What is a Pack Goat?
A pack goat is generally a wether (neutered male goat), but they can also be a doe (female goat) that is either dry (not in milk) or in milk. The breed of goat can be any variety of dairy goat, either purebred or crossbred.
A pack goat is a hiking partner that is experienced in the back country, in tune with its instincts, strong, hard working, intelligent, loyal, and disciplined.
What Is Goat Packing?
Goat packing entails placing a pack on a goat. Then, you and this gentle creature embark upon an adventure with them carrying most of the gear. Not carrying as much on your back is a way to enhance your out-of-doors experience. Pack goats can be your best friend on the trail. They are willing hiking companions and enjoy the company of people. Proper training is a primary key to successful goat packing. Goats are intelligent and curious creatures but they need positive training to know what they are supposed to do for you on the trail. The more you work with your goat, the more bonded it becomes to you. Keeping a pack goat at home requires a time commitment - the reward is a less strenuous hike!
How Much Can a Goat Carry?
A mature, conditioned goat can carry up to 25%-30% of its body weight.
What Do You Look for in a Pack Goat?
One looks for characteristics such as strong feet and legs, long legs, long body, wide and deep chest, bright eyes and shiny coat, long stride, slightly hocky, good temperament and friendly nature.
Conformation is what a packgoat looks like. That is, nice top line, good chest, wide ribs, etc. Packgoats need to look like they will work for you. There are a number of items that we look for in a packgoat. These include:
o Level top line - the back should be more or less a straight line with no bumpiness.
o Proportion - the measurement from the shoulder to the ground should be approximately the same as the measurement from the base of the neck to the base of the tail.
o Chest - the chest should be wide and deep.
o Ribs - on an adult packgoat, one should be able to put a finger width between each rib.
o Legs - legs should be thick with the front cannon bone and foreleg being approximately the same length, pasterns should be perpendicular to the ground; elbows should not "wing" out (come away from the body) when the animal is on the move; large hooves are a plus; hockiness (hocks are turned toward the inside) is also a plus.
o Body type - the packgoat should look muscular in appearance (not a dairy goat type) with thigh/gaskin muscles well defined; shoulders and neck should also show good muscle tone.
A packgoat does not have to be huge to be a good packer. A strong, well muscled goat is more of a plus than a huge goat. The packgoat body should not be out of proportion; that is, legs not proportioned to its body, or the chest too small for the size of the goat, or the goat too fat. When picking out a kid goat, the best thing to do is look at its parents or older brothers or sisters to see what their conformation is. If this is not possible, look for a kid that is well proportioned for its size. This means good size head; neck and chest for the size of the goat; legs that are thick with good-sized hooves; pasterns that are up high; ribs that are wide; thick thigh area; straight back. What we look for in a kid goat is a "strong" looking goat, a "sturdy" goat.
Our experience is that "attitude" plays an extremely important part in a packgoat. We recommend choosing a goat that is friendly, curious, doesn't mind being touched places, and one that has an alertness and brightness to its character.
Horns or Not?
Horns on a pack goat function as a cooling system - they each have a large blood vessel running through them. This allows the animal to cool itself as the blood circulates through the horn. The heat dissipates to the surface of the horn. Horns are also good for protection against dogs and predators. If a goat is bottle raised (and no one played with its horns), it should not drop its horns to people. For people that have shown dairy goats, the 4H and the American Dairy Goat Association rules are "no horned animals". This is for safety simply because many people do not hand raise their goats, and some breeds of goats tend to be more aggressive than others. If one chooses not to keep the horns, the best time to disbud (destroy the horn buds) is when the goat kid is ten days to two weeks of age. Our experience indicates that disbudding is best done with the use of a hot iron, as pastes and castrator bands do not work well with goats.
What is the Cost of a Pack Goat?
From a pack goat breeder, you can expect to pay $100 to $175 for a beginning pack goat less than six months of age. A fully trained pack goat can cost $250 or more, plus equipment.
What Equipment Do I Need?
