Purpose: Goat-aided travel with a set of communication and subsistence tools, for an indefinite period of time
Goal: Possibly to walk across the US (the world?) with goats. To be able to live outdoors and be nomadic, yet still be a modern, informed person with connectivity to the world
Why do I want to do this??
Let’s say you want to get away, really get away, whatever that means. The point is, what constitutes a minimal autonomous living unit? And what can possibly be cooler than camping with goats? Somehow this vision grabs me on some very vital level. It’s not so much that I want to leave everything, or escape or whatever, so much as I want to see more. I want to know what happens if a modern, born-into-civilization human (me) lives closer to nature. I want to see if I can continue to be connected to the world of people and global communication, at the same time I can be almost anywhere at all. Can I wake up on the edge of a pine forest instead of a developed urban area, swim in a creek or hot spring instead of taking a shower, and then go about my work day? If one can telecommute from home, why not a jaggedy rock outcropping in the Sonora Desert, or the Rockies, or anywhere? Is it possible to walk, and just keep walking, go anywhere, not limited by roads or even trails, and keep right on being connected to the world? For the first time there are tiny devices that can do video conferencing, internet, voice, and computing. So I’m imagining the set of tools and provisions it would take to go nomadic, with goats, indefinitely. How much power (electric) is needed versus what can be generated? How much weight? How much food, water, clothing, shelter? The goats can do it and require almost no provisions in most places most of the time.
Firstly, camping with goats is great. They have quirky, interesting, mischievous personalities, and they or naturally social animals that prefer to live in a tight-knit herd that travels together. They have natural roles within the herd such as leader, lookout, and even the job of making sure everyone stays together. They see well in the dark and remember trails and paths taken in the past extremely well. They sleep in a group, fitfully, so that there is always someone keeping lookout through the night. If you let them, they are happy to curl up next to you and share all the extra heat they seem to have. They are expert foragers, finding food just about anywhere, and can go without water much better than a person can. They are much better at carrying packs than people are and do so much more happily. They can go places far beyond that of any other pack animal and most humans. Their environmental impact as transient pack animals tends to be extremely low and in many cases is actually beneficial for invasive and noxious weed removal and browsing of trees that nowadays lack the formerly large population of grazing animals that existed in many ecosystems previously.
Camping with a backpack is kind of okay, but also kind of lousy. Especially if you are going long term and committed to bringing various gear, as I am proposing here. You plod along, encumbered, in pain, putting massive wear on your body. You relish the moments of stopping and slipping out of that pack. You look at things along the trail and think you might go over and investigate if it weren’t for this huge heavy pack. Any misstep is more dangerous and harder to steady with all the extra weight up high on your body. The goats, on the other hand, seem to take to packing naturally. I have never seen them shy away from putting on the pack, and believe me, goats are not shy about sharing their opinions on what they want or don’t want. Most of the time they just seem excited to be part of the herd going on an expedition, packs or not. They are, after all, domesticated animals that have traveled in herds with humans for a long, long, long time. Bike camping is good too, but besides the similar considerations as those for backpacking, it means more gear to maintain the bike, and of course fundamental limitation on where you can go. For most people, this means traveling on the same roads as cars and sharing the skinny little shoulder, when there is one, with the potentially lethal cars racing by, providing noxious exhaust for you to breathe…not that that’s necessarily a bad way to spend your time, but my point in this imaginable is to get away from that whole situation.
Considerations: All gear must be weighed and size/mass distribution among goats considered minimal gear and functionality desires must be determined route/climate capability is a major component, as is weather As in other kinds of packing, the goal is to MINIMIZE!
WHAT TO PACK:
- Power sources: solar, mechanical generator, wind
- Communication: ham radio, satellite internet, cellular wireless internet
- Computing: laptop, tablet, handheld, iphone, mini-laptop – iphone and keyboard?
- Power management: lithium batteries, capacitors, DC charging station w/adapters to any devices
- Shelter: sleeping bag, tent, blanket; my initial preference: down bag and partial ground pad. Piece of mosquito netting
- Gear: gun, bow, fishing gear/snares, knife
- Goat care: sutures, anaesthetic, sedative, antibiotics (trim hooves with knife)
- Has anyone packed with milking does? Obviously wild and feral goats travel with nursing kids, but at the same time they will probably be less nimble and rugged, I’m guessing. If they are in areas where they can get sufficient nitrogen/protein (such as acorns and clover, for example) and water, meeting the nutritional requirements won’t be the issue. But for the human, access to milk protein would be great. Of course this also means the herd is increasing, and raises the question of what happens if there are too many goats. Basically for each person this comes down to whether they are going to find homes for their excess herd members or eat their goats.
- What is the lightest goat packing rig made, and what is the lightest that could be made? This refers to the pack saddle (crossbucks) saddle blanket, and pannier bags.
- What about combining goats with other animals?
- A donkey or two would be able to carry any single heavy item that is too big for a goat, but couldn’t go to the absolute extremes of terrain a goat can. A donkey would also provide some livestock protection service, as they are commonly used for this purpose in goat and sheep herds. Also, mule, llama, and probably others fit a similar role.
- Sheep might be a nice addition, selected from the more clever, ancient breeds (Please don’t waste your precious time trying to explain that sheep are too dumb. Seriously). They may not be as well inclined to packing, but sheep will graze a bit differently and provide wool fiber. It is very common in many parts of the world and historically to herd sheep and goats together.
- Herding dogs are not normally part of a goatpacking operation. Dogs would probably be most valuable for livestock protection and of course companionship. Especially big dogs, like Great Pyrenees. But the issue of feeding them is significant. Even if meat is acquired, it will have to be carried, adding to weight. Addition of dogs probably means addition of more goats to provide the cargo capacity of dog provisions and increased hunting, slaughter, or urban shopping. Sure, many people raise dogs on a vegetarian diet, but this diet will have to carefully managed for working dogs and still means a lot of food has to be carried, as I assume it’s going to be very difficult to carefully maintain their nutritional needs on forage in most climes.
- What is the point?
The point is something of an experiment. The barebones goes like this: If for almost the entire history of humans, our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, by comparison our new existence is biologically, physiologically and psychologically a sudden change, a shock to the system. So what are we missing? What does it mean to try to experience something we have lost? But we can’t go back in time. It’s not enough, for me, to put on a loincloth and pretend to be ‘primitive man’, disconnected from technology and all things modern. I’m modern man. Civilized, for better or worse, and there’s a lot to be excited about that’s modern and new. So is there a new synthesis? If the essence of the latest version of the human existence is a globally-connected information society, is it possible live close to the earth, in the dust more or less, and still be wired to society? Or to put it another way, humans these days still like trees and natural scenery and stuff. So what about having the ultimate natural, wild view every morning, and still being connected to the global information network? The most coveted living sites in urban areas tend to be the ones overlooking or next to big parks and lakes and such. On the weekends we get away to wilderness to breath fresh air, hunt, fish, hike, etc… We have to give it up to be connected to information and money. People dream of being rich enough to have second homes in the mountains or the lake or a jungle. Seems you could bypass all that and just be a modern nomad.