I'm certainly no expert, but I have raised 3 wethers from babies up to 4 year old packgoats. I started by letting them carry a dog pack with a couple of water bottles at about 1 yr old. Total weight was less than 5 lb. The dog packs weren't a good idea tho. They didn't hold much and were very sensitive to balance. So I bought Owhyee aluminum saddles for the boys at 2 yrs and hung fabric grocery shopping bags on those. We were up to 10-15 lb by then. By 3 years they were carrying 20 lb. I have always tried to limit the weight to about 10-15% of their body weight.

Now they are up to 40 lb, which is going to be my maximum unless I have to pack an elk out. Then we (including me) will be carrying 50 lb or so. These guys are now big, strong, and healthy. No damage has been done that I can see.

The only disadvantage of having the boys carrying weight from such a young age is the danger of doing some kind of damage to them as they are developing. With real packsaddles and very little weight, I felt that such dangers were minimal.

The advantages are pretty obvious. Anything they carry, I don't have to carry. Also they learned from a young age to be packgoats. One of the boys loved carrying his pack so much that he would get mad if somebody else was carrying a pack but not him. Now they are simply indifferent to the packs. It may also be that as they grew up carrying some weight, it made them develop stronger bones and muscles. (Think high school athletes vs. computer nerd couch potatoes).

If it's bad for goats to put some weight on them before they are full grown, then shouldn't it be bad for Boy Scouts to be carrying heavy backpacks?

When I was a high school kid I was backpacking and working alongside grown men, carrying heavy things and using tools. I think it made me stronger and smarter. I think the same can be said for the goats.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks Jross. That makes a lot of sense to me.

I talked to a couple breeders I know this weekend about this subject and both expressed surprise and disbelief that people waited until the 3rd/4th year to add weight to wethers. (Now, neither of them have worked with packgoats and mentioned that frequently in their responses, so they aren't claiming to be experts).

What both of them said basically boils down to the fact that does are bred as pre-yearlings and show no bone damage even after bringing triplets to term (20lbs. of goat kid + placenta, amniotic fluid, etc. for a total of over 30lbs. in some cases). In other words, some of these young does are carrying 1/4+ of their body weight every time they are on their feet during the last weeks of pregnancy.

I'd be interested in what some of you who are both breeders and packers think of that argument?

Josh
 

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duffontap said:
What both of them said basically boils down to the fact that does are bred as pre-yearlings and show no bone damage even after bringing triplets to term (20lbs. of goat kid + placenta, amniotic fluid, etc. for a total of over 30lbs. in some cases). In other words, some of these young does are carrying 1/4+ of their body weight every time they are on their feet during the last weeks of pregnancy.
Hello,

there's a difference between carrying lambs in the womb and carrying a pack load. The lambs in the womb are carried by muscles in the belly and the back that have been designed by nature to do that.

Carrying a load puts strain on muscles and bones that haven't been designed to carry a load in that manner (the spine is not designed to carry a load on top of it, that's because we need a saddle to protect it and distribute the weight).

And it's not true that animals can't suffer bone damage from pregnancy. I for one wouldn't want a doe kid twins or triplets as a freshener - she still has at least half of HER growing to do and feeding that many lambs will hinder that considerably.

Archeologists can determine from the marks on bones they find at historic digs, if an animal has been used as a working animal or "simply" for slaughter. Every work done leaves markers on the bone.

Eventually it's up to you, when you'll start adding weight but impatience has never been a good advisor. Think about how you will/would feel if you detect in 5 or 6 years that one of your goats has developed arthritis or kissing spines because you didn't wait now?

People/kids who carry loads have a choice of some sort - animals don't.
 

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I'm a little less conservative than some of you. I start with them carrying a limit of 10 pounds at the end of their yearling year. That is pretty much the saddle. At two I limit them to 15-20 pounds. That continues till they are four.

Assuming that they have properly fitting saddles carrying a little occasionally isn't going to hurt them. My goat never have gotten arthritis or had any problems with carrying light loads. The key is to keep the loads light and let them work up to the 20 pounds slowly. Work hardening is a term that describes letting the ligaments and muscles develop and get stronger over time to fit the job they will be doing. This is better for them than just deciding when they are 4 that they can carry 40 pounds.

I also train horses and we ride them at 2-3, but our definition of riding is about 5 minutes a couple of times a week. You have the advantage of getting the training done at an earlier age, but without working them hard enough to hurt them.

If you put a large load on a goat before their bones are set you will hurt them so common sense is necessary. But, no weight at all, deprives the animal of being able to develop muscles he will need later.
 

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Around 16-18 months.

The work hardening aspect has been thoroughly researched in race horse colts and fillies. A little work is good too much is not.
 
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