So you’ve lost your mind and decided to actually buy goats. The list of considerations when you go on a pack goat hunting expedition boils down to two things – health and suitability for packing.
This is a biggie. If the doe isn’t healthy, she won’t be able to pack. Primary issues with does are:
AGE – How old is the doe? Does older than 7 years of age that spent those 7 years laying around the barn may not be physically able to transition to packing or hiking. The same is true of heavy milking does whose udders may get in the way after several lactations. If in doubt check her teeth to determine the age of the doe.
DISEASE – There are several diseases that are the kiss of death for pack goats. CAE, CL, Johnes, and P. tenuis are usually the worst ones in terms of rendering a goat physically unable to pack. The first three are spread goat to goat, so if you bring a goat that has CAE, CL, or Johnes into your herd, (or on your hikes), it could spread it to other goats. Test your prospective goats for CAE, CL, and Johnes through your state lab or your veterinarian before purchase, or if that is not possible, before the doe leaves quarantine. Tests are not 100% accurate, so talk to the producer to determine if they have cases of these diseases on their farm. A good seller will be honest with you, but if you have doubts, ask to view the rest of their herd for yourself. See other pages for more detailed information on these diseases.
KIDDING NUMBER – How many times has this doe given birth? If you are wanting a doe for milking and packing you need to know that she can safely carry kids to term and that she produces reasonable numbers of kids, (ideally 2 due to constraints of wearing a pack while being pregnant). I have run into at least one line of Alpine milk goats that produces quadruplets. These goats are going to be too busy carrying around all those babies to carry your stuff too! Further, a doe that has produced twins several times is likely to continue producing twins for her useful life. A doe that starts of with a singlet on her first kidding could do anything – she could continue with singlets, produce twins, or even triplets on her next kidding. Remember you have to sacrifice some on farm productivity for packing.
SUITABILITY FOR PACKING
If she ain’t physically or mentally made to pack, she ain’t gonna pack.
PRIOR HANDLING- She can be the biggest, prettiest, most productive lady on four legs, but if she’s never been handled in her life she won’t make a pack goat. Bottle babies usually make the best pack goats, but doelings raised by their parents can be too, so long as they’ve had significant human interaction. Significant human interaction doesn’t mean fed once a day by someone dumping grain over the fence. The best does are those that were either played with a lot as doelings or have been hand milked for at least one lactation by a backyard farm. Some goats are naturally fond of humans even without all that touchy feely stuff, but if in doubt, lean towards the ones that have been physically handled.
LEASH MANNERS- This sounds trivial, but it’s actually pretty important. If you are buying a doeling more than a year old, if that doe/doeling hasn’t ever been on a leash you will find it very challenging to teach them to walk on one. Not impossible necessarily, but very difficult. Given the number of parks that require animals to be leashed at all times a doe that won’t walk on a leash for extended periods can be a real pain, (I have a doe like this). Does that are hand milked often have leash skills taught to them during their first lactation, so ask the seller about it.
TEMPERAMENT- Ask yourself: Will the doe get along with my current pack string? If it’s a dominant doe and you already have a dominant goat in the string, you’ll just end up with a cat fight half way down the mountain. Will you and the doe get along? If you don’t bond with this goat at the seller’s place, the odds are you won’t like her enough to take her hiking when you get her home. Can the doe deal with scary things and act intelligently? Don’t pick the doe that jumps six foot in the air as soon as you walk through the gate. There are probably other questions you need to ask yourself or the seller as well, so think it over.
BREED – While any goat can potentially hike, not all breeds are created equal. If you need a goat that loves you like your dog, you won’t be happy with most Toggenburgs, (cue the angry responses from Togg enthusiasts!). If you need to be sure that the goat you buy will be happy packing because you aren’t comfortable with reselling it if it doesn’t work out, don’t choose a Nubian, as this breed tends to prefer to lay around the yard instead of hiking. In short, think about what you need to be happy with the animal, then talk to people and Google till you are sure about what you want to pursue. Don’t dismiss crosses either – most of the goats I’ve hiked with are not purebreds.