Two types of packs are commonly used. A soft pack is usually used for day hikes or for training purposes. A soft pack costs about $50, and is used to carry no more than 20% of the goat's body weight. The other type of pack is a cross buck, and is used to carry full loads of 20% to 30% of the goat's body weight. The cross buck consists of the pack (wood or metal), saddle pad, and panniers (carrying bags). This pack type can cost $150 or more. You also need a collar and lead for the goat.
What Do I Need to Consider if I Decide to Purchase a Goat?
Land – 100 sq. ft. per goat.
Fencing – 5-ft. high field/horse fencing.
Shelter – Covered, with at least 3-sides, dry and draft free.
Food - hay/alfalfa and vitamins.
Water – fresh daily.
Health Care – yearly checkups, worming six times/year, yearly vaccinations, hooves trimmed every 3 to 6 weeks.
Companionship – consider 2 goats to keep each other company.
Care Cost – about $15 to $20 per month.
Exercise – a hike a week or walks during the week. An exercised goat is a healthy goat.
Training Time – plan to spend a few minutes each day with the goat to work on commands as well as for bonding.
Why Doe Goats as Packers?
Does are usable as pack animals. Dry does can be as strong as wethers - choose a doe that is not "dairy" in character. That is, you don't want an extremely tall, long, deep doe. Choose a doe that has muscles and good strong legs. You want your pack goat to look like a working goat not a "show goat". You can keep a doe dry - do not allow it to come into milk by not breeding it. This does not hurt the doe.
One reason for having doe pack goats may be for breeding. Another reason for doe pack goats is to have a milk goat on the trail (fresh milk on long trips can be very tasty). Gestation (carrying time of the baby) is 145 to 155 days. The breeding period is between August and the following April. You can cross breed a doe; that is, use one breed of doe and breed her to another breed of buck in order to get certain characteristics from each breed. If you take a doe who is in milk on the trail, you will need to protect her udder from the brush.
Why Pack Goats and not Llamas or Horses or Mules?
Goats are less expensive to purchase and to keep. Goats need less space. Generally, goats can be handled by all ages of people. Goats can negotiate rougher and higher terrain. Goats are friendly and willing to work for you.
For additonal information regarding our farm, Edelweiss Acres, including awards, community involvement and some of our recent presentations, please click here.
Upcoming Goat Seminars
Edelweiss Acres will be conducting a 1-day seminar: a date has not been set. There will be 2 sessions: Goat Health Care & Nutrition for All Goats and All About Packgoats. The seminars occur at Edelweiss Acres' farm in Olympia, WA. There will be a lunch break; bring a sack lunch or go to near-by locations. We try to schedule seminars twice annually (as there is interest and need). Our last seminar was a 1-day seminar that occurred on May 26, 2018 in Olympia, WA.
There will be lots of hands-on time with goats as well as informational hand-outs. This will be held in Thurston County (near Olympia, Washington). The seminar cost is $25.00 per person (group discounts are available). 4H cost is $7.50 per person. Please call Donna at 360-742-8310 for more information, directions or to register (you can also register at the seminar, but please call Donna to let her know that you are coming). Mark your calendars and join us for a great goat experience.
Click here for additional information on our last seminar that occurred on May 26, 2018, a Saturday.
Pack Goat Manual
Edelweiss Acres has written and sells Pack Goat Manuals. These manuals evolved out of the experience and love of goats of our now married daughter, Liz Semasko-Smith. The Manuals include the topics covered in our seminar (refer to previous paragraph). Each manual also includes additional information, such as:
One manual has additional information that is specific to 4-H members, such as is needed for showing, presentations and records. The manuals:
We offer a 4-H discount for 4-H youth and leaders. The cost of the manuals is as follows:
To order one of the Pack Goat Manuals, please send a check or money order payable to Donna Semasko. Please mail payment to:
7211 40th Court NE
Olympia, WA 98516
If you have any questions or need additional information, please call Donna Semasko at (360) 742-8310, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.