Training Goats to Carry a Pack
Looking for your next adventure? Try training pack goats!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Pack training with young goats starts long before a pack saddle is ever introduced.
With the rising popularity of travel and outdoor activities, coupled with the growth of homesteading, the scene is ripe for those venturous enough to take up the pack goat hobby.
As the name implies, pack goats are animals trained to carry supplies or gear during a trip, much like the traditional pack mule. This concept is a bit odd to some people — surely the humble goat can’t carry that much … right?
On the contrary, goats are almost the most ideally suited to packing. Their moderate frame size and cloven hooves mean they can access more rugged places horses and mules can’t. Plus, they have a natural walking pace similar to people and as browsers, they leave less environmental impact behind them. (In fact, they are also more efficient consuming a variety of plants found on many terrains, making them ideal to life on the trail.)
So, if you love the outdoors and goats, taking up the packing hobby might be just the thing for you. Still not convinced yet? Training some goats of your own to hike and pack isn’t as daunting a task as you might think.
Why Travel with Goats?
A goat trained to pack can serve you far and wide. Not only can a trained pack goat significantly lighten your load while on a hiking trip, they can also help out around your homestead, barnyard farm, or ranch by toting everything from tools to firewood. With the right temperament, they can also be great for hunting trips, day outings, or even financial ventures such as a rental service to local outfitters.
A wether with the right build can safely carry up to 25% of his body weight. For a mature 200 lb. animal, that’s about 50 lbs. Plus, as natural herd animals, you can easily have an entire string of goats if need be. Fit goats can also cover up to 12 miles per day at a healthy pace.
Before Training … Start with Traits
Pack goats are not limited to any specific breed, but the right structural qualities are essential, such as being broad-chested, heavy boned with well-sprung ribs, with a level back and sound hooves.
Due to their larger frame size and muscling, wethers are typically the preferred choice for a pack animal. However, does can also pack. But remember, the trail is prone to hazards involving many obstacles that can be hazardous to large or pendulous udders.
Just as important as the physical aspects, you need a candidate with a friendly disposition, willingness to please, adequate energy levels, and not excessively stubborn.
Starting the training process at a young age (not too long after weaning) is preferred to evaluate and develop these qualities best. Remember, the early training stages are all about creating a bond with an animal and learning the basics of following both on and off a lead and being introduced to new and unfamiliar environments.
Confirmation specifics should combine overall frame correctness and musculature. A strong back that’s straight and not too long will enable a goat to bear loads over the years without being worn down. A powerful, wide front-end assembly will house a set of lungs that provide the endurance to keep moving forward. Finally, healthy, solid hooves, pasterns, and legs are important components.
Depending on your goals for a pack goat, smaller breeds won’t have problems with short day hikes, but anything more demanding requires a larger breed. Besides carrying more, large breeds can also withstand the stress of longer trips.
The Training Process
Pack training with young goats starts long before a pack saddle is ever introduced. While it takes some time, goats do not demand as hard of training sessions as horses or mules and are less likely to object to the equipment.
A pack kid’s early days should be focused on positive human interaction and learning to follow people (both on and off a lead) around familiar places like the barn or pasture. Obstacles can be gradually introduced either artificially (i.e. setting up ground poles to walk over, making jumps out of old patio furniture and other creative distractions/challenges) or by taking the kid on short walks through wooded trails away from the comforts of its usual surroundings.
It’s worth noting that many folks find that their goats don’t like getting their feet wet, so you may want to introduce shallow streams, mud, kiddie pools and other water obstacles early on. While you don’t want to overwhelm a young kid all at once, training should be consistent and build upon past lessons. Not only will this help the kid’s confidence, but consistently going across challenging terrain will help build up muscle and endurance from a young age.
If lead training becomes an issue, it can be helpful to bring out an older, gentler goat and tie the kid behind them to become more comfortable with following people. Remember, a kid should be confident but not too hard-headed and have good “trail manners.” That is, they should be respectful of people, keep an appropriate pace, and not be too pushy.
Around about a year of age, the pack saddle can be introduced. It’s always good to start with an empty soft or dog pack made for lighter loads and day hikes. As with all things in training, it needs to be done gradually, first letting the kid become familiar with the sights, sounds, and feelings of a new object.
Initial saddling should be done in a comfortable environment such as a stall or pasture. After familiarity has become established, you can begin take the kid on short walks and hikes with the empty pack. Once the two of you are confident, you can start with light objects. (Keep in mind that soft packs are not made for full loads, they are only intended for about ~10% of an animal’s body weight.)
If you have your sights set on extended hikes or hunting trips, eventually, you will need to move your goat up to a traditional crossbuck saddle. (Remember, you still need to introduce any new equipment slowly without any additional weight and in a familiar environment.)
This saddle type has a wood or aluminum frame and two “panniers” or saddlebags — one on each side. You can also pile gear directly atop the saddle. A crossbuck is specifically built to distribute weight the most evenly and can carry a full 50+ lb. load.
Goats should only be moved up to this level of intensity after they’ve reached their full maturity and body weight (usually two to three years of age depending on the breed).
How much time and work you put into your pack animal plays a significant role in the experience you’ll have out on the trail. Remember that this is an ongoing experience, good conditioning and skill come with routine work and many hours on the trail. However, as many avid hikers and goat enthusiasts will tell you, it is always worth it.
Author’s note: For additional reading and guidance, I highly recommend The Pack Goat by John Mionczynski. It may be the most comprehensive literature on the exciting world of goat packing to date!
Pieper, A. (2019, October 28). Pack goats: The benefits, breeds, characteristics, and equipment. MorningChores. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://morningchores.com/pack-goats/
Summit Pack Goat. (n.d.). Training Pack Goats. Summit Pack Goat ~ Hunting with Pack Goats! Retrieved April 7, 2022, from http://www.summitpackgoat.com/Training.html
Training Pack Goats: A complete How To. Packgoats.com. (2017, June 30). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://packgoats.com/pack-goat-training/
Training your pack goat kid. Everything your pack goat will need to learn year one. Packgoats.com. (2018, June 8). Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://packgoats.com/training-your-pack-goat-kid-everything-your-pack-goat-will-need-to-learn-year-one/
All photos courtesy Jodie Gullickson/High Sierra Pack Goats
Originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.