As the winter cold sets in, we’re counting the days until migration. Not long now until this show hits the road, dog in tow, trading the rolling hills of Southern England for the misty mountains of Central Portugal.

But before packing up and shipping out, so to speak, many a bureaucratic wheel must be set in motion.

Anyone who has attempted to flee the British Isles post-Brexit may know what I’m talking about… administering Portuguese affairs in absentia is like trying to command an army from an armchair. The long-distance logistical wrangling amounts to a full-time evening job, albeit costing money instead of earning it.

To pass the time between arranging canine immigration papers (easier than human ones), trying to buy a van from a deceased gentleman (easier said than done) and sending unholy amounts of money to a man who makes his living gassing furniture beetles (a great investment), we’ve been prototyping saddles as part of an ongoing effort to unravel the practicalities of goat packing.

The ‘Mark One’

By studying the design of American saddles and reading the articles and guidance available online, we were able to reverse engineer a prototype: the lovingly cobbled together ‘Mark One’.

As a team, we’re not too bad in the workshop: the wooden elements of the saddle were the easiest part. There are some tricky angles involved, but once you understand the reasoning behind them it all starts to make sense.

This saddle features pine boards and iroko crossbucks, since it’s what we had lying around – perhaps not ideal. The next one will use tight-grained pine and walnut, but I think in an ideal world I’d have larch boards and ash crossbucks.

Creating the straps proved more challenging since I first had to learn to use a sewing machine, which was far more enjoyable than I would like to admit. I had difficulty determining the average circumference of a goat, so made the straps enormous as a precaution.

Once assembled, the saddle was looking rather better than expected. Lacking goats, however, it was tricky to assess its practical merit – so we bundled onto a crowded train to Bristol to rendezvous with a friend, hoping that the humble ‘Mark One’ might find its way onto a caprine spine.

Street Goats

We are lucky enough to have a friend involved in Bristol’s Street Goat project, meaning that not only is she incredibly well-versed in all things goat, but that she was also able to introduce us to a motley crew of goats of all shapes and sizes. We spent a wonderful weekend hanging out with the herds, learning to milk, making cheese, and testing our saddle.

Dairy goats Lola and Branwyn take us for a walk!

Street Goat is an innovative urban goat farming cooperative, spread throughout the city of Bristol. It seems to function like a patchwork of smaller projects, where each site is managed by its own coterie of locals. Volunteers can be involved in all aspects of goat-raising, from husbandry and breeding to milking and meat-processing. Along the way they make friends and work towards functional models for both urban farming and sustainable land management.

Below is the Mark One being modelled by Branwyn the Golden Guernsey mix. She was extremely patient with us as we faffed about with the saddle and its straps – as was our friend, who kindly took these pictures and put up with our nonsense all afternoon.

Branwyn the Golden Guernsey mix models the Mark One Packsaddle prototype.

There are a few obvious points for improvement in this saddle. The straps are far too long, for one – you can see in the picture above that we had to tape them up to fit this goat. The angle of the breast strap is also a little awkward. But overall it seems to work fairly well.

Ultimately, each saddle we build further down the line will be tailored to the goat that wears it, but creating prototypes in advance allows us to better understand the mechanics involved, estimate costs and design the panniers that will hang on the saddles.

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