The Goat(s) Story

I finally decided to publish this as it has all the drama of a real thriller.

However, the story below, is why I say that I have 10 years of experience, gleaned in the first 9 months (It has now been over 10 years). I have to say that, without question, that had it not been for Kristin Forcier (who was receiving daily calls for quite a while) I would never have made it through the trauma of those first few months. I am extremely glad that it is over, but I am very fortunate that she was there to call on, and never got tired (or didn’t appear so, anyway) of hearing from me!

Larry Robinson
Idaho City, Idaho
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The Goat Story
Around May of 2004 I got two goats from a local breeder (I now know that he was not a legitimate packgoat breeder. Ignorance is such bliss). (The goat pictures. <http://www.boiselarry.com/goats/goats.html>) One was an Alpine, Shadow; and the other an Alpine/Oberhasi cross, Sassy-Brown. They came to me with Pneumonia as it was going around in his herd (it goes without saying that I didn’t know this when I picked them up). Within two days of picking them up I was giving injections.

Now there isn’t much that I do not feel capable of doing; I am a light-plane pilot, play the trumpet, am computer-savvy, hard-core hiker/outdoorsman, but I will tell you that giving injections to little baby animals was light-years outside of my expertise level. I have to admit feeling totally and completely inept. I mean, how would you like to get two brand new babies, you want to socialize & get close to them, and the first thing you have to do is start hurting them. It was not the best of all possible worlds.

Shortly after that, I had them staked out (I was not completely comfortable yet with letting them out without restraints), and apparently my staking rope was too small in diameter, as somehow Shadow apparently got tangled in it and broke his left hind leg. I probably should have had him put down, but in my innocent ignorance, I paid $400 to have the leg put back together with a stainless steel pin down the broken upper part of the leg. That probably would have been OK if the leg had been normal, but somehow it ended up being about 45 degrees off true. In the right-hand picture that is second from the bottom of this page <http://www.boiselarry.com/goats/goats.html>, it is patently obvious. (It is mandatory to say at this point that the vet in response to my very pointed letter, refunded half of the $400 due to the fact that somewhere along the line Shadow's repair went very, very bad.)

Well, after that, since Shadow was obviously not going to be a packer, I decided that I would get a couple more goats (late in the Spring of that year), and so I took on two more Alpines. They came with some sort of malady, so here we go again with the injections. They were about 5-6 months old, and
hadn’t had any socialization in all that time, so I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I had NO bloody idea! I now know that EARLY socialization, and imprinting, is absolutely crucial (read: essential). I will never again take on an animal that hasn't been, at the least, socialized by someone. In any case, after two months or so of trying to get close to these two, it became obvious that I was making exactly NO progress. My wife perceived (correctly, I believe) that the dominant of the two was absolutely NEVER going to come around and was heavily influencing the other, but she thought that the other one, the one that we called Little Brother, had potential (she was only barely right on that one). So I gave the one back that we referred to as Doubting Thomas, and we kept Little Brother. He has made tremendous progress, and I usually don't have trouble getting my hands on him... except when I need to... or when someone strange is around... or when we are not at home... or in any circumstance that is not 100% what he is used to. He is been an OK packer, more or less, as he is an inveterate follower. The other goats follow me, and he follows them! However, in spite of the fact that at that point I had to call him my best load carrier, he was ever-so-frequently a frustration of the 1st order. Fortunately I do not carry a weapon, for if I did, he might be, at this point, socializing with the other goat-angels. Let me repeat this for emphasis: SOCIALIZATION & IMPRINTING IS EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!

So after giving the one Alpine back (Doubting Thomas), I still wanted another goat as I was hoping to be able to have at least 3 or so to pack with in 3 years or so. So in late 2004 I took on two beautiful La Manchas from a local breeder. They were wonderful guys, socialized to a fault, but they had horns. It only took a very short time (about 10 minutes I think) to decide that they didn’t fit well in my group. Not only because of the horns, which were a definite hazard in my non-horned group, but in what came as a total surprise to me, they walked into my pen kicking butt and taking names. I had thought that since the La Manchas were supposed to be the better dispositioned of the goats, they would be more laid back with my original fellas. Fat chance! So I reluctantly moved them on to a young person in Utah.

And so here we are well past the season to get more animals, and I have one with a bum leg, one that is nuts, and one that is growing very slow.

