The Secret Life of a Goat Caddy
What are goats used for on a golf course in Oregon?
In the mountains of Oregon, 150 young goats applied to a rigorous training program for a job that promised to rescue them from the dead-end restaurant service they were born into. Four of those goats passed the class with flying colors and proved to the world they could make it as a goat caddy.
“The goats actually came to us with the idea.” Colby Marshall, VP of Livestock and Guest Services at Silvies Valley Ranch said, “They were asking for different career opportunities, and for good reason … there not a lot of career advancement for an American Range Goat working in the restaurant program. As a responsible, equal opportunity employer, Silvies listened to their ideas and helped developed this new career path for them.”
The pay is not great; they truly work for peanuts, but the benefits are fantastic. Their medical and dental package includes a weekly checkup by their veterinarian and their retirement package is even better. Each caddy will be eligible to retire at the age of eight and live out the rest of his or her life as a pet to a retired golfer. To top it off, they get their own caddyshack.
Goats apply for the Silvies Valley Ranch goat caddy program at the age of six months. Ranch team members charged with caring for the herd of meat goats select kids for the program based on personality. The friendliest goats will then carry a herder’s lunch and a pack of peanuts for several days. Not being bothered by the pack is not enough. To go on to the goat training program a kid must love the pack and proudly show it off to the other goats. During the goat training period, the goats receive the best nutrition possible and walk six miles a day to develop stamina. They also climb numerous rocks to develop good hoof-eye coordination.
- Bruce LeGoat is 4 years old. With three years of training under his cinch, he leads as Caddy Master.
- Mike LeChevon, also 4 years old, has been friends with Bruce since kid-hood. Despite his name, he doesn’t like to talk about the many delectable chevon dishes available in the resort dining room. Mike serves as Caddy Captain.
- Peanut LeGoat is Bruce’s 2-year-old nephew. When he was younger, he was Reserve Champion Market Goat at the Harney County Fair. This new career not only allows him to stay close to his favorite uncle, but is healthier, less stressful, and has extended his life expectancy.
- Runabout LeDoe, a year-and-a-half doeling, is still in training. Her trainer expects her to graduate at the top of her class (simple, as she’s the only one in the class) and become the first female goat caddy in the world.
“These goats love the work they do. Our goats, Bruce, Mike, Peanut, and Runabout, were all selected because of their social natures,” says Colby. “They love interacting with guests. The goats really have unique personalities, and we love to see them ‘kid around!'”
Although goats can carry more than 20 percent of their body weight, Silvies caddies never carry more than 15 percent. Their custom built packs carry up to six clubs, a dozen golf balls, golf tees, and six cans of liquid refreshment along with a pouch of peanuts. They prefer salted peanuts still in the shell. In fact, they seem to like the shell better than the actual peanut.
Bruce, Mike, Peanut, and Roundabout work six hours a day, three to four days a week with 20-to-30-minute breaks between rounds. When not working, they lounge in their caddyshack by the clubhouse waiting to be called out. In addition to their caddy duties, these goats help out with weed control, fertilization, and hospitality. They speak fluent gopher and have convinced the local gophers to stay out of their caddyshack without having to resort to poison or explosives. At night they sleep in the stable down the hall from the horses. Guests can visit and pet them until curfew at 11:00pm.
Goats only caddy for one of the courses at The Retreat and Links at Silvies Valley Ranch. McVeigh’s Gauntlet Course is a seven-hole challenge course carved into a razorback mountain.
This steep challenging course is named after Myles McVeigh, an early pioneer who homesteaded in the Silvies Valley. The course offers little forgiveness for errant shots. It is located on a plot of land that varies too much to accommodate full-length golf holes. As a result, the layout’s five par 3’s all feature greens that are essentially islands in the surrounding sagebrush. According to course architect Dan Hixson, “The course will challenge even the best golfers with its difficulty and visual intimidation. The price to pay for missing the green is a ball in the sage.” Because of the terrain, the course cannot accommodate motorized golf carts. Who better to navigate steep terrain than a goat caddy? A round of golf on McVeigh’s can take as quick as 45 minutes or as long as 1.5 hours, depending on the golfers pace of play.
Silvies Valley Ranch is a 140,000-acre working cattle and goat ranch three hours east of Bend, Oregon. It was homesteaded and the first water rights patented in 1883. Over the years it passed through many owners including several who knew very little about ranching. In 2007 the Campbells, a family with pioneer roots in Eastern Oregon, founded Silvies Valley Ranch, L.L.C., and purchased the ranch. Scott and Sandy Campbell envisioned “a profitable livestock ranching and guest operation with abundant, healthy wildlife that sets the standard for the nation in best ranching and environmental practices.”
With that vision, they added goats to their working ranch and started work on the Retreat and Links. Construction of the Golf course started in 2010 and the innovative reversible courses opened for preview play in July of 2017. The retreat bills itself as “a 34-room eco resort that merges luxury and relaxation with an authentic western ranch experience.” In addition to activities like shooting, hiking, biking, and fishing, guests can tour the goat facilities, watch the goats be herded, and play with the kids.
American Range Goats
“The bigger story is that the ranch has the largest herd of organic meat goats in the world,” Colby told me. “The goats are used to help improve the sustainable environment at the ranch, and used as a healthier alternative to other kinds of protein at the ranch gourmet restaurant and other white tablecloth restaurants and homes in the region.” The goats are bred from a combination of South African Boer goat, Kalahari Red, and Spanish goats. Bred to thrive in arid brush areas with cold winters, their mature weights reach up to 300 pounds, as big as any pack goat breeds.
“Silvies Valley Ranch made development of an ‘American Range Goat’ one of the highest priorities on the ranch in 2012,” said Colby. “There is a real need for an animal that can convert both weeds and woody shrubs, that cattle can’t eat, into human food.” They believe that with this new breed of goats, ranches will be able to get two agricultural crops off the same land — and improve the land and watershed at the same time.
The goats that don’t make it into the goat caddy program, and remain meat animals, still lead a spoiled secret life. All goats are trained from the time they are kids to come to a whistle. Does are only bred once a year so they can fully recover from their pregnancies. In the summer, they roam every day in large, beautiful fields with abundant natural water. Their winter paddocks contain large piles of rock for climbing and their birthing barn boasts amenities like heated floors.
Redefining Goats and Golf
“We’re truly redefining both goat and golf operations at the ranch,” says Dr. Scott Campbell, veterinarian and owner of Silvies Valley Ranch. “Can you think of another course where its caddies were literally born, raised, and fully educated on-property? We will get you a caddie who really knows the course and won’t give you any bad advice — and they work for peanuts!”