Unless you’ve been elk hunting out in the North Western U.S., you’ve likely never heard of a pack goat. They are used quite a bit out there, but in the rest of the lower 48, they’re less commonly used. However, that is slowly starting to change.
I first learned about pack goats last year while teaching survival skills at an outdoor adventure race here in the Ozarks called the Brewha Bushwhack. That’s where I met Casey Brewster. Casey is a Combat Veteran and the owner of Snake Mountain Pack Goats, a non-profit organization dedicated to using packing goats to take Veterans and First Responders on outdoor adventures.
A lot was going on (me teaching and him educating about pack goats), so we didn’t get much time to visit but, during our short conversation, the information he gave me about pack goats intrigued me, and I wanted to learn more.
So, when I got the opportunity to write this article, I called Casey to get a better understanding of the capabilities and advantages of using pack goats, and this is what I learned.
The first question I had was “why goats instead of a mule?” A mule can definitely carry more weight, and it can be ridden, why would I choose a goat over a mule for packing supplies from point A to point B? Surprisingly, there are a lot of reasons, but before we dive into those, I want to share some information I got from Casey about the goats.
First, there are a lot of breeds to choose from when buying a goat. Large goats or “meat goats” are the standard for pack goats, but specifically, Casey mentioned that Alpine goats, Kiko goats, and American Lamancha goats typically serve well for packing duty. The goats don’t carry much weight until they’re around 3 years old, and they can serve as a pack animal until they are 10-12 years old. Pack goats may start training at one year old by simply carrying a saddle on its back. At two years, there may be a few pounds added for the goat to get used to a little more weight, and by age three, they are ready to fill the role of a pack goat. Casey told me that the main thing is they just need to be very tame and healthy in order to make good pack goats.
Most packing goats are “wethers” (castrated male goats), although some people will take a nanny goat or two along as well to provide fresh milk while on the trail.
Let’s get into the benefits of utilizing pack goats. First, they are much cheaper than mules in terms of initial cost, feeding, necessary equipment needed to haul the animal, and general upkeep. Goats can literally be loaded into the bed of a pickup truck if need be (depending on how many are in the packing herd). They require much less land than a mule (typically 2-4 goats per acre), and they’ll eat dang near anything when it comes to plants and brush, which cuts feeding costs substantially. Once the goats are mature, they can haul 20% to 25% of their body weight (typically about 50 Lbs.) as opposed to a mule who can carry a typical payload of 180 to 210 Lbs. (Keep in mind the true numbers will always depend on the individual animal and situation). So, it may take three to four goats to carry the weight that one mule can, but there are additional benefits to having goats that may outweigh that payload difference.
For instance, one person can lead 10 trained goats without any problems. Casey told me that once the goats are trained, they just follow. No leashes tied from one to another, and they aren’t curious creatures like dogs that will often run off into the woods, exploring a scent they picked up. Goats are prey animals and taking off to explore away from the pack is not typical. Keeping numbers simple, 10 goats capable of a 50 pounds payload per goat gives us a 500 pounds payload capacity. Keep in mind, that’s for one person leading the goats. Add another person, and you can add another 10 goats. Now we’re talking about 1,000 pounds overall payload capacity, which is nothing to sneeze at. Now add in the fact that although mules are fairly capable in rough terrain, they can’t contend with a goat in the roughest of terrains. You can find pictures all over the internet of goats standing on what appears to be a vertical rock wall.
The benefits mentioned above sound pretty good to me, but there are even more benefits of the pack goat to consider. Especially for all the preparedness and survival minded folks out there. With a couple of nanny goats in the pack, you may sacrifice a few pounds of payload capacity (nanny goats typically can’t carry the same payload as the wethers), but now you’re adding milk and protein into the benefit column. If things got bad, you could butcher and eat one of your goats to survive as well. Consider a long journey through predator country. Having the goats in camp at night would give you an alert system if any predators were creeping around the perimeter and give you time to react to the situation. It would also likely make your goat the target in a predator attack instead of you being targeted while you sleep.
Speaking of securing the goats in camp, Casey said he typically secures his goats in camp by utilizing a tall runner cable tethered between two trees.
In terms of carrying food for the goats, it’s not really an issue in most places because goats feed on the vegetation around them. In fact, Casey told me that a large part of their water intake is actually absorbed through eating green vegetation. That’s not to say goats won’t or don’t need to drink from a stream or pond but, it does mean that water procurement is probably not commonly as critical of a problem with goats as it may be for some other animals. This definitely contributes to them being lower maintenance creatures.
I asked Casey if someone were going to take a couple of pack goats on a hunting trip, do the goats stay tied to the runner while the person is out hunting or what the procedure would typically be. He said that usually, there will be someone responsible for staying in camp to look after the goats as you really don’t want them left alone due to predators, etc. but…there is another option as well. He said he hasn’t put this theory to the test yet but plans to this hunting season. He mentioned the possibility of simply taking them with you and staking them out close to your tree, ground blind, etc. He talked about the possibility of them being with you on the hunt, actually being beneficial. They may serve as an effective scent cover.
As our discussion continued, both of our thoughts also turned toward the fact that at a distance, a deer may even think the goat is another deer and possibly even result in the deer letting its guard down a bit. I’m personally wondering about the goats even acting as an unintentional deer decoy. We aren’t allowed to use deer decoys where I hunt in Oklahoma, but if a pack goat just so happened to have that effect, I’d say that would fall into a “gray area” haha!
No, I don’t need a pack goat decoy to be successful harvesting a deer in the woods, but as survival minded people, it’s important to consider these types of benefits because the reality is, we may not always be in a position where we are hunting for sport and extra meat for the freezer, we may have to hunt for our survival. Any advantage I could have in that scenario…I’ll take it!
As the conversation continued with Casey, I started to think about the possibility of simply using a couple of pack goats on a long hike. I’m talking about just taking off for a few weeks, covering miles in the wilderness for the pure enjoyment of spending time in the great outdoors. You could carry more supplies to extend your time in the wilderness without coming out to restock and, having a couple of animals around to keep you company might be nice. Maybe it’s not quite the same as having your dog out there with you, but still, it’s along the same thought process.
Having said that, not all trails are going to be welcoming of goats, especially out west. Casey mentioned that a serious concern of the Game and Fish Department is a disease that goats may carry being transferred to big horn sheep and impacting their numbers. He said there is some controversy as to which animal (the goat or the sheep) actually carries and transfers the disease. But as far as most Fish & Game departments out west are concerned, goats carrying the disease are a serious threat and won’t be allowed on the trail systems. Either way, you’d certainly want to do your homework as to what is and isn’t permitted on any trail system before you head out on an adventure with a bunch of pack goats in tow.
I want to send a big thanks to Casey Brewster over at Snake Mountain Pack Goats for sharing some great information for this article! For any of you who are as intrigued as I was and would like to learn more, Casey Brewster can be reached at email@example.com.