ADULT SIZE – I use the words “pack” and “hike” interchangeably a lot. However, if you are serious about packing your goat, (that is, putting a real wooden or aluminum pack saddle on it and having it carry a significant load), you need to get a goat that is big enough to do this. Body weight is not the only consideration, though it does determine how much a goat can carry. Most goats will be able to carry about 1/3 of their body weight at max including the saddle and all the stuff you packed on it. Pack goats that have to travel long distances should also have as close to the same stride length as a human to minimize the amount of extra walking they need to do to keep up with you, (avoid chihuahua syndrome!). However, if all you want to do is hike, any size goat, even a Nigerian Dwarf or Pygmy, will do.
GOOD CONFIRMATION – Like a car, if a goat isn’t made well it isn’t going to run well. While scoring systems such as linear evaluation can help determine the quality of a goat’s build, and are valuable for choosing high quality breeding does, for most people when buying a goat to pack the main issue is to make sure the legs are straight, the pasterns are upright and not drooping (see image below for an example in horses), the back is level from tail to neck, and the legs are as thick as reasonable for the body type of the animal. There are numerous other considerations, but since the goal is a packable/hikeable animal and not a show stopping perfection on hooves, that usually is enough.
UDDER SIZE – Udder size is important when packing a doe. If you have a massive udder you won’t be able to pack the doe when she is in milk. If you want her to stay in milk as much as possible, then a goat that milks like crazy won’t be packable at all. Consider if you are okay with mediocre milk production before purchasing a doe with the intent to pack. If you decide you can live with that, talk to the seller and see the doe’s mother in milk if possible. You want strong attachments at the sides, rear, and front of the udder. This means the udder should blend into the body wall smoothly, not stop abruptly. There should be little history of does in the goat’s maternal line having to be culled due to udders dragging on the ground, (a sign of weak ligaments holding the udder). If she’s got big hand milker teats, are these teats up and out of her way? Can she walk comfortably even when her udder is fairly full?
HORNS – Ah the age old question: to keep the horns or not to keep them? Hiking does without horns means less risk of a stranger being headbutted, but as horns help goats cool down and provide some protection against dogs, I do try to keep horns on all my packers. However, dehorned does can be packed just fine generally, and may be more readily available if you want to pack a dairy breed. There is a time limit after birth for dehorning a baby goat. Once that time limit is past the goat will not be able to be safely dehorned. So consider if a dehorned goat is what you want before the kid is born so you can have things arranged and ready to go. Also, don’t buy an adult goat with horns with the intent of dehorning it. This is a risky, dangerous, bloody, painful, and often fatal procedure, which most vets will not willingly do for you. Taking the tips off a goat’s horns is equally risky – if you accidentally hit any blood vessels in the horns, the goat will bleed out and die. If you are buying a goat with horns you are accepting that that goat will have horns for the rest of its life, regardless of its personality issues!
*Always keep in mind that goats are herd animals, so you need to have at least two usually. Most goats will insist on having a buddy goat to hang out with rather than flying solo. Don’t give them a buddy and they will climb the fence and locate one for themselves. You have been warned.*
WHAT TO ASK THE SELLER WHEN YOU BUY A GOAT
Buying a goat is not too dissimilar from buying a horse in that you are planning to spend a lot of money to purchase an animal that you have very high (but hopefully realistic) expectations of. Those who have bought horses know that horse sellers are prone to exaggerating the animal’s skills, being utterly wrong on the animal’s age, and often downright lying about the animal’s personality! While most goat owners are much more candid and honest, I still have a list of questions I use when I go in search of a new goat to try and weed out the truth and nothing but the truth about the animal! I have included them here as suggestions of some of the things you might want to ask when purchasing a new goat.
- How old is the goat? If in doubt, you can use a goat’s teeth to determine its age up to 5 years of age.
2. Is the goat registered? While registration does not matter for an animal to be packable, this can be important to people who want registered animals or want assurances that the Alpine they are buying is actually an Alpine! Ask to see the registration papers for the goat, and compare the description on that paper to the goat in question to make sure they match! For more on registration and registration eligibility check out ADGA’s current regulations or the Kiko/Boer registries. Oh, and always make sure that the goat actually looks like the breed it is advertised as being. I have seen lots of definitely-boer-cross-no-dairy alpines and lots of “its not a nubians” with spotted floppy ears screaming over the fence.
