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Traveling With Goats

By Nancy Nickel

On many occasions we have found it necessary to travel long distances with dairy goats. When a trip involves several overnight stays there are unusual qualifications that make the motel lodgings more convenient. Parking, water pails, pasteurizing, packing, and feeding problems are all important considerations when taking goats on a road trip.

Parking needs are a priority on goat-trips. We do not seek out the high-rise hotel style accommodations with swimming pools and fitness rooms that we like to use when we travel for pleasure. Instead, we hunt for the motel that will be willing to cater to our truck and trailer. Traveling with a 24-foot trailer and a crew cab pickup truck makes us much more like the Big Rigs than simple passenger vehicles. We require a parking area where we can pull in and get out without backing into busy streets. We look for motels where there is a drive all around the building, or even more ideal—a large lot directly adjacent where we can park and carry on chore activities with no disturbance to other guests.

We always ask politely if it will be a problem to park our trailer and do our goat chores in the parking area. Many motels will direct those who ask to an outside water source. They may ask that milking be done on a gravel area, or not to exercise the goats on the concrete apron around the building. What ever the wishes are, we always carry a push broom to tidy up any evidence of “country life.”

A “Mom and Pop” establishment where the rooms open right out to the sidewalk and parking area is my ideal. It makes me feel a lot better if I can look out and see the trailer. Ground floor accommodations certainly shorten the time it takes to feed and water. Being able to walk right outside with the kid milk and buckets of water saves tracking up the establishment as well. I don’t recall ever being refused lodging as a goat-traveler while checking in to one of these older, smaller motels. We have been unwelcome at rest areas along the highway, however, and some even post signs allowing dog walking but not unloading or exercising large animals.

One of the most tedious tasks, when on the move with dairy goats, is carrying water to stock in 10-quart pails when we stop. However, this size pail is easily lifted in and out of a bathtub for filling. It is also the pail the goats are expecting to see with water. We give warm water whenever we can as the heating seems to drive out some of the chlorination. In areas where the chlorine is especially evident, filling buckets the night before and letting them stand will allow some of this odor to evaporate. As a last resort additives to mask flavor can be used. Powdered tea, molasses or lemonade flavoring are accepted quite readily, however there is a possibility that this strange mix can upset the already touchy rumen. We never leave full buckets of water in the trailer when we are moving. It seems that the goats do not prefer to drink unless they are standing still, and a bucket left in an 8′ x 12′ area with a half dozen does can become quite a nasty clean-up job when the next chore time comes.

Milking, pasteurizing for kids, watering and feeding must all go on in a normal manner and on the usual time schedule. Convenience and speed of operation is planned for in the packing. We put the water buckets in a cloth bag to keep them together and to prevent a sharp wind from blowing them out of the back of the truck. Assuming that we have the three rooms in the trailer full of stock, we carry our folding chairs and milk stands in the back of the truck also. In addition to this, the feed is measured out into several five-gallon buckets with color-coded screw-on lids. These lids are available for purchase in several colors and make any three- or five-gallon industrial style bucket a safe and watertight container. The size of the feed bucket makes it less of a strain to hoist it in and out of the truck and they are easily stowed up in the nose of the trailer or on a shelf when they are empty.

Bedding the trailer for a long trip is different than bedding for a three or four-hour ride. The first layer in the trailer is a liberal sprinkling of baking soda. This keeps the odors down. We attract attention wherever we stop and it is our hope that we do not contribute to the common belief that goats are smelly, dirty animals. In addition to this, less odor draws fewer flies. The second layer is a thick layer of kiln dried wood chips for absorbency. Lastly we bed with a layer of straw which keeps the animals from temptation to eat the wood chips while it also keeps the chips from flying around when we are in motion.

A shovel and a pitchfork are necessary items in case of rain and the bedding needs to be changed mid-trip.

Extra bedding and hay is stored on the removable shelves we have built for the trailer. Basket mangers are kept full of at least two different kinds of hay. It is not unusual for goats that are on the road for extended periods of hours, or a couple of overnight camp-outs, to refuse rich alfalfa hay. Orchard grass that has been put up in a green and tender stage is always welcomed. Another trick is to purchase mixed grass hay that has been made early in the season, before the grasses have gone to seed. We like to buy grass that has been baled out of a field’s waterway, if possible. We save these bales for trips and shows. This hay will usually have mixed broadleaf weeds in it that the goats relish when the need for variety strikes them. Goats that have traveled before learn to eat hay going down the road at 70 miles an hour and will teach the others to do the same.

They will make milk while traveling, which is saved and pasteurized for feeding to the kids we might be traveling with. We take a pail of Land O Lakes milk replacer and feed it half and half with the fresh pasteurized goat milk. This means that we can feed the pasteurized milk sooner as we mix in the replacer with ice and water until 110°F is reached. Also it is a good thing to not depend on the traveling does to make as much milk as they might at home, so the extra milk added from the replacer is a safeguard that all kids are adequately fed. Tiny kids needing a mid day feeding can be fed cold milk from a cooler mixed with hot replacer to take the chill off. We have been known to prevail upon truck stop owners for the use of the microwave to heat a bottle for the “baby.” There are always smiles when they see the black nipple and find out that the baby has long floppy ears!

Tack for a long trip is packed in big plastic totes. It is organized according to purpose and not mixed to save space. The kid-feeding box has only the tools of that chore. A pasteurizer, nipple jugs or a nipple bucket, scoop for milk, funnel, stirring spoon, measuring cups, paper towels, dish detergent, bottle brush, three Brillo pads for cleaning the pasteurizer each morning and night, and two or three bath towels from home. This box would also hold Pepto-Bismol, Sulfa Trimeth, Albon, the antitoxin for clostridium, Decox-M, and maybe a probiotic.

The milker’s box contains udder wash and the bucket to mix it, paper towels, teat spray, stainless steel milk pails, plus any first aid that might be useful for the adults. Under the seat in the front of the truck we have always carried a tie chain in case there becomes reason when all the goats would need to be off-loaded. Extra collars and clips round out the emergency items.

When packing these totes in the rear of the truck, we use a couple of bungee cords to secure the lids. It is amazing what the wind can accomplish in the bed of a pickup! These things are stowed in the third bay of the trailer if we have just two sections of animals. In addition to this welcome storage, we make a tidy milk room that accommodates a milk stand, grain storage, and the kid supplies neatly under wraps.

We do not usually unload the goats for exercise when we travel. There is a great concern about running into stray dogs, poisonous plants, or plant life that has been sprayed with hazardous chemicals. It does not seem to affect the goats to be contained in the trailer for a few days as long as there is ample room for them to lie down. If asked how they liked to travel, I feel certain they would tell say that as long as the mangers are kept full, and the grain is like the home mix, they are happy to be wherever their people take them.

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