How to Cross Water With your Goats
Training a pack goat to cross water is very easy when done correctly. There are a couple of things to consider before we dive in, so let’s discuss those first. Your goat’s safety must be considered first in this equation and I’m going to teach you how to train pack goats to cross water with that in mind. Different goats have different tolerance levels when it comes to water…some couldn’t care less and walk right in…others think it’s acid, and if they touch it, they will melt. Each will have to be handled a little different, but I do suggest you let your “best” water crosser, set the tone for the rest at each crossing. Just remember that may not be your string leader so you may have to readjust their order as you approach.
Alrighty then…let’s dive in (pun intended). The easiest way to teach pack goats to cross and feel comfy with water is to start when they are babies. Get them exposed to water a lot their first year (including swimming) and you will never have an issue. Swimming you say??? Yes, because then they will know they can…it’s quite instinctual once they try and they are good at it. Not knowing they can swim has got to be scary for a goat, especially as they assess a crossing when the water is murky and they can’t see the bottom. Here is a video showing me having a baby for its first swim.
Now let’s talk about the progression and first exposures. Goats are very smart and it’s very important how you expose them to water. It’s important that you keep in mind the safest way for a pack goat to cross water is to walk through the water…not, tight-rope a log, try to jump the whole thing, or to jump from rock to rock as all of those can create a better chance of falling. A goat with weight on his back is safest when they calmly walk in, take their time across, and step out, calm and steady. That is what you are shooting for, and if you can get them to assume, from the beginning, “that is how goats cross” then that is what they will do. Now, it’s important to mention that I am a bad example of good string crossings when there are logs or rocks to choose from…I was inexperienced in the beginning and taught them wrong, so many of my goats cross logs and rocks if they have the option…I’m not sure I will ever be able to break them of that as so many of my leaders were bought as adults and I couldn’t (or didn’t) correct their poor crossing habits. Now they teach the others to do wrong as well. I do my best like the rest of you.
So, first exposures for babies (and new adults)…sheesh, get on with it already! Select water in your area that is “just right” If I had a best-case scenario it would be a large area with about 3-6 inches of water (flooded field or large puddle). When I say large, I mean big enough where I can walk in, and as they hesitate to look for a way around, they realize there isn’t one, and they just follow you in. You want your goats to follow exactly where you cross, not find their own route. Once they join you in the center, you love them up and assure them that this is very normal and “just what pack goats do.” Make them stay with you in the center reassuring them, with love, for as long as seems reasonable and then walk out, calm and slow. It’s SUPER important that you realize if you get wet, so will they, if you jump across or rock hop, so will they. I always pack crocks so I can change and walk the safest route for them, which is to get wet and walk through the water calmly and let them follow.
For all your next exposures or maybe your first if you couldn’t find standing water, find a river or stream that is wide and calm with a tapered entry and exit (as opposed to abrupt where they have to jump) and do the same as above. As they grow more comfortable you will be able to tell as they just step right in, and are calm about how they do it. Make them cross through the same crossing over and over so they get super comfortable with it and that will translate into comfort with water in general. Now, they got it, and it will remain their baseline of “how goats cross!” Be aware, that I have found I have to “remind” them of proper crossing technique at the beginning of the packing season. Keep this in mind as you select your first outings in going somewhere where you know the crossings will be conducive to proper technique. Hope this is helpful, Marc