So I decided at this point to accept my fate and made arrangements to get two new La Manchas in the Spring of 2005 through Kristin Forcier, one of the local goatfolks who has given so much of her time guiding me. I have wanted since the beginning to have at least 4-5 animals, as it is relatively easy to lose one, and considering the time it takes to get them old enough to pack, I didn’t want to have to start all over again. At age 67, I was not sure of how much time I had left in terms of hiking ability (or life itself), so I wanted to get going with this.

Throughout 2004 & 2005 I did quite a bit of hiking with Sassy-Brown, and some with Little Brother (LB). My first long venture in 2004 took Sassy & LB into the Big Horn Crags on what was probably a little too strenuous of a hike for little fellas, since it was around 9 miles to the Crags lakes. We had inadvertently entered into an area with some very bad vegetation that I was completely unfamiliar with. Where we camped overnight on the way in, they got into a plant called Corn Lilly/False Hellbore <http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/comlist.html>. Whatever this plant has in it, it is horrible. They ate very little of it, because I was very nervous about them eating it anyway, but I am telling you, I spent one of the most ugly nights I have ever spent in the outdoors. About 6-7 PM they started bringing up their cud, over and over again, and chewing and chewing and chewing, and green slime/foam was constantly dripping out of their mouths. We were 4.5 miles into the woods and there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do (in my innocent ignorance) as I was totally unprepared to help them. This went on all night, and I agonized all night, cried a little since I was stupid enough to bring them out there with no resources to help them, and prayed plenty. Sometime around morning (there was precious little sleep) I told the Lord, if you want me out of this goat business, ‘you take them, they are yours anyway.’ I could visualize bringing home nothing but collars and leashes, as there was no way I could bring them out if they died, although I am guessing that I would have made an attempt to carry Sassy out should he have expired. Well, sometime before daylight, Sassy stopped the incessant chewing, and after the light returned, so did LB. They started some tentative nibbling on stuff I knew was OK, and believe it or not, hiked the 4.5 miles back out after having done the human equivalent of vomiting all night. I was astounded. I did take them home after that and my brother (who I was hiking with) and I went on alone. I and my brother had definitely had enough emotional trauma for one week (and so, unquestionably, had the goats). (Note: I have since noted that when they ate this particular plant, it was after it had "browned up" after freezing. Some plants apparently are not poisonous until after this happens. Shadow got a couple or three mouthfuls of this same plant, during its green stage on the way back into the Crags in 2005 and suffered no ill effects.)

August 2005 found me venturing back into the Big Horn Crags with Shadow and LB. We did a RON at the halfway point, going in, but coming out did the entire 9 miles. It is a very dry hike and they did very well, even Shadow had no worries in spite of his caddywhompus leg! Pictures of that hike are at the bottom of my goat pictures page (In 2007 I took Shadow into the Baron Lakes in the Sawtooths, and at some point he just stopped carring the small weight we had on him. It was obvious that his hip hurt, and that he was not ever going to be good for any kind of long-mileage hiking. Sad. He is such a good boy and fun to have along).

If you looked at the pictures of 2003/2004's winter snow <http://www.boiselarry.com/recents/2004/winter0304/dec03jan04.html> (click on Dec03/Jan04), you know that right in back of my house are lots of foothills. I take the goats up there hiking as often as I can get up there. It is good exercise as it is up in every direction, and it is nice to be able to walk out the back door and go hiking. We have enough snow in the winter to make it impractical to hike for 3-4 months, but I doubt that it will be long before we can get out again.

2006 gave me a number of opportunities to go hiking with my guys. Langer/Ruffneck Lakes with Shadow & LB
, Martin/Kelly lakes with Shadow, LB & Sassy-Brown, Red Mountain (before it started burning) with LB & Sassy-Brown, Mt. Hood for our yearly Rendezvous with Blackjack & Cocoa-Brownie, and the Trinity Mtn. Rec. Area with all 5.

In 2007 we did a total of 132 miles together. I didn't take the same goats, or the same number each time, but there were goats along on almost all the hikes. Pictures of just one such hike: http://www.boiselarry.com/recents/2007/wsawtooth/gtpackers/gtpackers.html

In subsequent years I have done as much as 200 miles in the 2 months or so of Idaho summer hiking.

I am endlessly fascinated by animal behavior. I have laughed myself silly watching their interactions with each other, and with me as well. They have been an incredible amount of work, and setting up an infrastructure to house them has been very expensive, but they are a joy and great fun to have around.

Gad, if you get through all that, you do have perseverance.
Cheers
Larry in Idaho City, Idaho
http://www.boiselarry.com
Contact: Larry Robinson