Working Goats

Goats can contribute to your family in other ways besides providing milk and meat.

If you enjoy outdoor activities and building a close bond with animals, then a Pack or Driving Goat Project may be perfect for you! You can teach your goat to carry a pack and traverse difficult terrain as your hiking companion. You can train your goat to pull a cart or other implements to help with chores or provide recreation. You can even train miniature breed goats as therapy animals to provide comfort and entertainment to people confined to care facilities. Working Goat projects let you build a special bond with a goat while learning to care for and train livestock.

You can participate in public events such as parades, learn organizational skills when planning hikes, learn to teach others and teach yourself skills such as carpentry and sewing if making your own equipment.

If you enjoy crafts and creating things with your hands, a Fiber Goat might be for you! You can spin yarn and make gifts from your goat's hair. Working goat projects are appropriate for 4-Hers from 5 to 19 years old.

Pack Goat Projects

  • By one year of age, a goat can carry 2-3 pounds in a soft pack.
  • At maturity, a large wether will be able to carry up to 50 lbs. of gear in a rigid pack.
  • Large packs for serious packing are fairly expensive, so plan ahead. You can borrow equipment for up to 3 months through the NYS 4-H Working Goat Committee’s lending program to see if packing is right for you!

The history of goat packing

The history of goat packing Goats have been used for centuries to carry loads, starting in places like Iran and Tibet. In the early 1970s, John Mionczynski began using goats in his job with the U.S. Forest Service. He eventually started his own outfitting/guiding service using goats and wrote the book “The Packgoat”. In 2003 a national organization was formed called the North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA).

What you should look for when choosing your Pack Goat

  • When choosing your packgoat project animal you should take into consideration what they will be used for.
  • Age: Many people choose bottle-fed kids because they will bond to you easily but a dam-raised kid or an older goat will work also. The important thing is that they have been socialized to people and choose to be with you. You don’t want a packgoat that runs away from you on the trail!
  • Gender: Most people choose a wether (castrated male) for a packgoat. Wethers usually grow to be larger than does (females) and with a wether you don’t need to worry about their udder being damaged by branches or limbs.
  • Breed: Your packgoat project can be any breed of goat, purebred or crossbreed. If you’re only planning day hikes, even one of the miniature or dwarf breeds will work for you.
  • Conformation: It is important for your packgoat to have good conformation because he is a working goat. He needs to have legs and body that are proportional in length. He needs strong pasterns and strong, good sized hooves.
  • Horns: Horns are not allowed on goats at most 4-H county fairs so it’s best to use a disbudding iron to burn off the horn buds when the goat is 3 days to 2 weeks old. Some goats are born without horn buds and will never develop horns. This is called "polled.".
  • Good Health: First, buy your goat from a reputable breeder. This will ensure that they’ve had a healthy start in life. Second, learn to care for your goat properly. This would include learning about vaccinations, parasite control, proper nutrition, and hoof trimming. Third, locate a veterinarian that is familiar with goats and become a client before an emergency comes up.
  • Attitude: It is important for a packgoat to be bonded to people, willing to experience new things, be smart, quiet, energetic, and well-behaved. Heredity plays a part in a goat’s behavior but there are things you can do to make your packgoat project more fun.
  • Imprinting: In the days and weeks after a kid is born, you should spend a lot of timewith them. Snuggle and hug them, play with them, touch them all over, and bottle-feed them. A properly imprinted adult goat will bond to a new owner. It might take a little time, but by interacting with them and feeding them it will happen.
  • Socializing: Socialization occurs when you take your pack goat places and expose him to a lot of new experiences. Goats are more willing to experience new things when they are young. Take your goat places where there are loud noises, strangers, cars, bikes, dogs, etc. This is also the best time to get your pack goat use to water crossings.

What equipment do I need?

