Distinctly Montana Magazine

Distinctly Montana Fall 2020

Distinctly Montana Magazine

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D I S T I N C T L Y M O N T A N A M A G A Z I N E • F A L L 2 0 2 0 52 by MICHAEL RAETHER T HE FOREST ROAD I WAS ASCENDING MADE A FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE TWO-TRACK LOOK LIKE AN INTERSTATE HIGHWAY. Bouncing along behind my truck was a half-ton trailer. Bouncing along within the trailer was my uncomplaining pack goat, Grover. Our destination was a cross-country hike to a mountain lake in Northwest Montana. Because of my granny-gear crawl over the bumps and bruises of the forest road, I was keeping a close eye on my side mirrors, alert to any "traffic" that might accumulate behind me. Sure enough, a pick up truck soon appeared. As soon as I could I pulled over to let him by. To my surprise it was a USDA Forest Service vehicle and the driver stopped beside me. He rolled down his window and smiled. Don't GET your GOAT Let Them "I gotta ask," he said. "What's with the goat?" "His name is Grover, and he's my pack goat." The driver greeted this news with widened eyes and faded smile. "What the heck is a pack goat?" he asked. "Silly, it's a goat that carries my stuff so I don't have to." But a pack goat is more than a beast of burden. For an aging hiker, it's assistance for complaining knees that just won't give up the backcountry. Grover has accompanied me on many hunting and backpacking trips, extending my range and allowing me to carry more stuff. In the days B.G. (Before Grover), I'd begrudge every ounce that went into my pack and on my back. Now all that stuff goes on Grover's back—or rather, in his panniers and then on his back. Many people have a hard time visualizing goats as pack animals. But then again, when most people think of goats, the image that comes to mind is one of those cute little miniature goats sometimes kept as pets. But decent-size pack goats will go 150 to 225 pounds, and can carry up to 25% of their body weight. Grover tips the scales at 160, which means he can pack up to 40 pounds. There are a number of breeds that make good pack goats, due to their size and personality. Among the best are Toggenburgs, Alpines, and Saanans. Grover is a Saanan. Saanans originated in the Swiss Alps, so they're good to 20 below which means keeping them alive through a harsh Montana winter is doable. Stay away from Nubians: although they're stocky, broad-backed and tough, they're also neurotic. In addition to size, there's another misconception about goats. When some people think of goats, they think of their rather, ahem, odiferous

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