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Hi everybody,

My name is Tony and my family and I have been looking at getting into packgoats for a while now. We have zero experience with goats, or any farm animals for that matter, and I'm sure I will have many questions. I have been reading alot on this forum and watching Marc Warnke videos which has made me very excited and motivated to get started on this journey.

A little about me and why we are now starting on this journey. We are avid hikers, backpackers, and hunters (me and soon my daughter) and we love the outdoors. About 10 years ago, I went through a nasty spinal cancer situation and had a significant portion of it removed and have a bit of hardware keeping me upright LOL. Luckily I still am able to get out and hike but as I get older and with this condition, I am not able to carry alot of weight especially if I want to go into the backcountry. It has been a few years since I have really been more than 2-3 miles from the trailhead. I am not interested in giving up hiking and backpacking and have found this wonderful option utilizing goats. I also am a hunter and with my back, have not been able to really hunt more than a mile from the truck and if successful, it is very difficult to retrieve my game. 

So, with that being said, I have a million questions but will try and research before I ask any.

The couple of questions I have right now are:

  • When looking to purchase bottle babies do they have to be from a specific breeder (packgoat) or is it ok to purchase them from folks who just raise goats for other reasons? There are a couple adds I have found near me that have Alpines and Obers for sale at $150.00-200.00 each. Is this a good option?
  • When looking at goats, what questions should I ask the breeder to ensure I get a good packgoat prospect?
  • What should I look out for or ask about health issues?
  • Can I get a couple babies from one person and grown goats from another and will they coexist ok?
  • What size enclosure and also shelter for around 5 goats?

My plan is to get a couple bottle fed babies and hopefully 1-2 experienced packgoats to begin with so I can get back out in the woods as soon as possible, not waiting 3-5 years (I wish I found this years ago). 

Also, I live in Snohomish County, WA so if anyone has any leads on some goats or if anyone is close by, I'd love to hear from you and would be very appreciated. From my research, I really like the Alpine breed and also Obers. 

Thank you,
Hello Tony, and welcome! I'm so excited that you're looking into packgoats to help you continue your outdoor adventures! They really are wonderful critters.

You've got some great questions and I'll do my best to answer them.

1. Baby goats do not have to be from a packgoat-specific breeder. Most packgoats come from dairy herds, and many dairy breeders have been producing lovely, strong, healthy goats for many generations. Packgoat-specific breeders are comparatively new on the scene so there are far fewer of them to choose from. In my opinion, most of the best packgoats still come from dairy herds rather than packgoat-specific ones. They're usually cheaper too. However, it is important to train your eye to look for strong conformation and a pleasant attitude. This applies to all goats whether they were bred specifically to pack or not. In particular, take a good look at the feet and legs. Hooves should be well-formed with strong walls and toes that stay together rather than splay apart. Pasterns should be short and strong and legs should be straight with plenty of "bone." There should be good angle in the hocks and stifles, and the goat should look proportionally well-balanced. You don't want kids that look spindly or overly narrow or overly long compared to their height. A kid should give off a sturdy but not chunky impression. The same applies to adult packers, but usually it's a lot easier to judge an adult than a kid.

2. Tell the breeder your intentions. Breeders know their own stock better than anyone, and they know their lines. Some lines have exceptional conformation but might be standoffish with people, or too independent to make good packgoats. On the other hand some lines tend toward exceptional personalities and a hard-working attitude that might overcome a few shortcomings in their conformation. No goat is 100% perfect, and with kids there are certainly no guarantees, but breeders can certainly help point you in the right direction. A good breeder doesn't just want to sell you goats--they want you to succeed with them. A good breeder won't hesitate to show you the parents of their kids. This will give you a good idea of how those babies will turn out. If you're talking with a breeder and you start seeing red flags, don't feel pressured to buy. It's ok to move on if something doesn't feel right.

