9/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Laurie Savage Maryland Correspondent
FREDERICK, Md. — Packgoats are gaining popularity in Frederick County. The companion animals allow 4-H members to combine their love of the outdoors with their love of animals as they hit the trails together.
Packgoating involves placing a saddle and packs on a goat and going for a hike. Trained packgoats are gentle athletes and can carry up to 25 percent of their body weight, according to a program brochure.
Club leader Brian Talbert said the Frederick County 4-H Packgoat Club and a corresponding show have operated for eight years. The 13 current members develop trail skills with their goats throughout the year, then bring them to the show to evaluate how their goats perform.
The goats demonstrated their ability to climb hurdles, traverse a balance beam and weave around poles during the 4-H packgoat show Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Great Frederick Fair. Exhibitors and goats alike were cheered on by a captivated audience.
The show features two events, a competitive obstacle course for the members and their goats, and a spectator aspect.
“We talk about the obstacles, then we invite the audience to run the obstacles,” Talbert said.
Each obstacle represents and demonstrates a condition on the trail. The balance beam is like a log on the trail, and a stand simulates a rock. Climbing over the A-frame allows the goats to demonstrate their footing and agility skills.
Weaving through poles is an interesting facet of the course, Talbert said, as goats know their own girth until a pack is placed on their backs. Dried cornstalks tempt goats, but exhibitors must maneuver them through and teach goats, “Don’t stop and nibble,” he said.
The most difficult part of the course for the goats is the water-filled pool.
“Kids spend a lot of time acclimating them to the water,” Talbert said.
Besides the show, club members hit the trail with their packgoats every two weeks, he said. They go on day hikes and, several times a year, larger outings in more remote areas.
Camping skills, such as tying knots, and animal husbandry topics, such as hoof trimming, are covered during the outings.
“Leave no trace is a big part of it,” Talbert said, noting participants are taught to ensure they leave trails as they found them.
Lyndsey Mullen, 17, said any goat can be trained to be a packgoat, but larger ones, such as Saanens, are better suited to carrying loads.
She has eight goats and uses five for packgoating purposes. She leases some to other 4-H’ers and learned about the project from other students at her charter school.
“It was the perfect excuse to get another animal,” the Walkersville resident said, adding the project built on her love for hiking, camping and fishing.
Allison Jones, 12, of Adamstown, said she is leasing a goat this year.
“My mom told me about the project, and I thought it would be cool,” she said. “I’m a big animal lover.”
She went to the first meeting to pick up information on the project, which led her all the way to taking first place with a near-perfect score in the show’s novice class, in which both the exhibitor and the goat are new to the ring.
Rhiannon Talbert, 14, the leader’s daughter and most veteran member of the club, said she works with her goats nearly every day and has showed them for about six years.
One of her goats came all the way from Oregon and is bred for packgoating, but many of the goats owned by members are rescue goats.
A favorite activity of the club is performing trail cleanups, she said. Goats carry trash receptacles on their backs to assist with the job. During a recent outing on the C&O Canal, 75 pounds of trash were removed.
“The cool thing about our club is that it brings together different goats and different people,” the Lewistown resident said. “It brings people together to have a good time. We spend time outdoors cleaning up and doing community service.”
For more information, e-mail 4hpackgoats<\@>gmail.com or visit www.4hpackgoats.org.