Goats are highly intelligent animals. They are as smart as dogs are. Anyone that has had a goat can attest to that. What I never see mentioned is how incredibly trainable goats are. In fact, my goats have proven much easier to teach new things to, even as adults, than my dogs. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but an old goat will have no problem. Especially if you have an animal cracker for her!
Let's start with the idea that bored goats are unhappy goats. Keeping your goats happy and engaged can help quite a bit. We try to give our goats some things to do and toys to play with. From stumps and teeter boards to rubble "mountains" we try to keep them occupied. One of things WeeMan loves making is simple apple strings in the fall. He gathers up fallen apples and drills holes in them (power tools are always fun) and then strings them on a piece of twine. The holes are large enough that the apples spin easily and goats have to really work to eat them. I try to complicate matters by tying them up high so it's harder but the one pictured WeeMan helped put up so it's a bit lower. The other benefit is that the goats can't get the entire apple at once so it helps prevent the possibility of choke. I do know folks that make "activity boards" for their goats. They get a nice bit of plywood and firmly attach random items for the goats to play with. A lot of these items are common things around the house or farm like old grain scoops or toddler toys.
I recently joined a few goat groups on Facebook and so many people have posted questions like "How do I feed my goats without getting trampled?" or "How do I prevent goats from rushing the gate when I'm trying to get through?". Apparently this poor goat owner repeatedly gets knocked down! Ugh! I would hate to have goats like that! A hobby farm like mine is a lot of work. A LOT of work! Seriously, it's so much work! But, for the most part, it's enjoyable work because everything here is pretty well mannered. Don't get me wrong, my goats are not perfect by any means. If I bring a bucket of grain into the pasture and shake it every single one will run to me and crowd around but no goat over 4 to 5 months old will jump on me. They might stand on their hind feet but those front feet won't come near me!
So, why won't my goats jump on me? Because they have been taught not to. Wow! Imagine that! I taught them the same as I would a dog. By raising my knee and pushing their chests sideways every time they tried along with a firm "DOWN" command. To prevent rushing, I used an equine "carrot stick" and bop their heads from the other side of the stall door. Not a hit, but an unpleasant bonk. Goats have seriously hard heads that are meant to take hits from other goats. Real hits, from large, horned heads with weight behind them. A bonk from a carrot stick is not going to hurt them. I know some of those out there reading this will be wincing in horror or even thinking I'm cruel but those would be the same people that are delighted with how well mannered my goats are while getting trampled at home. Really, it's worth it to train your goats!
Goats should be able to be easily led from one area to another with a collar or, at worst, a halter. For us, this a minimum requirement. All my goats can be handled even by LittleOne. He can get a doe out and get her on the milk stand by himself without anyone else getting out or escaping. Well, when he remembers to shut the stall door instead of just following the doe and starting to milk! He's quite proud of himself for learning to milk. It took a lot for his tiny hands to be able to squeeze a stream of milk and I'm quite proud of him too! I have had to have some long and serious talks with him about getting goats out "to go for a walk" because "she looked hungry" whenever he feels the whim! He could easily lead them around when he was 2, often stumbling along and using the goat to steady himself! I often found goats where they shouldn't be and my LittleShepherd playing among them.
I don't often have to find a sitter for my goats but when I do I always hear about how difficult they expected it to be. It is a bit complicated with all the dairy girls and grain rations and milking and separating kids overnight but every sitter has universally agreed that even when they aren't sure they know what's going on, the goats sure do! Routine helps more than I can tell you! A goat can learn a new routine in about 3 days. My goats are milked in their pecking order, starting from the top. When I open the stall door at milk time the queen comes out and the rest wait. They know their turn is coming. When it's time to separate kids at night they know it and get their last quick suck in before running to the kid pen. The does know they get grain on the stand and the kids know they have grain waiting in the kid pen. Keeping a consistent routine works!
MiniMe participates in the pack goat class at fair. She has had to teach her wether to navigate all kinds of obstacles in a calm and controlled manner. When MiniMe started training Laz she weighed around 70 pounds and he weighed around 250 pounds. If she could teach this enormous goat to walk through water and jump on platforms and walk a teeter board, the rest of us can teach our goats to lead!
I'm a firm believer in setting up every animal I have to be pleasant and easy to work with. Some are harder than others as they all do indeed, have their own minds. This is as much life insurance as I can give them. My heifers are halter trained and easy to handle, my dogs are relatively well mannered and obedient. So why shouldn't the goats be too? If I lost everything tomorrow (and we all know how fickle the winds of change can be) I think I could place every animal I have in a good home where they wouldn't be destined for slaughter or even an unpleasant burden on their new caretaker. I think it's my responsibility to do my very best by the critters in my care, not only with health, but also their happiness and long term well being.
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