Zwei Geissen, zwei Jungen und eine Frau an einem Hang.

Leisure time

Trekking with goats

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Portraetbild Daniela
Daniela
Guest author, 4-Seasons
© Fotos

Eveline Hauser has nomadic blood in her veins. She travelled from Entlebuch right across Switzerland accompanied by her pack goats. Eight weeks later, she reached Val Medel and fell in love with its beauty. She set up her yurt and ever since then has been inviting guests to share in the beauty of goat trekking.

Eveline, you are passionate about goats – and the mountains. So how did it all start?
I went to Alp Puzzetta with my first goat, Cora, who was given to me as a present in Valais. While we were there, Flurin, a billy goat from another alp, joined us. He had an abscess on his chin and I had to nurse him. This made him extremely tame. He became my first pack goat and went everywhere with me, including when I picked up my boyfriend at that time from the cable car station in Goppisberg. The billy goat just followed me around all the time. That’s how my pack goat story began.

You and your partner at the time travelled for eight weeks from Entlebuch across half of Switzerland with five pack goats. You set up your yurt in Curaglia...
Dominik and I had found a stable in Curaglia for our animals. We couldn’t afford a house, so we pitched our teepee next to our stables and later our yurt, which we used to commute up and down according to the season. In winter we lived in Soliva, a little hamlet 1,500 metres up in the mountains, and in spring we were in Acla near Curaglia, 200 metres further down.

You spent seven winters in the yurt?
We did, and I miss that time a bit – it was wonderful! We later bought an old wooden house in Soliva, a log-structure building, where I now live when I’m not out on the alp with the goats.

So, for a while you couldn’t go to the alp?
No. Dominik and I later took over the Pali farm in Curaglia. The initial dozen or so pack goats simply kept growing, and soon we had almost 70 of them: 50 mother goats, four mating rams and a dozen pack goats, which we used to offer treks to guests. When the chance came up to take over a suckler cow farm, we jumped at it, and soon we weren’t just producing goat meat, goat’s cheese and milk, but also Natura beef.

  • Eine Gruppe beim Geissentrekking, sie machen eine Pause.

    During the goat treks, the guests move among the herd and learn lots about the animals and their characteristics.

    Photo © Stephan Bösch
  • Geissen während eines Trekkings, sie sind auf einem Wanderweg unterwegs.

    Goats enjoy forest paths just as much as alpine trails above the treeline or hiking trails.

    Photo © Stephan Bösch
  • Eine Ziege, sie trägt einen Rucksack.

    Trusty carrier: Mr Nilson is the elegant one in the herd of twelve.

    Photo © Stephan Bösch

Then you suffered a big blow...
Yes, early one morning I looked out of the window and saw our stables were on fire! I thought I was having a bad dream, closed my eyes and opened them again. But sure enough, flames were leaping up behind the stables and horrible black smoke was coming out. Our outdoor enclosure and the shed had burnt to the ground.

Was it a lightning strike?
No, a cable fire in one of the farm machines was the cause. But, miraculously – and thanks to the bravery of the firefighters – the main stable just five metres away was spared. We were very lucky: all the animals were already out in the pasture, so they were all unharmed.

Later on, Dominik and you also parted ways. So did you have to rethink what to do?
I continued to manage the work on the farm alone for a while. Dominik came back from the city over the summer and we carried on working together as friends. Then, towards autumn, I had to make a decision on whether to take over the farm or go in a completely new direction? I didn’t want to keep slaving away at the farm. And so we quickly found someone to take it over.

Were you able to just let go of everything?
It was a new beginning, and at the same time a new opportunity. I’m very good at letting go. I very much live in the now. That’s very useful, it makes everything much easier. I’m also not afraid of losing anything. I just really trust that everything will turn out well. And everything always does.

Hiking boots

So now you’re with your goats full time?
Yes, on the alp in Madris I can finally be with my beloved goats again. Together with my three shepherd dogs, the two of us look after 330 Capra Grigia goats belonging to several owners. I love being outside all day, sitting on a rock and watching the goats.

Do you go through the day without a real plan?
There are certain obvious things to do: letting the goats out of the enclosure in the morning, taking them to the pasture, tending them, making sure all the animals are healthy, treating them if they’re sick and bringing them back in the evening.

Are you a rebel?
I like action! And I love anything that’s a bit different. As a child, I was often the one to instigate things, I’d say: ‘Come on, let’s go and spend the night in the woods!’ But I found school a real trial. Well, maths was – really bad, really bad! I even had to repeat the second year. But as soon as I got back home from school, I put on my mucking-about clothes, went out and did what I wanted to do! (laughs) The only things that kept me going at school were gymnastics, drawing and handicrafts. All those things really got me through...

