Johannesburg - Tucked away in the highlands of east Oregon in the US is the Silvies Valley Ranch.
Built on working cattle and livestock, the ranch also has a luxury resort where customers can unwind at a day spa, ride horses or play on a seven-hole golf course.
But behind the scenes, the ranch has been developing the world’s first professionally trained goat golf caddy.
From July, guests will be able to rent a goat to follow them around the McVeigh Golf Course, just like a human caddy would. It’s a job that pays peanuts – literally. The goat wears a custom-made “goat golf bag”, designed by Oregon-based company Seamus Golf, to carry clubs, beverage cans and the goat’s favourite treats.
The ranch’s training programme has schooled just four goats, with plans to double that number next season. The programme’s most successful graduate is four-year-old Bruce LeGoat, the caddy master.
“For years, the goats were heading into the restaurant, looking for career development,” joked Colby Marshall, the vice-president of the ranch.
“Being the responsible managers we are, we listened to their ideas and now we have an unprecedented goat caddy programme. It’s got a lot of career opportunities, and a lot more longevity for [the goats].”
Seamus Golf had no experience designing goat golf accessories, but this was an opportunity the company was not going to turn down.
“I was like: ‘This is the coolest thing I could possibly do. I’m never gonna get this chance again.’ So we took it up,” said co-founder Akbar Chisti.
Designing the bag for a four-legged companion was not without its challenges. The first prototype took nearly 30 hours and was trialled by Chisti’s large goldendoodle dog.
But, after applying it to a 113kg goat, they had clearly underestimated the animal, and went back to the drawing board.
“It was way too small. We know the way the human body moves. We know how it needs to balance, but for the goat it was different,” he said. “The clubs couldn’t be pointing into its neck, and the bottom had to be shaped outwards to keep it from hitting its side when it walks.
“Goats are notorious for dropping their waste. So we had to re-tilt the bag to accommodate that,” he added.
With the equipment inside, the bag weighs 4.5kg – a third of the total weight a goat can take. However, the most important feature of the bag is the peanut holder, which became a core component in training the goats.
“The whole process was hilarious. In the beginning, Bruce wasn’t following me around,” Chisti said. “So I started giving him peanuts and, before we knew it, he was like my best bud. So we realised we had to make a peanut pouch to keep bribing him.”
Marshall explained that goats were intelligent and sociable animals. With the bonus of tasty peanuts, they do all the things you want a caddy to do – without lying down on the job.
Animal welfare activists, however, argue that the goats should be free to enjoy life. Fleur Dawes, communications director at In Defence of Animals, said: “Silvies’ goat caddy gimmick is anything but cute. Goats are thinking, feeling individuals with their own wants and needs. Their frames were never made to carry golf bags.”
Marshall responded by insisting the goats were treated well with good food, clean water and breaks between rounds. He said there was also a vet on site.
“We are saving the goats by giving them paying jobs,” said Chisti. – CNN