What are the key points and challenges?
It is not always easy to train a goat to work. It depends on two main things, one is how much time you can put into it and the other, how quick the animal’s responses are to something that is totally different and alien to its normal way of life. The most important requirement from you is patience, the second is time. Training is an ongoing process and must be consistent and continuous.
You must always remember a goat is a herd animal. Its instinct is to follow, to browse, to lie down and to cud whenever it wishes. You are going to ask it to carry out activities when you wish, and obey you when you want it to.
With patience and understanding goats can be trained to harness and when they know what is wanted of them, they love pleasing you.
To progress to driving from having your goat respond to basic commands when being led will give you a great deal of satisfaction, a wonderful feeling of rapport with your goat, but will demand even more time, patience and skill.
You will need to regard your own skill as being something you will enjoy developing.
Which breed of goat is best?
When it comes to choosing a breed to train for harness, all goat breeds (except perhaps the Bagot) are capable of working. This includes Pygmies, English, Angoras, all the dairy breeds and cross breeds of any of them. Some of each breed take to it more easily than others but all will eventually train. Good temperament and soundness are important. Choose the goat who, for one reason or another pleases you most, e.g. a rescue goat, or a goat from your own herd, it really does not matter.
Which sex of goat is best for harnessing?
Both sexes of goats are used and it is your personal preference.A female following her natural course of life will come in season, this usually makes her a little stroppy and difficult to handle. You may decide to mate her and let her have kids and give milk. During her pregnancy she could not be used in harness. When she kids, she will have a large udder and much of her energy will be taken in producing milk, also if the harness has breaching this will cut across the udder. A non-breeder could easily be used but you would still have the stroppiness when she was in season. The female is very strong however, although in most cases smaller than the male.The entire male can be a large animal but has many disadvantages: (a) he can be very difficult to handle; (b) he would disturb the female goats;(c) his aroma would be most unpleasant. Reasons (b) and (c) would prohibit you from any shows.The castrate is the most suitable for harness work. He is usually larger and much easier to handle and it is a wonderful use for a male goat who would normally have to be put down or else eat his head off doing nothing. Some males have been successfully castrated after serving a few years at stud and have been perfect for harness work.
How much can a goat pull or carry?
A goat should only be asked to pull a maximum of one and half times its own weight, so the vehicles should be as light as possible. A pack goat in good condition can carry up to 25% of its body weight if the load is well distributed.
What type of vehicle is best?
When we put a vehicle to a goat there are many things to take into consideration and all are concerned with the welfare of the goat.
If it is a two wheeled vehicle then the balance is important. The shafts should ‘float in the tugs’ so there is a minimum of weight on the goat’s back. A four wheeled vehicle places no weight on the goat’s back but it has the extra friction of two more wheels. The cart should be the right size for the goat.
Types of vehicle vary from a little two wheel runabout to replicas of vehicles used by the horse fraternity. Harness Goat Society members get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from constructing their own vehicles. It can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, to put a goat to harness.
When and how do I start training my goat?
As soon as you acquire your goat, training can begin.
Start with the basics: walking on a lead. Taking it for a walk on a lead, is training. Use the commands you will be using when the goat is old enough for work. i.e. “walk on” when you move off. It is surprising how quickly it will learn. Also “whoa” when you stop. If you always do this, the goat will learn to listen to your voice.
Try to always walk with your goat’s shoulder level with your leg.
As the goat gets older, then you can go on to other training exercises, the same as a child does at school. Get your young goat used to all the unusual and noisy things it is likely to meet on the roads or at shows. Strange dogs, traffic, bands, running and playing children, the list is endless.
As the goat gets to know you, its confidence will grow and eventually it will automatically accept everything that goes on around it even if it has never seen it before.
An easy way to start training to harness for the beginner is a ‘travois’ which can be made by just using two broom handles, a canvas feed bag and some baling twine. This is all that is required to construct this valuable training aid. The Red Indians in America
used them to carry their sick, elderly and wounded. You can use it for fetching fire wood or carrying branches.
What is the best sort of harness?
Harness can be either webbing or leather – both have advantages and disadvantages. Cost wise, webbing is much cheaper and cleaning is so much easier as it can be washed. Leather looks better and is more authentic but some goats are certainly tempted to chew at the loose ends.
Look in the Gallery for details.
How are harness goats affected by Government movement controls?
Harness goat identification and movement is laid down by the Government Agencies (e.g. DEFRA. in England).
The most recent edition of the rules can be obtained from a link on the DEFRA website. This reference is useful for a wide range of information e.g. approved tag manufacturers.
It is important to keep up to date with changes in the law.
Given the Regulations apply to all goats, there have been some effects for harness goat keepers that have forced adjustments.
Recent changes to the regulations require a licence to take any goat on the public highways (this includes bridleways and green lanes).
Apply to your local DEFRA Animal Health Office for a licence to regularly exercise your goats on a designated route close to your home.
If you wish to take your goats to an event where no other livestock are to be present, you will need a simple permit which dis-applies the 6-day standstill regulations. Any event that has livestock from various holdings will need a full licence.
If in doubt contact your local AHO.
How do I find out more?
If you study the photos in our Gallery you will see examples of different breeds of goats in harness. Various carts and turnouts in different circumstances are shown too; some are at shows, some obviously not. The photos have been selected to help you find something that appeals to you. All of the pictures are of the “Click to make bigger” type, then use the “Back” control on your browser to return to the gallery page. Enjoy!
Although looking at photos is a start, it is much better to speak to people and/or visit them. Remember there is always someone in the Harness Goat Society who you can contact, including Harness Goat Society Area Representatives willing to assist you in any way.
Members get together in their own areas to practice and help each other to train, make harness and build carts.
By becoming a member of the Harness Goat Society you will have the option of meeting other members, and asking lots of questions before you acquire either a goat, cart or harness.
The Society provides a magazine which is published quarterly and contains a wide variety of articles and photographs on all aspects of goat driving.
It can be as expensive or as cheap as you want, to put a goat to harness.