There’s only two things worth aiming for with equipment for training and packing goats. Make it practical and make it cheap. Because let’s face it – if you had a lot of money you’d probably own a horse or a llama or something. With one exception this list includes everything you typically need and it delivers on both of those requirements.
Collars are easy. Just choose a dog collar you like. The collars that seem to work the best are padded on the inside to protect the goat’s neck, (because a goat’s trachea is much more superficial than a dog’s it is more easily injured). If you are hearing your goat cough when you pull back on the leash this may indicate your collar isn’t padded enough and the collar is interfering with the goat’s trachea. If you have a big goat avoid collars with plastic snaps and quick release mechanisms. Metal fastenings usually work best. However, if you are leaving the collar on a medium to small goat all the time, (which never worked for me because goats seem to love to get hung by their collars or rub their fur off with them), you probably do want one with a quick release though so they don’t kill themselves through stupidity. I usually use a 14 inch x 1 inch collar on kids and a 26 inch x 1.5 inch collar on adult goats. If your goat is dehorned you may need a shorter length than 26 inch so the collar doesn’t slip over their head. Avoid martingale collars, choke collars, or basically anything that works by applying excessive neck pressure. Plastic dairy chain can make a good collar if your goat typically hikes off leash. A good insurance policy is to put ID tags on the collar. As I live in an area with many people who would happily eat a stray goat and who are not necessarily fluent in English I like to keep mine short and to the point, with just my phone number and the word REWARD.
Leashes & Leads
These are also easy. I like to use 6 foot dog leashes designed for big dogs. I have also used rope and horse leads. Avoid those retractable leashes they make for dogs. Goats love to get wrapped in those. If you get a lead with a loop at the end you can use a carabiner to attach the lead to your pack, leaving you with your hands free for selfies and the goat still firmly under your control. If you hike with your goat off leash alot, but want something you can grab quickly if you meet other users on the trail, a goat show lead works well, (pictured), and should run you about $3-$4.
Halters are great for large goats that are hard to control with a collar. They are also great for all goats if you need to blend in on a trail intended for horses and other pack animals or if you need to restrain a goat so it can’t get at you with its horns. Remember that if you have a goat wearing a halter you cannot masquerade as a big dog walker when people view you at a distance. They will instantly know something is up if they can see a halter on your “dog”. There are three kinds of halters available.
Rope Halters (cheap): The cheapest rope halter you can buy goes for about $3-$4 and works by applying pressure on the nose of the animal when you pull on the lead. When the animal steps forward, the pressure is released and the animal is thus rewarded for following on the lead. The nose goes through the loop at the bottom of the halter, and the ears and horns go through the top loop. When in doubt while trying to put this type of halter on the goat, you want the lead to come off on the animal’s left and you want the rope that goes under the nose to tighten. Like most things that are the cheapest option in their category, this halter has a few challenges. One is, if you have a goat that can’t figure out how to loosen the halter by stepping forward, you can actually have the goat suffocate in a worst case scenario. I have one goat that when tied in this type of halter has issues with this, (the others are fine). The second issue is that many people find this type of halter frustrating to figure out how to put on the animal, (so if you are working with people not familiar with goats, don’t use these!). Finally, the lead that comes off this halter is the lead you are stuck using – you don’t have an option to change out to a longer or more comfortable one. However, these halters are easy to find and cheap. Never take one of these halters apart, (that is, pull the lead back through its hole so that the underside of the nose area is apart)! Once you do that the halter lead won’t slide as smoothly anymore and thus won’t work as well when releasing the pressure on the goat’s nose!
Rope Halters (expensive): You will see this type of halter sold for horses more often than goats, but if you have a large goat, (or just one with a freakishly massive head), buying a rope halter intended for miniature horses will work just fine. If you luck up on one actually sized for a goat that works too. To put one on, stick the goat’s nose through the loop to which the lead is attached. Then fold up the remaining sides of the halter to go around the goat’s head, and tie the halter off on the left side of goat, (see picture). You can use a very simple knot to tie off the halter, but make sure when you are done the remaining piece sticking out hangs away from the goat’s face and eyes. The advantage of this halter is that you can change out the lead if you want, and unlike the cheap version of the rope halter this halter does not tighten on the goat’s nose. When purchasing the halter pay attention to the number of knots on the nose band, (which is mostly there for horse owners more so than goats). The more knots on the top of the nose band, the more pressure will be applied to the goat’s nose when you pull back on the lead. Most goats are fine with a halter that has no knots on top of the nose because they do not have as rigid of a neck as a horse and thus cannot apply as much force to their handler as a horse. But you know, options are nice. The main downside to this type is the difficulty of finding one and the cost is greater. You can make these halters if you want too from paracord.
Regular Halters: These are the good ole’ standard fabric halters you see horses wearing all the time. They make a goat specific version. The only difference between horses and goats is that you want a halter that has an X of fabric under the goat’s jaw. This keeps the wily critter from sliding out! Do not buy halters intended for horses or sheep because they don’t have this X. Also, be careful about sizing as it can be hard to find small halters of this type. This type of halter usually runs about $10.
Pack saddles vary based on what you want to do and the age of the animal. The two main types are soft sided packs and true wooden or metal packs. Both usually have panniers, which are bags that hang on the saddle for you to put stuff, (like snack bars, chihuahuas, and bear spray), in.
