Moving Goats Accross the Country (Part 1, Before you go)
Taking your goats on short trips is pretty common. Wither it is to the vet down the road or the State fair once a year, it's not typically a hardship for the goats to ride a few hours in a trailer even in severe weather. Moving your goats across the county, over the course of several days and likely several hundred (if not a couple of thousand) miles is a whole different ballgame and presents a set of unique challenges. It's easy to feel overwhelmed at the prospect and frightened, both for your ability to get them to their destination safely and for their health and welfare. However, there are several things you can do to make it easier for them and for you.
Things to consider:
The daily temperature high and low during the time you will be traveling. Most people I know do NOT have a climate controlled trailer or way to transport their animals. By paying close attention to the weather along your journey, you can help keep your goats comfortable as they travel. Keep in mind that the daily temp may be wildly different at your starting point as opposed to your destination, especially if you are moving them across the county in the course of just a few days. If it is prohibitably hot during the day, consider driving at night and sleeping during the hottest hours. As an added bonus, there is a lot less traffic during the hours of 10p.m.-6a.m. and if you are concerned about your speed while pulling your trailer, heavy semi traffic or traffic around large cities, driving at night can greatly reduce those fears. Nothing sucks worse than being stuck in standstill traffic for hours with goats in the trailer on a very hot or very cold day, knowing they are miserable. If you will be stopping at night and it will be hot, consider making room for fans and extension cords to help cool them down. Also, pack tarps that can be used as a wind/rain break if it's going to be colder than they are used to. Don't shave them if they are going to a cold climate or consider shaving them if they are going to a very warm one. Make sure your trailer has adequate ventilation and if it doesn't, have it modified so that it does. A thermometer/temperature gauge inside the trailer that you can read from inside your vehicle is a fantastic tool to know how hot or cold it really is back where the goats are. I think we forget sometimes riding in our air conditioned or heated cab that the temperature our goats are feeling may be vastly different than what we are experiencing.
The route you will be taking. Look carefully at several proposed routes to get to where you going. If your journey will take you several days, look for convenient stopping points that may offer overnight boarding for your goats. Fairgrounds, horse boarding stables or even friends met on Face book or ADGA may be willing to host you or at least offer suggestions of places that might. Letting your goats out of the trailer for several hours and allowing them to rest at night is especially important if there isn't much room inside the trailer and it's "standing room only". I like to make sure my goats have room to lie down while being transported but I understand that isn't always possible. If it's pretty packed back there, find a place to let them out to rest if at all possible. Also, remember when planning your route that you will be traveling more slowly than usual. Your speed will be reduced and you will be stopping more often than usual to check on your goats, feed and/or water them so take that into account with your trip planning. Also, don't forget to allow for time to milk any that may need it, time to clean your equipment and a way to dispose of milk while in route.
A plan for breakdowns. Breakdowns WILL happen at some point if you put enough miles on your trailer, truck and goats. Be prepared!! AAA or your own vehicle insurance may offer roadside assistance or towing at very little or no cost to you depending on your plan. If you know you are going on a long trip, call them and upgrade to the plan that offers these services. It may be more expensive than your current plan but you can always call and change back to the lower priced plan once your trip is over. Save the number in your phone so you can access it quickly in the event of an emergency. **IMPORTANT HACK** Carry the ADGA guide book with you in your vehicle. If you DO break down on the side of the road in a strange place, don't panic. Go through the guidebook and find an ADGA member who is local to the area where you are (or at least as close as you can get). CALL THEM and throw yourself on their mercy. Most fellow goat owners will go out of their way to help you if they can. At a minimum, they are familiar with the area and may be able to contact a local 4-H club or animal rescue group and get you some assistance.
Prevent what you can. Past having good insurance, the best way to be prepared for very long trip is to do a thorough preventative maintenance on your trailer and vehicle BEFORE you start out. Check your trailer brakes, make sure the battery that runs them is new and charged, have your trailer serviced and make sure all your lights work. Carry extra fuses and bulbs for your taillights. The most common issue is with blown tires, especially on trailers as they tend to sit idle through most of the year. Check your tires for tread wear, proper inflations and dry rot. If you have any doubt, replace it before you start your trip. It's better to spend a few hundred now on tires than be stranded on a freeway many miles from home with a trailer of goats when it's 100+ degrees outside. Finding someone that can tow you AND your trailer is difficult. Finding somewhere for your goats to stay while your truck or trailer is repaired when you don't know a soul, it's difficult... don't risk it. Along those same lines, always carry a spare for your truck AND your trailer. Inspect both regularly to make sure they are in working order. Get out your truck jack and practice. Make sure you know how to use it, that the lug wrench fits the lug nuts, that you know how to jack up a heavy trailer full of goats, the whole nine yards. Also, make sure to take your jack out of the place it's usually stowed and put it where you can easily access it when you are fully loaded. How many people do you see on the side of the road unloading their entire truck bed or cargo area just to try and get to their jack which is typically under all that stuff? So don't let that be you. Put that jack on TOP of all the extra cargo you may be hauling. And another thing, keep an eye on that gas gauge! Your vehicle gets reduced gas mileage while pulling a trailer and you may not be used to how often you need a fill up. Plan your route to insure you don't have to go too long between fill ups. Carry an extra 5 gallon gas can with you if you need extra assurance and have that phone number for roadside assistance on speed dial.
