Here are several reasons that you might find it rewarding to purchase a goat to accompany you on hikes and packing trips versus the more standard dog, horse, donkey, and llama.
For the Climb
Going somewhere your dog isn’t going to make it up? Or that you won’t make it up loaded to the gills with gear? Goats excel at climbing – and if you don’t overload them they can help you do the heavy lifting necessary to get a lot of gear to the top of a mountain, a rock wall, or pile of fallen logs. All while making you jealous at their super blow down scaling skills.
Leg and Back Injuries or Just Plain Getting Old
Can’t carry that heavy overnight pack yourself anymore, but still want to be on those hiking only trails? Well, you can’t take llamas, horses, or donkeys, but you can take goats on most hiking only trails. Low impact trail users, goat’s hooves don’t damage trail surfaces like horses, and they are small enough to go incognito, unlike the rather obvious llama. I partially got into hiking/packing with goats because of a knee injury that doesn’t take kindly to more than 25lbs in my pack.
Dogs May Be Great Company But They Don’t Pack
I have hiked with true trail dogs, (the skinny ones that seem to run forever and climb like a monkey). They are impressive, they keep up, and they give you a sense of security when camping in bear country. What they don’t do is carry much. They can handle a water bowl and a bag of food, but that’s about it. You still have to carry your own stuff!
If You Like to Hunt You Will Love Goats
Do you enjoy hunting (deer/bear/coyote/etc.) but dread hauling that dead critter back to the truck? Bring a goat with you to do the heavy lifting! Not only can goats easily traverse treacherous terrain including snow, fallen trees, swamp, and rock falls that would have you screaming in frustration with that 300lb deer on your back, but they are excellent lures for popular prey species. The bears, mountain lions, and coyotes all want to eat them, and the deer are just too curious to stay away. So forget the mule and the donkey. Hell, you might even be able to leave the dogs if you tie that goat out just right. Take a goat for your next hunting trip.
Lower Cost of Ownership/Transport/Housing
Compared to a horse, donkey, or llama a goat is cheaper to buy, eats less food, requires healthcare that can be entirely owner provided (so no vet except in emergencies), needs minimal housing, and can be thrown in the back of a compact car to go to the trail if necessary. Goats don’t require farriers every 6 weeks, which is a major consideration and cost with solid hooved animals like horses and donkeys. Of course, there is a trade off – you can’t ride goats unless you’re a small child, and if you feel safer packing with an animal that can put up more of a fight against predators than a goat you may be happier with horses, donkeys, and llamas.
Challenge and Profitability
I enjoy the challenge of teaching livestock, but I realize the importance of doing it right. While I would never presume to be experienced enough to break a horse, I do feel comfortable raising, training, and using a goat. The reason is simple – if you do a poor job training a horse, llama, donkey, or dog you are stuck with that animal regardless of how poorly it turned out. You could sale the animal, but then you are passing on problems to a new owner, which doesn’t do the buyer, and more importantly, the animal, any good. However, if you spend 4 years working your hardest to teach a goat to pack and that goat doesn’t pack, you just eat it, (or let someone else eat it), and go on. Which brings me to another great perk of packing goats versus other options. If you have a few does you pack with and you have the time and money to manage them intensively and feed them well, you can pay part of the bill of owning them through producing kids and milk, which are readily sold or consumed, (unlike producing foals/puppies/crias that must be raised and trained to be valuable). While this may not appeal to the warm and fuzzy type of person, someone who has paid one too many massive feed bills may welcome an animal in the barn that contributes more than just labor to the bottom line.
Environmentally Friendly and Low Impact Trail Users
Like llamas, goats are very easy on the surface of dirt trails because they are cloven hooved animals that don’t dig into the soil when they walk. Instead their two “claws” (the two nails of the goat hoof) expand slightly on contact with the ground and then contract, to give them their legendary surefootedness. This makes them both suitable and a good environmentally friendly choice for trails that are designed for hikers or that pass through areas prone to erosion. In contrast, horses, donkeys, and ponies dig in with their solid hooves to gain traction, leading to significant trail erosion if lots of them travel on wet or erosion prone trails, (hence why you will sometimes see “trails closed to horses” signs when the trails are really muddy). If you want to travel on fragile trails goats are a great choice for getting your gear to your campsite while minimizing your environmental impact.
Queens of the Winter
Does your usual hiking buddy call you on the phone and say they can’t make it if the weather drops below 60F? Do you resent having to go it alone all winter long? Goats are great, especially in the south, for winter hiking when all your human companions chicken out. They tend to love cooler to cold weather, and those with significant cashmere (the insulating hair of goats) are very cold tolerant. If they look a little cold because you got really crazy and got out the snowshoes for this hike, just throw a blanket on them over the saddle and keep right on going. So if you like to get up on that 29F morning with light snow to hike out for some ice climbing, consider if you want a goat to carry you stuff in and keep you company.