Training goats to carry supplies for hikers

CALGARY — They’re smart and love to work. That’s what attracted Robert Hatton-Fearnley to goats. That and he likes their horns.

Hatton-Fearnley operates Climbing High Farms near Strathmore. He and his family hike regularly in the foothills west of Calgary and he was looking for a way to make it easier for his dad to continue enjoying the trials without carrying a heavy overnight pack.

“And then I found a video of a guy packing goats,” said Hatton-Fearnley. “I was like that’s really cool, I love their horns, I love the way they look and I loved how he talked about them.”

So he bought seven goats in October and has been training them to wear a pack saddle. Hatton-Fearnley also became a member of the North American Packgoat Association. Its members are sharing some secrets about equipment and training the animals.

“They’re willing to help us and talk about the different definitions of the animals we should be looking for and what we should be doing while we’re out there in the mountains and how to teach our animals and make sure that they stay under control,” said Hatton-Fearnley.

Sherpas are renowned for their skills in mountaineering and have helped countless people reach their goal to summit Mount Everest. And while Hatton-Fearnley won’t be reaching that altitude with his goats, the animals are sure-footed.

“They’re very good pets,” said Hatton-Fearnley. “They’re very good animals and they are such hard working animals and they love to work and what we’re doing with them is giving them a job to do and they love it.”

Right now the goats are in training and just getting used to the pack saddles. The bags they carry are filled with balloons so the animals can get used to the size of a loaded pack. He’s training them regularly to get used to him while building their endurance and strength. His 8-year-old son Oliver is helping.

“You can’t just assume they’re going to stay with you,” said Oliver. “You have to at least train them to do that, that’s why we (go) for a few goat hikes around our farm.”

Hatton-Fearnley hopes to start offering small guided tours into the foothills by January, 2022.

“You know we want to give people a special trip and we’ve traveled a lot of these trails and we want them to know that there’s some of these wonderful places out there that are quiet,” said Hatton-Fearnley. “They’re not the busy hiking trails, they’re the quiet secluded trails that have a lot of beauty in them.”

Learn more about Climbing High Farms here: https://www.facebook.com/climbinghighfarms/

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