3. Always ask the breeder if they test for basic diseases such as CAE, CL, and Johnes. CAE is of greatest concern because it is the most common disease among dairy goats, and it is usually deadly. CL is more common in meat herds but also happens in dairy herds. It is rarely deadly but because it is extremely contagious you don't want it in your herd or on your property. Johnes is far less common but probably one of the more horrible diseases because it hides for years before coming out as a wasting disease. It is lethal and the shedded bacteria lives in the soil for a very long time where it is highly contagious to young kids born on your property. Some breeders almost scoff at the idea of testing ("We've bred healthy goats for years!"), and if that's the case it's ok to politely decline. Since you are a newbie I think it is extra important that you make disease testing a requirement for the breeder you purchase from. The kids themselves will be too young to be tested, but since all of these diseases come from the adults in the herd, seeing the test results on the adults is what you want.

While we're on health, ask the breeder for tips on raising bottle kids. I personally do not raise or sell bottle babies, and one reason is because inexperienced owners far too frequently lose kids. Over or under-feeding, missing subtle warning signs that kids are "off," not acting quickly enough to get a distressed kid to the vet, etc. are common occurrences when people new to raising goats buy bottle babies. People who have raised goats for years make it look very easy, but they also are more likely to pick up on small clues when a kid isn't acting right, and they have the knowledge to diagnose and intervene with the correct treatment before the kid starts rushing downhill. New owners often miss these signs, or they take a "wait and see" approach because many baby goat illnesses don't look serious until it's already too late. I don't say this to be discouraging, but to make sure you arm yourself with knowledge before taking on bottle kids. I don't recommend buying bottle kids under 3-5 weeks old. This is the age when they are most susceptible to sudden death, and even the stress of changing to a new home can trigger problems that are difficult to treat at such a young, fragile age. If the breeder has gotten them off to a strong start in the first few weeks, you can usually take it from there. Feedings are less frequent and their digestive tracts are fully running by that age so it's easier for you to take over without upsetting their systems. Ask the breeder about how they deal with parasites and coccidia, and what things you should watch out for so you can be proactive about prevention. Both of these things can stunt your kids' growth even though they seem healthy in other ways.

4. Having multiple ages in your herd is actually quite healthy in the long term. When people buy all kids, the herd tends to take on a "Lord of the Flies" dynamic in which bullies go unchecked since there is no one big enough to make them learn manners. This antisocial behavior may never be unlearned. However, introducing older and younger goats is more problematic in the short term. Your little guys could easily be hurt, so it's important to create pens and shelters that have hiding areas where the small ones can get away. This could include a shelter with a low door, a fence partition that is too low for big boys to easily crawl under, or even totally separate pens at night. If you do separate pens, make sure it shares a fence line so your goats can still socialize. Keeping two pens may be necessary until your babies get to be around 4-6 months old. After that they are usually big enough to take a few beatings, and smart enough to learn how to stay out of the way and use their hiding places. You can take your big and little guys hiking together. This can help them learn how to coexist more peacefully since you are there to enforce good behavior.

5. The bigger the pen the better in my opinion! The size of the pen may depend on the size of your property. For five goats, I don't think anything less than 50' x 50' will do. They need to be able to run around and get out of each other's way. Shelter can be a tricky topic. Your "head honcho" goat(s) won't share, so you either have to build a very large shelter with a very large door, or you have to build multiple small shelters. I prefer the multiple small shelters approach. I use full size round PolyDomes. For five goats you will need two and possibly three separate shelters. If you can figure out how to make your big boys share, then your little boys will be fine. What you don't want is for two big goats to hog the two shelters while all three babies are shivering in the cold. Making a shelter with a small door can prevent this by forcing your big boys to share. Babies seldom have trouble sharing.

And finally, here are some more tips for buyers:
And here is a list of breeders:

Good luck, and let us know how your plans proceed!
Thank you Nanno for your reply. Alot of great information and advice and much appreciated. I have so far spoken with a few breeders locally but no luck on finding any available goats. Some babies sold and looks like it is going to be a real challenge finding older goats. 

Thank you again
Finding older goats can be difficult, but it's definitely not impossible. Keep your eye on the classifieds section here. Sometimes people's life circumstances change and they have to sell some or all of their pack string. Sometimes good packers come up for sale because they simply don't fit in with their herdmates, or they aren't quite up to snuff for a serious packer, but they might be the perfect "starter goat" for you. Washington is a very good state to look for goats. There are a lot of big dairy farms in that part of the country and those are often great places to source kids.