Prepare your goats. The most common issues goats have while traveling are caused by stress. One of the most important things you can do for your goats. is make sure they are up to date on their CD&T vaccine. The stress of travel, being in close proximity to their herd mates in a trailer where they can't escape the bully, a major change to their routine and food... all these can cause tremendous stress and can cause them to develop a life threatening gut reaction. Carry C&D ANTITOXIN with you! It, along with Penicillin can save your goat's life. They need to be kept cold so plan space in a cooler or better yet, a 12V car cooler. It's a hassle to carry with you but I promise, if you need it, all the hassle will be well worth it. I'd also recommend having bloat release on hand as well as Banimine and Probiotics. A well stocked medicine chest is a must if you are going to be transporting your goats on the regular. Know the signs and symptoms of the more common ailments and know how to treat them or have a goat mentor on speed dial, right under the number for AAA. :) Make sure your goats are in good health, at a healthy weight and know how to walk on a lead. Also, goats that are used to short trips in the trailer will be more able to be relaxed on longer trips. Taking them to the vet or local shows will help get them used to traveling from a young age. It will also help them learn to load and unload easily, practice being tied up and desensitize them to lots of activity... all of which are very helpful if you have to unload them in a strange place or on the side of the road somewhere. ** Make sure the goats are used to being housed together BEFORE you put them all in a trailer together. You don't want them all fighting for pecking order dominance inside the trailer going down the road at 65 mph.**
Know the state requirements for transporting animals. Each state sets its own requirements when it comes to moving animals into and through their state. Usually, it's only the final destination state that you have to worry about but it doesn't hurt to check. About half of the states require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) if you are moving animals into their state and some require additional testing and some of that testing requires being set off to a state lab for results which can take several weeks. So plan accordingly if the testing applies to you. I recommend calling up the final destination state and all the states in route to where you are going. It's usually the State Board of Animal Health that handles this sort of thing but the actual title varies so you will just have to do a little sleuthing to figure out who you need to contact state to state. If you DO need testing, most can be done through your local vet and they can also issue the CVI in most cases. Have a plan for a goat that does not pass your vet's CVI inspection. Are you going to sell that one, wait for it to get in better health or maybe come back for it later?? What the plan for the "no gos"? Most CVI's are only good for 30 days and some states have restrictions on how far in advance you can get them done so keep all that in mind. Also, your goats will defiantly need a permanent identifier at the very least. Some states require TWO so plan ahead. Either a permanent tattoo with registration papers, Scrapies Tag or microchip in combination all work. In addition, I highly recommend that every animal have a collar with a tag that lists your phone number on it. These can be purchased very inexpensively from livestock suppliers or even a pet store. There are horror stories of goats getting loose on a cross country trip and being lost and being left behind.. people finding them later and having no idea how to get a hold of the owner. It's only a few bucks to insure everyone knows how to contact you through a neck tag.
Plan for hauling feed, water, equipment and penning in route. Finally, think about what it takes to care for your goats over the course of one day.. times the number of days you will be traveling and then add 2 days worth of extra supplies (just in case). You will need to haul all the necessary hay, grain and water with you or have a plan for restocking in route. Bales of hay, bags of grain and buckets of water all take up space and add weight to your trailer. In addition, if you have does in milk along, you need to have a plan for milking them as you travel. A milk stand is a real back saver and milking several does, on the ground, in a Wal-Mart parking lot in the high desert in July is NOT a good time.. no matter what anyone says. So plan your space/weight accordingly and make sure those supplies, as well as your goat first aid kit are handy and not buried in the back somewhere. If you have bottle babies, bucks or pregnant does... just plan for those special circumstances and challenges well in advance. I recommend getting your goats used to an electrolyte additive in their water BEFORE your trip. Bluelite makes an excellent one formulated just for goats. It provides some good stress reducing minerals, they like the taste so they drink more water and stay hydrated with better gut health and it will cover the taste of "strange" water that you got from water hydrant in some random gas station along the way. I usually bring water in lidded, 5 gallon bucks from home if I have the space. At least for the first day, they drink it well and helps transition to different water that we all know some goats won't drink no matter how thirsty. Some handy panels, leashes or tie outs for all goats is also a good idea. Worst case you can set up a temporary pen in a park or grassy area if you need to wait for vehicle repairs in route.
So this is an overview of some things to think about if you are going to travel with your goats. It may seem like a lot and very overwhelming and we haven't actually even STARTED the trip yet. It's really not bad if you tackle things one at a time and the beauty of it is, most things can be done several months in advance of your trip. Certainly checking tires and replacing brake lights can and making sure your goats are "fed up" and at a healthy weight can take several months anyway, especially if they have recently kidded or are recovering from an illness. My advice is just take it one step at a time, buy what needs to be bought, order what needs to be ordered and make lists, it really helps! Stay tuned for the next part in this series where I will go more in depth on several ways to make your next long trips with goats as stress free and as easy and enjoyable as possible... for both you AND your goats.