There are two kinds of packs, a soft pack and a cross buck. The soft pack, which can be a dog pack, is great for day hikes and for training young goats. Soft packs can be made or purchased for about $50 to $75. The soft pack can only carry up to 10% of body weight and so normally is not used once the goat is full grown. You can cause injury to a goat’s back if you overload a soft pack. The second type of pack is the cross buck. This is the goat pack saddle frame that is a miniature of those used for horses, mules, and llamas. With the cross buck you usually also need a saddle pad and panniers (the bags that hang off the cross buck). The cross buck comes in either wood or aluminum and varies greatly in price. This is the type of pack that needs to be used if the goat is going to carry 20 to 30% of it’s own body weight.

How much can a goat carry?

In the above paragraph on equipment, 20 to 30% weights were stated. This refers to the percentage of his own body weight that a matured well-conditioned goat can carry. On average, a 150 pound conditioned adult goat can carry 30 to 45 pounds of weight. This includes the weight of the cross buck. A goat is not full-grown until 4 years of age. Don’t overload them when they are still growing.

Training your Pack Goat

Most goats are willing to have a pack on their back with no training at all but there are a lot of other things your packgoat needs to learn when he is young. Your first few lessons will be getting him used to a collar and lead and getting him used to being tied up. Never leave your goat unattended while tied and, after a lesson, remember to remove your goat’s collar when you return him to his pasture or pen. Another useful lesson is to teach him commands such as Whoa (when you want him to stop) and Up (when you want him to jump in your truck). As mentioned before, this is also a good time to get your pack goat used to water. Most goats don’t even want to walk through a puddle so they definitely don’t want to cross a stream! Young goats are more receptive to water training than mature goats.

When training, be patient with your goat. Goats don’t learn from being hit. The best training tools are praise and treats. Your goat can tell from the sound of your voice if you are happy or displeased with him. Some good treats are cut-up fruit and vegetables or peanuts in the shell. Don’t use treats all the time or your goat will come to expect them and that can be annoying.

Pack Goat Nutrition

The main part of your packgoat’s diet should be forage such as nice quality hay, pasture, and browse (trees and brush). Your goats should have access at all times to loose trace mineral salt and lots of fresh water. Free choice baking soda can help buffer their diet especially if they are being fed grain. Kids need grain and good quality hay for growth but the diet needs to be balanced to prevent Urinary Calculi (blockage of the urinary tract) which can be life threatening. To avoid problems with Urinary Calculi be sure the feed program you have for your goats provides them with 2 parts of Calcium to 1 part of Phosphorus. Some concentrate (grain) feeds for goats contain ammonium chloride to also help prevent Urinary Calculi.

Driving or Harness Goat Projects

  • Standard sized breeds are best for pulling people in carts. However even miniature breed goats can help haul light loads in sleds or small wagons. By 2 years of age, a standard breed goat should be strong enough to pull you in a cart.
  • Training a driving goat is easiest with an assistant, especially when training your first goat.
  • Driving equipment can be expensive, so research the costs before making the decision. You can borrow training equipment and full harnesses for up to 3 months from the NYS 4-H Working Goat Committee’s lending program.

Teaching your Goat to Drive

Getting Started

It is quite the sight to see a goat in harness, driving with a youngster at a local fair - a shining cart, a goat proudly showing off his or her harness, and a happy owner in tow. Many times people have an extra wether hanging around the farm and would love to teach it to drive - but where do you begin?

First you need to select a goat that can fit the job: Many prefer to use a wether, but dry does can be used. Animals should have sufficient bone structure and good conformation. They don’t need to be perfect, but a well-put -together animal will last longer. The goat should have a good attitude, and be well socialized. Try to select a wether from a larger breed, especially if you are an adult that wants to drive. Although a goat can easily drag you on a lead, you want him/her to be comfortable in harness, and not overwhelmed.

Start Young! In the beginning, try to work with the kids at a few months of age, getting them used to a lead, and some voice commands. Get a simple dog or puppy harness to put on him/her to get the goat used to something around it’s body. Depending on how you want to train your goat to steer, this
would be the time to introduce a small halter (if you want to drive using a bridle). No reins yet, just wearing the halter, and getting them used to a lead attached will be work enough for the first few lessons.