Did you want to be a farmer when you were a little girl?
Yes, I did actually. But first I took a different direction, by going to the Farbmühle design school in Lucerne and completing a tailoring apprenticeship. I then attended the female farmer’s school at the Fahr Convent near Unterengstringen. And I loved to go to the sheep often with Sister Béatrice. That was great!

Trekking with goats in the Val Medel

Travelling with goats in Val Medel: with their inquisitive character, these tame and cuddly goats make for an entertaining and heart-warming experience. En route, trekking guides Eveline Hauser and Livia Werder will happily tell you more about the goats, the valley and the stories that have shaped it.

And then you did your years as a journeywoman?
After my apprenticeship, I did all sorts of things: I worked as an assistant carpenter and as a painter. I helped out with a farming family in Goppisberg in Valais. They had a lot of animals, around 180 ewes, six goats, two horses, a donkey and two ponies. That taught me a lot. It was also this family who gave me my first goat, Cora.

Were you also attracted to the mountains?
I worked in the summer as an assistant in the Swiss Alpine Club huts, on the Weissmies and the Rugghubel. In the winter I returned to the business.

That sounds like a pretty full life!
I very much live the life that’s right for me at that moment. I haven’t missed out on anything and have always tried to do what I like as far as possible!

Especially the goat treks?
Yes, I took over the ten pack goats together with my colleague Livia Werder after leaving the farm. We now run the goat treks together.

Is it still the same herd?
Unfortunately, I had to slaughter one goat. It ended up on my dinner table. I see eating the goats’ meat as a form of honouring the animals. I have the hides tanned. But now I have three new young pack goats.

Much to the delight of the guests!
The children are especially fond of the little goats. Ilias is the guests’ favourite. He loves to be stroked and cuddled. Each goat has its unique character. Klee, for example, is the leader of the herd. Mr Nilson, with his long white hair, is the elegant one. Gino, the big grey one, is in charge of the little ones. And Kan loves to snuggle up.

Goats are pretty cool...
Yes, they are, but they can also drive you mad. If you’re a shepherd on the alp, you really need to love them, otherwise you’ll have had enough at some point. There’s a saying: if you have no worries in life, buy a goat! (laughs) There is something in that...

How do the goats act when they’re on the move?
My pack goats are hand-tame and trained. A huge amount of work goes into it. From a very young age, they have to learn to carry a saddle for the load. As adult goats, they then carry all the guests’ luggage: food, cooking gear, tarp, sleeping bags. And they are not allowed to nibble at the guests’ picnics during breaks or run off while we are taking a break.

How much can a pack goat carry?
Trained goats can carry up to 30 percent of their own weight. And a big ram weighs up to 100 kilograms. But I usually only load them up to 15 kilograms.

What is the appeal of a goat trek for guests?
Trekking with the pack goats is a very rich and varied experience. The goats get up to lots of mischief, which always makes people smile. They are very cuddly and enjoy being stroked more than anything else. And for the children, it’s a huge adventure to be out and about with the goats. All these things just seem to make the hikes work without you doing anything else!

Where do the goats stay overnight?
We sleep under the tarp or in the open under the stars. The goats spend the night right beside us. As I’m the ‘lead goat’ and the core of the herd, as it were, they don’t wander off overnight. They might walk around to get something to eat, but they always return. Recently, though, I’ve been fencing them in overnight because of wolves and letting them out again in the morning as soon as daylight comes.

What is my role as a guest in looking after the goats? Do I have to help or am I allowed to?
If guests want to, they can help saddle the goats. If not, they can just be our guests and enjoy travelling with the animals.

How much distance do you cover each day?
It really depends on the weather, whether it’s hot, raining or thundering. We tailor things to the guests and the weather conditions. We usually just spend the whole day on the move.

When you go shopping, can you ‘park’ the goats in front of a shop?
No, that’s not possible unfortunately! I always do my shopping before the treks, because the goats would just run after me and come into the shop with me. I think that would be cool, but I don’t know what the shop owners would say. I would also love to travel by train with the goats. They would hop on immediately and find it exciting! (laughs)

What do you yourself like about the treks?
It’s just lovely to be out and about with the goats in this wonderful landscape; it brings such a sense of peace and contentment. And it gives me great satisfaction to see the beaming faces of the children and adults afterwards!

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