3. Has the goat or the goat’s parents been tested negative for CAE, CL, or Johnes? You want to see papers from their vet or the state lab indicating a negative test. Goats less than a year of age can be infected with Johnes, but the infection will not be active yet and thus testing for Johnes is not going to return a positive. Additionally, no test is fool proof. To save money many people only test incoming goats and do not test the rest of their herd every year, so you may have to rely on the “I keep a closed herd” response. Additionally, many dairy farms have CAE transmission prevention programs, so ask about that. Finally, look at the herd itself if at all possible. Are there goats with obvious abscesses (a sign of CL if many abscesses on the goat, but also potentially just a vaccine abscess if a single abscess is present). Are there obviously unthrifty animals that are really thin, (this can be a potential sign of Johnes, which affects older goats, but could just be because the does are milking really heavy )? Ask if the owner will allow you to draw blood and test the animal before purchase if you provide a deposit to have them hold the animal. This saves you from potentially bringing a diseased animal back to your farm before you have some proof that the animal is disease free! For more on these diseases and testing for them, see my other pages.
4. Is the goat up to date on vaccines? While most goat owners do not vaccinate for rabies, it is standard to vaccinate goats for CDT (clostridium perfringens C & D plus tetanus). Ask if the goat has had both boosters of CDT and then a yearly booster after that. If the seller says the goat is unvaccinated, then realize that if you purchase this animal you will need to provide 2 shots of CDT 3 weeks apart, (starting when the goat is at least 5 weeks old), to have the goat be protected. After the first 2 shots you will need to revaccinate the goat with CDT once a year. If you live in wet boggy ground where tetanus is likely to be endemic and you plan to castrate the unvaccinated goat you are purchasing before both boosters are complete, consider giving the goat tetanus antitoxin (NOT tetanus toxoid which is a vaccine) at the time of castration to provide temporary protection against tetanus symptoms. Yes, goats can and do die from tetanus. If you buy a pregnant doe, make sure she gets all her CDT shots and is up to date before kidding as she is at risk for “overeating disease” caused by clostridium perfringens after giving birth.
5. When was the goat last dewormed? Asking when the goat was last dewormed gives you an idea of how susceptible the goat is to worms. Ask why the goat was dewormed. Some goat keepers deworm goats right around kidding to stop the periparturient rise (an increase in worms inside the goat as the goat’s immune system is suppressed by the stress of giving birth). However, if the goat is being dewormed a lot (more than 1x a year) because its individual health is declining due to worms then you may want to find another goat or ask about the way the goat is being kept.
6. What dewormer products does the seller use in their herd? Ask what products have been used lately and what products have ever been used in the herd. Ask whether the owner has experienced dewormer resistance problems and if so, with which products. This gives you an idea of the worms your prospective new goat might bring into your herd. If the owner tells you they have a lot of problems with dewormer resistance with the newer drugs (like levamisole or cydectin) at goat appropriate rates of application you may want to rethink purchasing the goat because it may bring in worms that you cannot effectively kill. Regardless, it is always a good practice to worm a goat with three classes of dewormers while it is in quarantine away from your main herd. This cleans out as many worms as possible that it might have brought from its prior home and doesn’t dump any that are still half alive on your pastures! For more on deworming check out my management pages.
7. Has the doe given birth before? If so, how many times? Where there any complications? How many kids did she give birth too? Is she a good mother, (thus saving you from having to raise her offspring)?
8. Are the parents of the goat on the farm? Seeing the parents of the goat you are going to buy helps you estimate how large the goat will be as an adult – an important consideration when determining how much weight a goat will be able to carry! Also, if you’re getting a doe you want to pack you can check out the dam’s udder.
8. Why is the goat for sale? Typically a goat is being sold for a normal reason – its this year’s kids, the herd is being dispersed, or any other number of reasons. Every once in a while though it’s being gotten rid of for reasons that matter if you want a pack goat, including poor behavior, mental deficiency, disease, bad conformation, etc.
Most goat owners are happy to talk about their herd for pretty much until the sun burns out or the end of time, (which ever occurs first). If you’ve got the time, let them talk. You can learn a lot about their herd by listening to their stories.