Learning Commands

You can pick what ever commands you want as long as you are consistent. Some commonly used commands are:

  • "Haw" and "Gee" (like oxen - left, & right) this will be a vocal command to use with rein signals.
  • "Whoa" : stop "Walk on" : Move forward
  • Clucking noises : Move faster
  • "Back" : for backing up
  • "Stand" : stand still for harnessing or getting off the cart

These commands can be introduced on a leash at a young age . When going on a walk, stop and say "whoa." After a while the kid learns that when you say whoa, you stop. Be patient, this takes some time especially with a young kid. You can start practicing the other commands as well. Kids are
smart, and if you keep it fun, they learn fast. I try not to work with a young kid for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Once the kids are quite a few months old, and of good size (each breed matures at a different rate), you can introduce a "ground driving harness." This is a training harness that has loops to attach a training cart to, or lines with a weight. Also, this is the time to get your driving bridle and reins. At this stage of the game you will be introducing the whole idea of "goats go first, people follow behind." After months of you dragging the little one behind you, trying to keep the goat in front is challenging, and frustrating at times. It is recommended a helper for the first few sessions in harness, ground driving.

Starting to Drive

Begin the lesson by harnessing up the goat, complete with bridle and reins. A helper will attach a lead to a ring on the goat’s halter, or else to it’s collar. The driver will take the reins and a small driving whip, and assume the driving position behind the goat while the assistant stays at the head. Give your forward command, and have your leader walk. Gently give the goat a small touch with the whip on the rump if he/she is a bit hesitant - this will be a command to also help your goat move forward if a voice command is ignored later on. At this point the leader can work with you on starting turns.Start walking in a square; making turns at the corners, and halting in-between them. Be sure to work both directions. Eventually after a few weeks of practicing with a helper, the goat will be ready to work on a longer lead and will let you do more controlling from behind. Finally, your leader can drift towards the rear of the goat, completing this stage of training.

Introducing the Cart

Before even attempting to introduce a cart, or training poles, your goat should be: 

  • proficient at listening to commands
  • turning well
  • no longer needing a helper by his/her head.

On this lesson, you will need the help of your assistant once again. Lead the goat in harness to the training cart, or long poles. Let them smell
it, and have your helper move it around to get the goat used to the noise it makes when behind it. When everyone seems okay with the cart, slowly
bring the goat to the cart, and have your helper roll the cart up to the goat’s hindquarters. Quietly attach the traces, shafts, etc. If the goat panics, just calmly unhitch and try again. Most goats just stand there wondering why a funny thing is attached to them.

Getting Ready for Passengers

Have your helper move to the goat’s head, once again on a leash – very short, or hold its collar. Ask the goat to walk forward. He/she may balk, rear, back up or try to run. Many times they don’t want to move – a small tap of the whip may be necessary. Your helper is there to stop the goat if it should panic, and to help walk the goat until the goat gets uses to pulling the cart. This lesson is another milestone, and a difficult one to accomplish. Patience is the key lesson here, and keeping the training lesson short is another key point.

You can slowly increase the time your goat is hitched in harness. Remember that your goat needs time to develop muscles to pull the cart before you can expect the goat to pull the cart for a long time or to pull a person in the cart. You will need a helper at the goat’s head for a few lessons, and then you should be on your own! You can slowly add weight to the cart (or a child if the goat is being well-mannered, and safe). Once the sessions are going well, and you have adequate control – slowly hop on board.

Fiber Goat Projects

  • A fiber goat project is perfect for someone who likes goats, wants to learn how to spin, and likes to knit, crochet or weave.
  • The fleece of a sheep is made up of a fiber called wool. The fleece of a goat is made up of either cashmere or mohair fiber.
  • All goats with the exception of Angora goats produce a fuzzy undercoat of soft fiber in the winter to help keep them warm. This fiber is called cashmere.
  • Angora goats produce lots of long, curly fiber. However, this fiber is not called angora. Instead, it is called mohair. Only Angora rabbits produce Angora!
  • Some goats produce so much cashmere that it is worth the time and effort to harvest the cashmere by combing or shearing to make it into yarn.
  • You can use either does or wethers for a fiber goat project.
  • A fiber goat’s fleece must be kept clean all winter and harvested every year.