Pack Goat Conditioning and Weight Bearing Timeline
Pack Goat conditioning is a “new science” and I’m going to share with you what I have found to works best. I’ve noticed as new people are coming into this wonderful pastime that they are pushing their goats younger and younger and I wanted to build a timeline, that could be followed, of when it’s appropriate to begin putting weight on your pack goat. I will also go over when to begin conditioning them and how much. Before diving in I want to tell you that what I’m sharing comes from trial and error, studying what is done for horses as well as how I keep myself in top condition.
From babies to year one, the focus needs to be on a love of the trail, agility and learning how fast goats walk. A love of the trail will come from your and their connection on the trail. I will often take my babies out as a crew (separately) where they get to have their own little “sub culture” as they do in the pasture. They come with the big boys as well, but I like to get them their own little walks too. When it’s just them, I’m more focused on playing on the rocks, stumps and letting them eat natural forage than I would be with my big boys. This helps to develop their agility and gives them experience with natural forage and what gives them a gut ache and what doesn’t. I give them more individual love as well when we stop. The very important lesson they get at this age is goats walk fast and the leader (me) doesn’t wait for lolly-gaggers. Never wait for a slow goat if you are just walking them with no loads. They should easily be able to keep up with you. They will learn from young that if they stop to eat when we are walking, then they will get left behind. I never drive them to the point of heavy fatigue in year one. Remember you want to have them love their outings and only light conditioning is appropriate when in year one. I don’t run my little ones as you risk having them not enjoy the “heavy push.” I often get asked when is it safe to take a young packer on the trail and the answer is at three months old they will be ready to come along.
So now on to year one to two. These goats are now getting some size and they are ready for a kid pack. From 1 to 2 years of age this should never have any weight and only be loaded with “bulk.” You will begin to have the same focus on the trail and only step up your walking pace to be a “power walk.” I will not do any “running” ever, with packs on. The packs are only for walks. Same rules apply; never wait for a goat and focus on taking the “off the beaten path” over logs, rocks and take them through difficult terrain where they need to go under and over difficult obstacles. I do most of this, off trail, and I “look for some trouble.” This is a nice place to have your best adult along or the whole crew as the big ones know the “right path” and the little ones will try to follow their lead. One small note as well, if I have a goat that is lagging cause he’s more out of shape then the others or he just can’t keep up, I will “secretly” wait for him by slowing my pace, just a little, to get him caught back up without him knowing. You need to remember they need to know you are in control. Goats are frick’n smart and if you have a lazy goat he will begin setting the pace, for you. He needs to believe it was just “coincidence” that we slowed at the right time. The worst thing you can do is stop and call to him…he is now pulling the strings.
With year two and three pack goat conditioning is now stepping up to the big boy games and I begin training them with the adults. I still have them wear the kid packs and I am willing to put about 10% of their body wight on them now. Some giant packers will be ready for a saddle at this point and any 2 yr old that is over 170, I would just get a saddle for them. It’s important you get the adjustable one, as they will change over the next two years and you will want to refit them, as they grow. We are going for no load conditioning runs in the “off” season. Try to never let your goats get out of shape. A 2-3 mile piddle jog once a week is plenty to keep them in trail shape and it’s lighter on their joints than carrying loads. You will use the same program for year 3 to 4 year olds but you can now increase their loads (when just doing normal hiking) to 15% of their body weight and you will likely be getting a saddle for them if you haven’t already.
So in conclusion, you need to remember that a goat does not understand the “value” of fitness. Almost like our children think about fitness. They don’t get it, or really like it. You cannot bomb them into heavy fitness right out of the gate. You need to begin getting good at reading your individual goats and their exhaustion points. One or two goats will always be the consistent “weak link.” They are your key to knowing how hard you are pushing them all. The other thing to realize is the spring and winter are common times for goats to “overheat.” It’s critical for you to pay attention to not pushing your goats to the point of breaking, which for a goat is when they lay down while you are still trying to move. That is a “broken goat.” You don’t want to go there. In the winter and spring they still have their heavy coat on. You have to remember, for them, that is similar to you and I running in our “puffy coat.” We would have our tongues out too! Try to condition on cold days or mornings when they still have their winter coats on. Also, a goat that is panting is “kinda” hot or “kinda” out of breath or both, this is not a concern. A goat with his tough hanging out the side of his mouth panting is exhausted or near overheating…both of those conditions should warn you you need to slow down or stop so he doesn’t tip into “breaking.” Follow this schedule and you will keep their love of the trail and you will also keep your goats moving at a good pace on the trail. Pack goat fitness is a key to your love of your goats on the Trail. Believe me, dealing with a goat that is laying down and won’t move is absolutely awful when you are trying to get into a destination. Pack goat fitness is the key to a top level string. Marc