The Performance of Pack Goats
A Goat for Every Need
Reading Time: 5 minutes
A Goat For Every Need
Many people in the world of pack goats have a favorite breed or mix of breeds for goat packing. They take conformation, size, personality, and other characteristics into consideration in their choice of goat. However, there is a lot of variation in preferences even among the most experienced goat packers. If a few specifics are met, you can be successful with many different goats for packing purposes.
The most common breed that you will see in the goat packing world is the Alpine or an Alpine mix. They are a tall breed, around 36” at the withers with long legs that easily step over rough terrain. Not only does their narrow and shallow body shape lend well to maneuvering, but they also tend to have high stamina for endurance. Marc Warnke, who has been packing with goats for nine years prefers to bottle-raise his Alpines for the strong bond that it provides. He started packing with goats to help carry weight for his family to backpack together including his young children. Since then, he has become known as “The Goat Guy” as he shares his accumulated knowledge with classes, gear sales, and guided trips. To Marc, the genetics and conformation are more important than temperament because much of temperament depends on how the goat is raised and treated.
Curtis King, president of the North American Pack Goat Association, agrees with the Alpine goat breed or Alpine mix as his preferred breed. He has had trouble with some other breeds being lazy and laying down on the trail. He prefers a taller Alpine at 37-39 inches high. However, he does see a lot of potential in mixing the breeds for the best traits. When mixing breeds, you may need to consider needing a more adjustable saddle if the mix produces a larger animal than the average pack goat.
One breed that is showing a lot of potential in the goat packing world is the Kiko. Originating from New Zealand, they are a hardy breed primarily used for meat. Clay Zimmerman has been packing with goats for 30 years and has owned every dairy goat breed and every mix imaginable. His favorite by far is the Kiko goat for its size, personality, and strength. They do especially well when he rents goats to others due to their mellow nature. You can find him at High Uinta Pack Goats in Wyoming.
When it comes to crosses, most breeders cross different dairy breeds to each other. However, Nathan Putman has been crossing Boer goats with Alpines to give more muscle but also to impose the gentle, friendly personality of the Boer goat into the offspring. He has found that especially if you are guiding others backpacking with goats, people always have a great experience if the goats are friendly and personable. Nathan prefers his goats to be dam-raised instead of bottle-fed. Providing you spend time with the goats from an early age, they will still bond with you even while knowing they are still a goat. Sometimes bottle-raised goats can be pushy because they do not always understand that they are a goat while you are a human. Nathan finds that the best pack goats just have the heart for packing and being on the trail. On the trail, you have the leaders who love to be there followed by those who are just along for the party. Trailing at the back are the ones who are only coming so they do not get left behind. The leaders are the most reliable, but they all serve their purpose.
Most people who pack with goats do it to help carry gear, so they do not have to be loaded with as heavy of a pack. For Desarae Starck, it helps her be able to bring her children along. The goats pack the equipment while she and her husband pack the children. She also uses goats to help carry game when out hunting. She has a variety of breeds in her small herd. Irene Saphra uses her goats for backpacking, day hikes, and even carrying gear for an aid station in the local ultramarathon: Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival. Irene values knowing that the goat came from a clean herd. You do not want sick goats, sick goats cannot pack well, and you should not take sick goats into the backcountry. After losing a beloved goat to CAE (goat arthritis), Irene has placed extra emphasis on health testing. She prefers to bottle-raise because you can more easily prevent CAE while bonding with the goats. When those goats have bonded to you, they want to follow you even without a lead.
Everyone in the goat packing world has slightly different preferences for their goats, but a few specifications remain consistent. Pack goats must be wethers. Bucks are too driven by hormones, and a doe’s udder can too easily become snagged on brush. Most goats will vary between 180-250 pounds in weight with the average weight being about 200 pounds. A healthy goat can carry approximately 25% of its body weight, so a 200 pound goat can carry a 50 pound pack (including weight of saddle). Goats reach their full size and strength by three years of age and should not be given a pack before then. You can take them on hikes and should do so to get them used to hiking even before they can pack. With pack goats, you need a long-term plan. The first three years you are bonding with the goat, but they cannot pack for you. By 10-12 years old, they are getting too advanced in years to pack anymore and should be retired even though they likely have a few more years to live.
As you can see, there is no perfect way to pack with goats. The most important aspects are the education that you gain, having good gear, and healthy goats. Beyond that, the breed can vary according to your preferences and needs. If you need a highly athletic goat, Alpines are likely to be great for you. If you want something more mellow but still strong, Kiko goats are a crowd favorite. Oberhaslis are small but keep going like an energizer bunny. LaMancha goats love attention. Boers are very strong and friendly but tend to be slow. Whatever your needs may be, there is a goat to fill that need.
Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.