By Daisy Pieraldi
Goat herders are a paradox of sorts. Though they engage in the pastoral task of leading their goats to forage, yet as herders, they are not themselves herded into the conventional practice of confinement as a means of animal husbandry.
“Anyone who has the care of goats soon grows to realize that the relationship between the goatherd and his flock is a great deal more personal, more intimate, and more delicate than is usual in the farmyard.” — David MacKenzie, Goat Husbandry
Herding is essentially goat walking and involves implementing key training principles that enable production and dairy herds, packers, and pet owners to take their goats out of full-time confinement. Reaping the benefits of the earth enables goats to perform as assistive land stewards. Where the caprines’ true abilities show. This is pastoral husbandry. The superior form of herd and land management producing the symbiotic results of regeneration to both animal and land.
Goat herding, when mentioned, tends to bring on an idea of long, arduous days on trails far, far away from home. Although that is the form of classical pastoral husbandry, and yes, many modern herders tend their herds on trails and brush clearing jobs that may be far from home. However, this perception has caused many to forego the possibility of ever walking their goats. Presuming they will have to spend their entire day doing nothing else but walking goats. Another common misconception is that, to engage in pastoral goat herding, one must have a goat grazing business, hundreds of goats, or related goat packing excursions geared for hunting.
However, one can practice pastoral husbandry on a smaller scale, such as a smaller time frame and even tiny herds of just two goats. I use a flexible system that involves herding my goats into large wooded areas every other day for an hour or two of foraging. The rest of the time, they essentially walk themselves out of the paddock and onto the field. Returning later, when I call for them, when they are ready to be bedded in for the night. My herd has been trained to do both. Thus, we maximize the benefit of both grazing and herding practices. Providing me flexibility of time. Additionally, the goats still get plenty of time for their self-guided pursuits into Goatlandia.
The exodus out of the cities and onto land has not slowed, and the interest in goats has escalated. Along with this boom in goat-keeping comes the rediscovery of goat herding. A practice that never really ceased in foreign countries and numerous cultures.
However, in the U.S., goat herding waned and practically disappeared. Until recently, having garnered the eye of thousands desiring to raise goats in nature and with nature.
According to the Herding Academy, herders are becoming the most sought-after experts in husbandry, for land and herd management. Someone has taken notice of the importance of the role of herding animals in nature. Almost all national parks and wildlife reserves worldwide already suffer from the same symptoms of degradation due to current conventional agri- and conservationist paradigms. South Africa is ahead of the world in changing that.
Regardless of the lifestyle or environment, I am addressing the common denominator, which is the goat’s inherent make-up. Their design and instinctive quality that every goat has is to be on land, among the trees and the woods. The most vivacious specimens are those nurtured with the wholesome ability to express the innate goat yet still be a productive member of your family or herd. Whether urban or provincial, their resilient nature is well adapted to assisting their goat herders, i.e., their companion human(s), in nature and with nature.
“Far from a nostalgic glimpse into a romanticized lifestyle, pastoral husbandry is the sophisticated art and tangible skills set that has an application in modern, North American range/livestock management. The traditional herding of the animals is more fitting to many landscapes than even the most progressive rotational grazing and moveable fencing systems employed today. Fences can’t do what a knowledgeable herder can to optimize grazing….in ways that stimulate appetite. We should rekindle our relationships with livestock and landscape rather than relying on fences as livestock-sitters.” — Fred Provenza, The Art and Science of Shepherding
Train Up A Goat in the Way It Should Go
Goat walking, goat herding, pastoralism, pastoral husbandry are all terms naming a process. Achieved with consistent training. Goats are unique creatures; unlike cattle, they are not driven. Walking alongside or among one’s hoofed companions is where the relationship between goat herder and his goat establishes. Developed into one of trust, and not threat
Kids born and raised into a goat family, where herding is an essential part of daily life, quickly learn the ropes on the field and trail. They make excellent teachers for their offspring and valuable herd members to any goat keeper wanting to start a herd with goats already hardened and trained for the field.
But I must clarify that goats are not like dogs, horses, sheep, cows, or family cats. Though they share some behavioral and cognitive similarities with some of these other species, there are clear differences one must keep in mind when working with goats. Some of their traits we will discuss here.
If you’ve never herded goats, please note the process of goat walking does not come in a few quick steps. Though goats are highly intelligent, capable of learning a routine in as little as two days, practical knowledge is essential to introducing goats to the field and trail.
When I train, I break down the process into four branches, which each would easily take up an entire article.
- Herd Dynamics
The key in all of these factors is the herder. Herding is a team effort. Whether one is present or not, a herd’s ability to go out into the field or trail and return involves a leader’s role at some point in the process. That leader is either a herder like you or me or the lead matriarch or sire in the herd or a livestock guardian dog.
Your attitude most definitely impacts interaction with your goats. If you are rushed, upset, anxious, brutish, loud, sick etc., or have any overall bad disposition. This is all negative energy sensed by the goats, and it will severely cripple communication and cause stress. One may find it manageable to work with goats under these stressful conditions when in the barn or paddock. But I assure you, stressed goats in the field or on trails are not a pleasant experience. Furthermore, passing on the bad vibe to any of the kids growing up.
We can best describe our work as goat herders as connecting our goats with positive action, channeling their energy into what they do best — to assist as stewards of the land. Goats are communal creatures. Your attitude has a tremendous impact on the outcome of their responses to your calls and leads. The bond with the herder under these circumstances is profound.
Goat walking is an immersion in the pursuit of nourishment. Your connection to the soil and with the whole of nature. Not meant to be a five-minute engagement. Like a walk to the closest tree, for a few nibbles on a weed or two, then back to the barn. Wink wink.
What I discovered about goat herding is what I term as “goat herder bonding.” Stemming from changes to my life, directly related to time spent with my herd. A deep sense of belonging, when we living beings, mutually thrive with our goats and the land. If I were to sum up how pastoral husbandry has impacted my being, that would be learning how to “dwell.” A discovery my herd had a leading role in. All along, they were herding me.
Daisy is an accomplished photographer, website, and business branding designer. When not designing, her days are spent herding the family dairy goats through woodlands and prairies of the Midwest, where she lives. Her latest pursuit is engaged in the research and restoration of pastoral goat husbandry, via blogging, online coaching, the website goatyourland.com and the growing international goating herding community at Goat Your Land Facebook group.
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.