Our family has owned dairy goats for 12 years now, and they are wonderful creatures. We bought our first two does for milking.
Like most people, we wanted to be able to supply our own fresh milk. Unfortunately, life soon presented us a bag of tricks, a few illnesses and assorted problems, making it difficult to continue our dream of a goat-milking farm. It was just too hard for us. We knew we had to quit milking, but we just couldn’t bear to part with our dear goats, which at this time numbered around 20. Then I came across a website dedicated to working harness goats, and I knew I had an answer for our situation. I discovered that drafting is a good occupation for wethers and retired does, and a great use for these intelligent animals.
I hand-raised each of our goats and knew each by name, so finding a useful purpose for them and a reason to keep them was important to me. We have a small farm with 15 acres on the central coast of California. For many years, we have grown our own food, vegetables and fruit, so we work in the gardens year round. When I discovered the information about harness goats on the Internet, I was immediately intrigued about the possibilities of having our goats help us with the work by pulling carts and sleds with tools or equipment needed. There was also the possibility of them helping with the actual fieldwork, such as discing the garden beds.
The first thing I had to do was find a harness for my goat. I could not find one to buy with sufficient breeching. Since our 15-acre farm is up and down hills (no flat land to speak of), it was necessary for me to use a harness with appropriate breeching so that a goat would not be overrun by the load going downhill. Because I could not find what I wanted, I made my own harness.
Next, I started training. Goats are very intelligent creatures, and they took to the training readily and willingly, seeming to enjoy our interaction and their own usefulness. I started off slowly, teaching them to walk with the harness on and learn the simple commands (get up, gee, haw, and whoa). My first piece of equipment was a sled we fabricated out of 2×4 lumber. A sled works great as the first piece of equipment because it does not run over the goat.
Goats can easily be trained to pull carts.
My first doe trained to pull the sled was Lulabell, a wonderful beige and brown doe with a large amount of common sense. She took to the sled with great ease and was soon on to the two-wheel cart.
I am very lucky to have a father around who is able to make all of my equipment and carts. He has built pony and horse carts for years, so making goat carts was not difficult for him.
As soon as Lulabell was trained to pull in harness, it was very easy to train the other goats. I would hitch them together in a three shafts arrangement. Goats are very quick to pick up the harness with another goat along side them, teaching them.
I have been working the goats in harness for eight years now. I love every minute of it. Our goats do all kinds of farm work as well as pull carts. They pull a small two-gang disc in the spring for the garden, and in the fall they disc the field for the winter wheat. The goats pull two cords of firewood out of the woods to the house, as well as skid logs for the sawmills. Goats are wonderful draft animals!
|Patty with Personality Plus|
By Bambi Iles
One of our best draft does was Patty. She was a character and a very good worker. Patty was a six-year-old black and white Nubian. She could be driven single or in pairs, and knew her commands very well. I often had little need for the reins when driving Patty, except for one day when I was driving down by the county road with her, pulling a single cart.
A lady stopped her car and got out by the fence to watch Patty at work. As soon as the lady said, "My, aren’t you pretty?" Patty stopped and displayed an attitude of "Oh, yes I am." Of course, with all the fluster, she immediately forgot all her driving commands—gee, haw, and get up.
Another time Patty was working in pairs with Heidi, anther Nubian doe. They were pulling our small two-gang disc, putting in seed for a winter cover crop. As they went around the field, Patty did not want to walk in the soft, just disced soil, so she was pushing Heidi over. When they stopped to rest, Heidi turned and gave Patty a whack with her horns as if to say, "Stop pushing me!" Patty did not push her any more after that.
On one round of that same field, Patty stepped on a last-season tomato. It squished up into her hoof and even though she shook it, it would not come off. Patty thought about giving it to Heidi, but she gave her a look that said, "Don’t you dare bring that over here to my side." And she didn’t. Now, every year we have plenty of volunteer tomatoes that we’ve named "Patty’s tomatoes." She was such a character, what a personality.