Life is an Adventure with Pack Goats

Two years ago my husband and I started a new adventure. One snowy day in the middle of March, we adopted four baby goats who were destined to become the start of our pack goat herd. Life hasn’t been the same since!
My introduction to pack goats started several years before. Prior to meeting my husband, a friend of mine had asked me if I had ever heard of pack goats. He had a friend, an avid outdoorsman, who had recently changed over from being a backpacker to using goats to pack his gear, and had great things to say about them.
At the time I had never heard of such a thing, but I was intrigued.  I had personal experience using horses and mules for packing, and had heard people using llamas, but never once thought of using goats. Growing up in the country, I had fond memories of our family’s milk goats and they were one of my favorite farm animals.  After reading everything I could find (which wasn’t much!), I was determined that someday I wanted to join the small but growing group of pack goat owners.
When I met the man who was to become my husband, I knew we were destined to be together because, among many other things, he too had been researching pack goats and was very interested in using them for backpacking and hunting.  It wasn’t long after our wedding that we began preparing our property for our herd.  Then, on that fateful day in March, I came across an ad in Craigslist for four baby Saanen bucklings.
I had grown up with Saanens, and through my research had learned that they were the largest breed of goats suitable for packing and were known for their mellow personalities.  For me it was a no brainer; within 24 hours I was making my way to Middle of Nowhere, Washington, to pick up our new kids. It was love at first sight!  At just 3 weeks old it was hard to believe that these tiny 15-pound bundles of bouncing energy would someday grow into sturdy pack animals capable of packing all of our gear and game.
So why goats?  Contrary to caricatures commonly seen on TV, goats are friendly, loyal, and easy to handle. When they bond to humans, which they do easily, they will follow them down the trail without the need for a leash or lead rope. Because they are herd animals, as long as they are bonded to you, they will look at you as the herd leader and will stay close. We bottle fed our babies, so bonding was easy. We also started taking them on walks and hikes very early on, so they learned to follow us down the trail, although there were some occasions when they were younger when they were willing to follow anything with two legs, and it wasn’t always us! We certainly got some funny looks on our walks from passersby. No one really expects to see two people walking four goats and three dogs!
Goats can carry between 20-35% of their body weight once they are full grown. Our Saanens – the largest of the goat breeds – can reach weights of 250 pounds.  Most other breeds are smaller, with the average weights around 200 pounds. Most pack goats can carry 50 pounds over rough terrain without any trouble. Therefore, four goats could easily carry a deer that has been quartered, plus the cape and head. Six goats could pack a boned elk.
When packing with goats, it isn’t usually necessary to bring any food for them, as they will browse along the trail and can eat things that horses and llamas will not. They can also go longer without drinking water. It is common for them to go for 3 days without water.
Goats have minimal impact on the terrain. Unlike horses, their tracks – which look very similar to deer tracks – are scarcely noticeable on the trail.  Their droppings are likewise similar to those of deer and are not smelly.
Goats are amazingly sure-footed and can easily cross steep, rough terrain that would stop a horse, and even a llama, cold in its tracks.  Anywhere a human can go, a goat can go too, even when packing a heavy load; a real bonus for those hunters who really want to “get off the beaten path” and explore new country.
Because of their size, goats are easier to transport. In fact, while ours were young, we would put all four in the back of a Ford Explorer with sheets of plastic on the floor to protect the upholstery. We were able to do that until they were about six months old. Many goat packers rely on utility, stock, or horse trailers, as well as pick-ups with wooden rails, and a variety of homemade trailers to transport their goats.
Last, but certainly not least, goats are just fun to be around. They each have their own unique personalities and are kind of a cross between dogs and children. Their curiosity, mischievousness, intelligence, and gentle nature make them excellent companions on the trail.  After watching my “kids” grow up to become nearly full grown goats and having experienced life on the trail with them, I can’t imagine a hike without them!

Mar 11, 2013 | Category: Blog | Comments: none

 

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