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Horses and mules are the animals most called upon to pack supplies into backcountry locales. However, pack goats are becoming popular as well.
Shari Miller, owner of Escape Goats Guide Service, a pack-goat outfitter in Escalante, Utah, says that goats make better packers than horses or mules.
“Pack goats are easy to handle and they don’t break your toes when they step on you!” she says. “You can transport them with ease in a truck, van or even your car.” Miller also notes that goats are easier on the environment than larger pack animals because they don’t erode the trails and they leave the same traces as a deer. “Most of the time you don’t have to pack in feed for goats, either,” she says. “You can keep a goat in a small area as long as he has a friend and some play toys.”
Miller also points out that goats don’t need new shoes every six weeks like horses and they don’t spit if they get mad, like llamas. Goats can also go over, under and through terrain that other animals would have trouble negotiating. “Goats are the ultimate off-road animals for packing,” she adds.
Miller uses five goats to pack supplies for tourists who want to discover the wilderness of Utah’s Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. “My pack goats are the big boys of my goat herd,” she says. “These goats are good, dependable pack goats that can carry 50 pounds if needed. Most of the time they don’t have to carry over 35 pounds. These goats know the ropes and enjoy their job.”
The type of goats typically used for packing should have a larger body type, sound structure and a willing disposition, advises Jan Huffaker, president of the North American Packgoat Association, an organization established to promote packing with goats.
“Any dairy goat breed will work, and many people cross them with meat-goat breeds to add some bulk and size to the more slender dairy types,” she says. “Purebred meat goat breeds like the Boer tend to be short-legged, which makes them slow walkers and less agile. They are also a bit lazy in attitude, but you might find some individual goats that buck the trend. Nubians can be noisy and lazy, but I’ve seen Nubians that were quiet and worked well. Some people even put packs on their Pygmy goats, but only for short hikes. We don’t recommend Pygmies for packing. We also avoid the myotonic (Fainting) goats, since it would be disastrous to have one faint on the trail.”
Training a goat to pack is relatively easy, according to Huffaker. “There is very little formal training with a goat,” she says. “Goats must be tame and friendly, which is why most people use bottle-fed kids for pack goats. Once they are tame, all you really have to do when they are young is a bit of lead training; and just taking them on walks. Some time is spent on camp manners — things like not getting into the panniers (packs) or chewing on tents,” says Huffaker.
How do you know if your goat is a candidate to become a pack goat? According to Miller, just about any goat can do the job. “We feel that any goat, be it a wether or a doe, can learn to pack,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what age the goat is or what breed it is. If the goat is personable and healthy, he probably will enjoy the chance to hike in new areas and explore with you as he carries your camping gear or even just your lunch for the day.”
Excerpt from the Popular Farming Series magabook Goats.