How much can a pack goat carry?
The most common question I get when people first see my pack goats is “how much can a pack goat carry?” This is a very sensible question for a new person. In fact, I asked exactly the same one when I first began to hop down the trail into pack goat oblivion. That said, what a new person should be asking is this: What can a well conditioned, good confirmation, agile, 200 lb goat carry on flat ground for 10 miles?” This I could answer accurately. How much a goat can carry is very dependent on several variables. This is what we will discuss here, and next time you are asked this same common question you can just send people to this article. This will help new folks have the whole story before they start.
Also, don’t forget a Pannier Scale! It’s an essential piece of equipment every goat packer must have for balancing panniers.
The basic, correct answer to how much can a “pack goat carry” is 30% of his body weight. Goats are touted to be the highest body weight ratio pack stock of any animal. I’ve heard as high as about 35%. I personally almost never pack my boys that heavy. If so, it’s never for long distance, rough terrain, or large gains in elevation. I try to keep my boys at 25% – 30%. If I find myself needing more, I get another goat or load myself instead. So, using that logic, a 200 pound goat can carry 60 pounds as that is 30% of his body weight. Now remember, that is total load. Often the saddles will weigh about 7 lbs by themselves. Panniers usually weigh about 1 – 2 lbs. So that means that a good heavy load on your 200 pound goat is actually 53 pounds in gear and panniers. This weight is split evenly within a pound on each side. Now if you find you yourself saying “I need to carry more per goat”; you will need bigger, well bred goats. Many of my packers, and the genetics we are raising today, are in the 220-260 range. If you’re interested in goats like that, they can be found here with proper confirmation and drive.
Pack Goat Genetics
This leads us to the next variable, which is, “all goats are not created equal.” In fact, the most important purchase you will make is the “right goat with proven genetics”. This is especially true for a goat packer looking to pack at a medium to high level. I would estimate about half the goats in America can be taken off the list immediately. This is based on good pack goat candidates being of good size and confirmation alone. Most goat weathers will finish at 150 lbs or less. Many will be very short and too fat which greatly limits how much you can carry. I want all my goats to finish over 200 lbs, be slender, tall, agile, and have lots of heart. That way I know they have the “good stuff” from the start. It’s very expensive and a waste of time to raise a goat till he is 4 to find he doesn’t work out. For a complete article on breeds and what to look for in a good pack goat go here. So, from here forward let’s assume you have a goat with the “right stuff.” Now we need to discuss terrain and distances he will be packing in.
Terrain and Distance and Climate
The terrain and distance a goat will be packing makes a huge difference in how heavy they should be loaded. It’ll also vary how many breaks I will give them while on the trail, if any. Additionally, one other factor I’m going to quickly mention is quality gear. If you put a crap saddle on your goat and hope he’s going to perform well, you will be greatly disappointed. Goats need custom fit saddles. Goats’ backs are not the same and each one needs a saddle that fits. You can find that here. Now, let’s assume you also have the right equipment. Let’s take an example of packing 7 miles, with 3 miles off trail through the brush. I would keep my boys sub 40 lbs and if I can, I will do less. If they are going on an easy 4 mile trail with no dead fall, I would feel comfortable putting 65 lbs on that same goat. Terrain makes a huge difference. A goat that is lying down and won’t move is out of shape or over loaded. Either way, he can’t carry the load you have asked of him and now you will know where his current limit is. Remember to always take climate into consideration. Heat plays a huge role on pack goat performance. Certain breeds are also affected more by heat than others, plan accordingly.
Pack Goat Fitness
The last topic of discussion is fitness level. This makes a HUGE difference in your goat the same as it does for you. A well conditioned goat can handle 60 lbs all day. That same goat out of shape without enough time on the trail to toughen his feet will need constant breaks with 40 pounds panting the whole time. Keeping your goats in shape, or getting them in shape before the season, is a huge deal. Keeping a goat in shape (here is an article on that) is easier than getting them in shape (same as us). Once a week of trail time; walking, running, or with light loads is plenty for your goats to always be ready to perform. Or, they’ll get in top shape quickly with a couple trips, especially before a big trip.
Goats that are allowed to get fat all winter in the pasture will need two months of twice a week conditioning to be in top form. Now, it’s important that you know that this last winter was the first time I allowed my goats to get out of shape and be fat. I didn’t take them out at all from Oct to March. I was going through a divorce and recovering from back surgery. It gave me a chance to test “the other side” of goat fitness. I did get my boys in top shape again by hunting season. I achieved this by keeping their loads light at the beginning of summer pack season and increasing as we went. It took the above time, 2 full months, but I had them ready and slim. I did limit their feed as well so they would shed some of the extra weight and all did well. Now, I also want to mention, I expect TOP possible performance from my boys. I do over 150 miles off and on trail during September every year because it’s elk season. Also, I do near 500 miles a year total. Many of you reading this may not need goats that can perform at this level. If that’s you, take all the above and pare it down by 30%. You’ll still love how your goats work for you. This is why, “how much can a pack goat carry” is an over simplified question.
For videos of my goats in action, checkout packgoats.com YouTube channel
I hope you find this helpful, Marc.