Have Pack Goat, Will Travel

Excerpted from article by Ryan Bradley, Sept 2013

A packgoat is not born a packgoat. It does not take a special breed or a particularly bulky build. Goats will carry things.

It is unclear if goats especially enjoy carrying a pack on their back, but they almost certainly do not not enjoy carrying a pack on their back. The thing about goats: They really don’t mind much as long as they’re with their herd.

Packgoats are made young — quite young. Get a baby goat, no more than four months old, one that’s imprinted on humans within 48 hours of birth. Then raise it, feed it goat milk from a bottle, keep it close and soon enough your goat will gaze upon you with its weird little slit-shaped pupils and see in you the Alpha Goat. You are now the leader of its goatherd. Congratulations, you have a packgoat.

Now, wait four years so the packgoat’s bones are fully developed before fitting it with a halter and panniers (that’s a pack), which will put you back about $200 to $300. A goat looks rather handsome dressed in a pack — at work but casual, unperturbed, like it was born to wear it. Which of course it wasn’t. See above.

Your packgoat will follow you everywhere, especially when you’re out on the trail. You will not be able to go to the bathroom alone. The only time you will sort of be alone is when you tuck in for the night and zip up your tent. Even then, you have to make sure you have tied up your packgoats close by, so that they can maybe hear you, or at least be aware of you, somehow. You’ll have to tie them up, too. Because if they aren’t aware of you, then the packgoats will panic and bleat and run away. Another important reason to keep packgoats close: They could get eaten by coyotes or (less likely) something bigger, like a mountain lion. As the Alpha Goat, you must protect your herd.

Do not overload your packgoats. Twenty to 25 percent of their body weight is suitable, which is plenty for a 180 pound goat. You aren’t using your packgoats to haul televisions! You are using them to lighten your backpacking load. There is no such thing as a movergoat.

You don’t have to carry food for your packgoats. You shouldn’t, in fact. They graze. The ideal diet for a packgoat, or really any goat, is, scientifically speaking here, “brushy stuff.” This is what Larry Robinson, president of the North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA) recommends. “They have a little of this and a little of that and smell a lot of plants and ignore ‘em,” Larry says. “They do not eat everything. Contrary to the myth, they do not eat everything.” Things Larry’s packgoats will not eat in Larry’s garden: weeds. Things Larry’s packgoats will eat in Larry’s garden: his maple trees, and pretty much anything else he’d like to grow. Despite this, Larry loves his packgoats all the same. What packgoats, or any goat, will eat is individual to the goat. For example, Larry’s goats will not eat juniper, but Jeff Ross, a fellow packgoat enthusiast, says his goats just love juniper.

The packgoats are low key, environmentally friendly and generally delightful. Larry has hiked about 1,000 miles with his goats, and only really started five years ago. That’s 200 miles a year, on average. Larry is 72. He also runs Goat Tracks magazine (“The Journal of the Working Goat”) and fields calls from those curious about packgoating all the time.

The thing he loves most about packgoats? How they just follow you everywhere. When he goes out in a group, even with just one other person, and someone falls behind, his goats will bleat at him, turn around, and try and get the person back. All goats are very concerned with keeping the group intact. With packgoats you’re part of the herd, one of their own, an honorary goat.

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