Soft Sided Packs: Soft sided packs are what pack goats in training (1 yr to 3-4 yrs) wear. They are also great if you want to just hike for the day with a goat and not deal with all the trouble of a true pack. Finally, if you have a goat that cannot carry the 10lb or so of an empty wooden or metal pack because it has back issues or is very small, (like a pygmy), soft sided packs can be a great option. The downside is that because the soft sided pack does not have rigid support to help distribute and balance the load on the goat the amount of stuff the goat can carry is much less than with a true pack saddle, (instead of a 1/3 of the goat’s weight, aim for more like a 1/10). I make my own soft sided packs, whose ugly visages can be seen in my trail reviews. However, commercial soft sided packs made for goats are available for purchase online. Expect to pay $30 or more to buy one, and about $20 to make one.
True Pack Saddles: This is the only item on this list that you can’t find a cheaper version of, but you can find reasonably priced saddles with reasonable performance if you aren’t exactly minting your own currency. Expect to pay $100-$400 for the saddle and panniers. True pack saddles are historically wooden, but now come in aluminum too, (though aluminum is really only worth it for those going on exceedingly long treks). Pack saddles can be purchased online from Northwest Pack Goats and Butt-Head Pack Goats Supply, among other retailers. I personally use a Butt-Head wooden saddle and will probably purchase more from this company in the future. As they build their own saddles it takes a while to get one, but the quality of the build is excellent and they sell panniers and replacement pads for the saddles.
When buying a pack saddle have a specific goat in mind. Goats are prone to getting saddle sores more so than horses, so choose the right type of saddle for the goat and the job it must do, (wooden for regular hikes and aluminum for those really long death treks). Ideally each goat should have its own saddle because the pads conform to the goat’s body and thus help avoid saddle sores. If you use a saddle with pads that have aged and worn till they conform to goat A on goat B you are increasing the risk of getting saddle sores with goat B.
In terms of construction, in general, a hard wood (ex: oak) saddle will last longer than one made from soft wood (ex: pine or aspen) and of course aluminum lasts the longest. Saddles that are finished last longer than those that do not have a protective finish over the wood, especially if you are in a wet climate. Given the difficulty of constructing a saddle for goats, (it requires a lot of sanding and special-ish equipment), purchasing one is typically more expedient than trying to construct a saddle that won’t wear a hole through your goat’s hide. Remember that pack saddles count towards the total weight your goat will be carrying. If weight is a major constraint consider whether you want to buy a lighter (but more expensive) aluminum saddle. Also, when purchasing a saddle if you have the option to get additional straps to hold the saddle on, consider investing in these if you are going to be moving lots of gear across rough terrain. The extra straps can help avoid saddle sores from the load shifting.
If you are using a pack saddle in order to efficiently carry gear you need to buy panniers. I like to buy the safety orange ones since I hike in areas that are popular for hunting. Pannier buying is pretty straight forward – buy panniers that are the right size to hang on your saddle, (they hang over those cross pieces at the top), and the right size for the amount of stuff you plan to carry. If you have a problem with being tempted to overload a goat, buy the smallest option you can in panniers and it will force you to not be stupid. It is impossible to fix stupid, but it is possible to engineer around it! Also, if you have an option between snap closers and tie closers go for the snaps because they are easy to open if you need to get something out while the goat is still carrying the panniers around. Make sure when you buy your panniers, if they are not already waterproof, that you waterproof them with some spray on or something if you plan to carry things you don’t want wet. However, remember that once you spray on this coating any water that gets in your insufficiently secured pannier is going to pool in the bottom because it can’t escape. Plan accordingly.
Blankets are optional, but are nice to have, and run about $40. If you are hiking in really wet weather; if you are hauling your goat in a manner that allows lots of very cold air to blow across it; or if it’s a short hair with little cashmere and the outside temperature is less than 10 degrees you will probably want a blanket. I only blanket my goats when they are being hauled in the open truck in very cold weather, or if the outside temperature is 10F or less and they appear cold. My cashmere producing crosses I do not blanket at all ever because they don’t seem to get cold, (they’ll sleep under the snow and pop out in the morning for grain).
There are several commercial and custom goat blanket makers, but I think the big thing to keep in mind is to order a blanket that fits your size goat and does the job you need it to do. Always try to buy a blanket that is waterproof since goats go hypothermic a lot faster if they accidentally get wet! If you are taking the blanket along on a multi-day trek because you are concerned the goat might freeze to death or something, buy a light weight blanket that folds up small and is waterproof, (I have one like this from Northwest Pack Goats that works great). If you just need to blanket a goat because it’s being hauled in an open goat box in cold weather you can buy something fancy and heavy. In terms of the number of straps holding the blanket on your mischievous goat, I have a neck strap and a belly strap and have found that plenty to keep a blanket on.
Tie Out Lines
Tie out lines are some type of rope for tying a goat to a stationary object, (ex: a tree), so that it can graze. The best tie out lines are designed for dogs and are made out of rust resistant cable with snaps at either end. The snaps are good because you can snap the rope around the tree instead of trying to tie a knot that is completely goat proof. A spring installed in the cable is also beneficial for those goats that tend to bolt when frightened because it provides additional give. However, if you aren’t into spending the money for a dog tie out line you can use rope fairly well too, so long as you avoid thin rope that could wind tightly around the goat and injure it. Avoid chain if you can due to similar risks of injury. I usually like to have about 20 foot or so of rope for a tie out line so that you have plenty to tie around a tree and still lots of slack for the goat to graze on.
There are other miscellaneous things you might want. Consider if you want a collapsible water bowl, (for those in town hikes), or a bell to keep track of an unleashed goat that might get separated from you when traveling through dense underbrush. Having a few carabiners attached to your pack is a good idea as well, especially if you have to string multiple goats together. Oh, and a knife and a rope. Carrying a rope is always a great idea, if only so at the end of the day when the goat finally pushes you over the edge you can tie it up and barbecue it.