A good pack goat can carry up to 30 percent of his weight accompanying you out into the wilderness. That doesn't mean you can slap a pack on your pet goat and light out for the territory. Conditioning and training will take some time before your goat can safely carry weight for any length of time.
While packing with donkeys and horses dates back centuries, goat packing is a relatively new practice. According to Langston University, goat packing came about in 1972 ostensibly out of necessity when a United States Forest Service researcher was following a herd of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep. His horses weren't as nimble as the sheep and were unable to get up the terrain. He successfully pressed a pet goat into service, and goat packing was born. Today, 4-H offers pack-goat projects for members.
Choosing a Goat
Because they carry weight, pack goats must be relatively strong and large. No pygmies or other small breeds need apply for the job. When choosing a potential pack goat, look for an animal with strong and healthy feet, a long body and long legs. A shiny coat and bright eyes usually denotes good health. Because pack goats walk much of the day, a long stride is a good trait to look for. Disposition is also important. You want a friendly, willing animal. Wethers, castrated males, and does, females, both make suitable pack goats; but wethers are generally larger and stronger than females.
According to the North American Pack Goat Association, many people prefer bottle-raising kids for future pack goats, as this bonds the owner and goat very closely. If you decide to raise a kid, have it polled -- horns removed -- and castrated if it is a male. While you can start training your goat early on, remember that most breeds don't fully mature until the age of 4, so you should wait until then before going on long trips with your goat fully loaded.
You'll need a collar or halter and a lead for your pack goat. When starting out, you can use a soft pack on younger or inexperienced goats. You can make your own soft pack by adding straps to two backpacks, so one is on each side of the goat, or purchase one from a goat supply catalog. Once your goat is conditioned and ready for heavier loads, you can buy a cross buck or pack goat saddle. This consists of the saddle and pad, along with the bags hanging off the cross buck, known as panniers.
Early training consists of lots of socialization. Take your goat on walks and let him meet people and encounter a variety of new sights in different places. While you're walking, teach him simple commands such as Stop and Go. You'll also teach him to stand tied to a post. You can put the soft pack on him during these trips. As he progresses, teach him to jump onto an obstacle on command -- jumping onto stuff is second-nature to a goat -- walk over logs, go over a tarp and go through water. You'll also add additional weight to the pack as he matures. If you're in 4-H, the pack goat project includes showing and goats are expected to perform certain tasks depending on their years of training.
In order to go goat packing, most folks will have to load the pack animal into a vehicle. You can easily lead a goat onto a stock or horse trailer, but transporting one via pickup bed requires a little more effort. Since most goats are food-driven, treats serve to entice one to jump into the cargo bay. If your pickup bed isn't enclosed, entice your goat into a secured large dog crate or similar structure for the ride.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.