Goat packing was popularized in the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s by John Mionczynski. He developed a herd of large mixed-breed goats and used them as early as the 1970s to pack supplies for scientists working in the mountains and later to carry food and gear for tourists on hiking trips. Goat packing is popular with both young families, and older individuals who want to be able to go into the wilderness and need help carrying all their gear. Goatpacking can be anything from having a goat carry some snacks on a hike, having a string of goats to carry gear for a 100- mile trip in the back country, and everything in between.
Goats are herd animals and when grouped together they will naturally establish a lead "boss" goat who rules the group and the others will follow that lead goat. Because they also easily socialize to people, goat kids are either bottle fed as babies or dam raised but handled and socialized frequently to establish an unbreakable bond with humans. This bond is what makes packgoats dependable hiking partners. The human becomes the alpha goat and where they go the goats will follow. Training hikes help them develop confidence and figure out what is expected of them. All goat kids begin as packgoat prospects and not all prospects end up being good packgoats.
Packgoats are athletes. A light, weekend packer will be able to use a goat with more flaws, but the harder the goat is worked, the better its conformation needs to be. Attitude plays a vital part in making a great packgoat. A goat can have all the great conformation in the world, but if it doesn’t have a “can-do” attitude it may not become a good packer. It should not be timid, fearful or exhibit a high stress level.
Packgoats wear saddles and panniers built specifically for goats. Packgoats lighten the load on the trail allowing people to travel with the gear they need to be comfortable and safe. Goats can easily carry 10-20% of their total body weight. A mature (4 years and older) fully conditioned packgoat can easily carry 25-30% of their body weight. A good rule of thumb is: The more rugged the terrain, the lighter the load for the goat.
A packgoat can be any breed or crossbreed of goat. The majority are purebred dairy goats or a cross of dairy goat breeds. Meat goat breeds, such as the Boer or Kiko, are sometimes crossed with dairy goat breeds. Small breeds like the Nigerian Dwarf and Miniature Dairy Goats (Nigerian x standard size goat) can be used for packing lighter loads.
Most packgoats are wethers because they are larger and stronger than does and there is no risk of injuring the udder, they don’t experience hormone fluctuations, and they don’t have the strong odor and behavior problems of intact bucks. However, a strong doe that is not pregnant, has a firmly attached udder and is in good shape can also be used. Does should not be taken on the trail when they are in heat. A doe in heat can be very vocal, may attract wildlife and predators and may also be disruptive to your wethers.
Urinary calculi is a major health concern for wether goats. These are mineral stones that sometimes form in the bladder and block the urethra. It is one of the top killers of packgoats and there are several theories as to what causes them.
Some public lands require permits for the use of goats as pack animals. Concerns have been raised about the disease-spreading potential that domestic goats may pose to wild animals, such as mountain goats.