What do sheep trained in classical dressage, the Amish, and a big Nubian buck named Shockey have in common? Each helped Wendy Moore, the owner of Tiny Tinkers Farm in Bunkie, Louisiana, to become what she is today—an expert at building custom carts and training goats to pull them!
Eight years ago, Moore lived in Michigan. Spending time with her Amish friends there led to a familiarity with driving mule teams. One day, it occurred to her to try out the same training methods—on her sheep! Her technique was so successful that one of her cart-pulling sheep decided to take his performance to the next level. One morning, Moore pulled on his lines, but instead of simply walking forward, he executed a perfect capriole, leaping into the air and kicking out his hind legs! Apparently, her animals enjoyed the training just as much as she did.
David Benjamin works with his parents to train wethers to pull carts.
Moore moved to Louisiana and decided to trade her flock of sheep for a herd of Nubian goats. One of those goats, a buck named Shockey was, as Moore put it, an "Einstein of the goat world." He seemed to know intuitively what she wanted him to do and hardly needed much formal training at all. Not every goat takes so easily to cart-driving, however. Moore learned from experience that it was possible to train any goat, but, while some hand-raised goats can master the skill in a matter of weeks, other goats, especially dam-reared ones, take several months to learn.
The secret to Moore’s training method is patience. When people bring their goats to her for training, she takes it one small step at a time, stopping each day’s lesson once one simple skill has been mastered. She said one of the biggest mistakes a beginner can make is to hook a green goat up to a cart during his first lesson. Pulling the cart should actually be the last step in a long series of exercises intended to desensitize the goat to both the sensation and the noise of driving.
The first training session is really more of a test to see how the goat reacts to halter pressure. Moore puts a bitless halter on the goat, attaches two long leashes or pieces of rope, gets behind the goat, and watches to see how he reacts. If he starts walking forward, that’s a good sign, and will cut several lessons from the training regimen! If, however, he just turns his head around and looks quizzically at her, Moore moves on to the next baby step: he gets a rope around his belly, and an additional escort—someone else walks in front of him to lead the way, while Moore brings up the rear.
Wendy Moore is an expert at building colorful custom goat carts.
Once a goat understands what is expected of him, the next step is getting him used to the traces. Moore attaches two pieces of PVC pipe and has the goat drag them around until he is comfortable with this new sensation. Upon completion of this lesson, she ties a little red wagon—or anything that causes a racket when pulled—to a lead, and has the goat pull it behind him to desensitize him to the noise of a cart.
Now, and only now, the cart comes into play. At first, the goat does not actually pull it—Moore walks it alongside him, so that he has a chance to get used to it. Next, she snaps the cart on, but maintains the slow and steady pace of training. Rather than popping children in the cart and letting them try it out alone at this point, Moore stays on as ground handler. This way, she can intervene in case of emergency.
If the goat is doing well, Wendy cuts him loose with the cart, but in an enclosed area, so that if he suddenly decides to put his new talents to good use and take a road trip, he won’t get very far. Finally, she takes him out on the road, to get him used to traffic noises. By the time Moore finishes training a goat, he can pull a cart proudly in a parade, ignoring cars, screaming crowds, and even gunshots!
Throughout this entire training process, verbal commands are used. In this way, Moore can let even a toddler drive a cart, and still direct the goat safely from the side. The verbal cues Moore uses are those she learned from the Amish, but any words will do, as long as they are used consistently. "Step up!" tells her goat to start walking, while "Whoa!" or "Hold!" lets him know it’s time to stop. "Gee" means turn right, and "Haw" means left. Moore even teaches her goats to slide sideways when she repeats "Come gee, come gee, come gee!" or "Come haw, come haw!" over and over again. Training a goat is something that anyone can do, she says, as long as the trainer is patient and takes his or her time.
But why take the time and expend the effort to train a goat to drive carts? What practical benefits does it hold for a dairy goat farmer? One of Moore’s goals is to make people aware of other uses for wethers, or any goat that would otherwise be culled. Driving goats can pull carts in parades as farm advertisement. They can work as pack animals, accompanying hikers, help pull loads around the farm, or even take children for rides at petting zoos or birthday parties. Finally, they can serve as a great alternative to video games or tv for children or grandchildren!
On their farm in Louisiana, Moore, her husband, and her eight-year-old stepson, David Benjamin, all work together to train goats and build beautiful, sturdy custom carts for them to pull.
For training tips and more advice from Moore, join her Yahoo! Group.