Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Training With Pack Saddle



















Spring finally sprung. The Black Hills Pack Goats will begin their first year of real load bearing services this summer. Time to break out the saddle and start getting the boys used to it. They'll need to become familiar with the straps and cinch, the extra weight, and the new clearances when negotiating thickets. The other three saddles are still being made out of state. The pack panniers are at an embroidery shop to apply custom logo's on the bags. But for now, we just went out for a late afternoon spring hike. We started with the lead goat, Custer, to set the example. He is the smartest and most adventurous. Custer handled his saddle just fine. Notice in these pic's how the other goats accept Custer as their leader.






Sorry about Google insisting on randomizing and reversing the photo sequences.



Sidebar: We stopped on the hike for refreshments. While we were milling about, another hiker, a stranger, came our way with three dogs. (Dogs are the most common enemy of goats.) Custer was great. He assumed his proper role of herd protector and kept himself between the other goats and the hiker and his dogs as they passed by. Sylvan, in his role of Safety Warden dropped back to define a rear exit, in the ready to lead a retreat if needed, while uttering warning alerts to the others to keep their adrenline up. Harney and Sturgis huddled with me between Custer and Sylvan. Our herd is in order. I was greatly proud of Custer for his selfless heroism.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Pack Goats' First Search and Rescue (SAR)



Well. It happened.

We got the call.

But never new it would be one of our own.


Two days ago in the middle of a four mile pack goat training hike in to the back country up on the ridge, we were abandoned by Good-eye the Cat*. Ka-poof. She just wandered off. (Yeah, we know...a cat on a four mile(!) training hike? Well let me tell ya, nobody makes'em scamper along with us.) (*Her twin sister has a bad eye).

Anyway, Good-eye just walked off-trail and would not be coaxed to rejoin all the rest of us. (Maybe not really all the rest of us. The chickens are only 8 weeks old so they are not yet allowed to go on the pack goat training hikes.) It was 2 miles out and 2 miles back. Either way back home it's a long way.

We waited and hoped for two days. No Good-eye kitty. A hundred stolen glances out the back window up in the forest toward the ridge. No kitty. Checking during the night for Good-eye at the back door. Calling for kitty in the barn at meal time. No kitty.

Then today there was forecast four days of snow and drizzle. "Up to 1-2 feet of snow by tomorrow afternoon."

Black Hills Pack Goats to the
rescue!

I grabbed my snowshoes, gators, overnight emergency pack, extra water and dry clothes, and treats for the goats. And a can of tuna and thermos of warm water in case kitty would be too scared to come to me. If we even find her. It's a two-million acre forest. I took a large fanny pack to put her in, in case she would be too cold and scared to be held while hiking back. If we do find her, she will be wet, cold, scared and tired after two days out there with the Really-Big Cats (mountain lions).


C'mon Boys, we got a job to do!

Up to the high ridge we trudged. Through deeper and deeper snow. Strong winds. White-out. The goats sensed we were on a mission. Like they say: "This is not a test." Each time I stopped, the goats stood solid and silent while I called, then we all listened for a meow. We did that 25 times. When we got within a quarter mile of last-seen kitty two days ago we stopped for a break. Better to feed and treat the goats now, cause we could be in for a chase through the woods any time.

As I stopped to unload the pack and open goat treats, all four goats went dead still. Not like them to be frozen stiff while treats are coming. All four goats are staring at something far off in the woods. Then Sylvan (the herd sentinel) uttered that familiar sound they make to alert the others when "one of us" approaches. Way off in the distance in the dense woods he saw Good-eye! The other three goats remained on point and making a choir of the same "one of us is near" sound.


I grabbed the open can of tuna and ran, jumped over deadfall tree trunks, dodging eye-level limbs. When I got close enough I lobbed some over to Good-eye. She took it. I could see she was soaking wet as if just from a bath. She was afraid of all of us. But after two days of cold, wet hunger, the tuna prevailed. I moved slowly to her, stroked her fur twice, said "Hi kitty-kitty. We're going to take you home." She tried to run away. Time for tough love. I grabbed her firmly and jammed her writhing body, with claws flying, in to the fanny pack. "Kitty, better alive and home, than trying to explain it to you now. I'll explain later. Let's get you home."

We rushed the two miles back home through the snow and steep, slippery trails. Goats never did get their water and treats. But they knew we had to get that puss back to good food, safe environs and warm bed. That cat was mad as a .... wet cold, wet, scared, hungry cat. Now I know where that expression "cat in the bag" came from. Ever try to juggle a pin cushion with all the pins stuck in backwards?

Back at the barn I zipped open the fanny pack next to where Good-eye normally eats. I had staged some fresh food before we left, just in case. Wow. That cat was hungry! She is now sleeping soundly in her own bed.

Way to go boys. You did it! You four Black Hills Pack Goats have pulled off your first successful Search and Rescue.