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Preparing farm for packgoats - Lindy - 08-01-2021

Hey all, new member here.  Love the forum!

I am located near Missoula, MT.  I do wilderness trail and ranger work in the snow freeish seasons and a lot of backcountry hunting.  I am planning to get some packgoats to aid me in my work and adventures.  The wife has asthma, and it's time for us to get some pack animals so we can lighten our loads.

We have a forested, property along with 15 pasture acres, and an old barn.  Super lucky to have these resources, but I am not sure how to set it up for packgoats?

Looking to get some baby goats next spring and also looking for a few experienced packers asap.

First things first I need to get my barn and pasture setup right.  So I have a quite a few questions about that, which I am hoping you all can help me to answer.


1.  Is a 3 sided shelter adequate, or prefferable for Missoula area winters?  We are a zone 5a growing season....not super cold, but -20F is possible.    The barn I have has 4 walls.....will using a 4 sided structure result in lazy goats that are afraid of the weather?  I own a small sawmill I am ready to build the ideal setup if an open shelter is better?

2.  I have seen that woven fencing is ideal for protecting baby goats, and perhaps the adults too, in the barn yard, but what do folks use when running goats on large acreage pastures?  Chain link or other oven fencing would be very expensive on 15 acres with lots of divided paddocks.  I would love to have a wildlife friendly perimeter fence around the whole pasture, with up to 10 smaller paddocks within that for rotational grazing.  Ideas?  Mountain lions, bears, coyotes and the occasional wolf are present on the property.

3.  How concerned should I be about wild pitted fruits being toxic to goats?  There are lots of wild chokecherries, a few plums, and apples at the edges of the pasture areas. Plus we are planting fruit trees, black locust, oak, and walnut trees throughout our pasture.  Reading about goats and watching videos it seems tons of plants can kill them.  Yew, is a common plant in the mission and swan ranges where I work, how do I keep goats from killing themselves when they are browsing free range?

4.  My pasture is primarily a mix of cattle grasses like Timothy and brome, with a few patches of knapweed, and other natives and non natives like salsify/goats beard, wild pees/vetch, some clover, pigweed, yarrow, thistle...many of these are supposed to be toxic to goats????and.....lots of other stuff.  Will the goats avoid the toxics instinctively?

4.  It seems a 50/50 hay alfalfa mix is ideal for packing  wethers, will I need to supplement their pasture grass diet with alfalfa (which does not seem to grow well on my ground) in order to get the biggest healthiest packgoats I can?

5.  Does anyone know of a good vet, and or goat packer in western Montana I may be able to contact regarding caring for my eventual goats?

6.  Can the goats freely eat on my forest trimmings of Douglas fir, and ponderosa pine?

7.  Can anyone reccomend a breeder in my area? Or someone who may be able to sell me some good adult packers within a days drive?

8.  Can experienced packers do moderate 15 mile packs on cleared trails regularly if they are properly conditioned and fed?  With an occasional 20mile day thrown in, and how does the heat and wildfire smoke impact their endurance?

I know that is a ton of perhaps it is too much to ask, but as I do research it seems the more I find out, the more questions arise, and I want to be as prepared as possible, not only in my physical infrastructure, but also in my expectations of what a goat can actually do on trail, and how go get the most out of the safely and ethically.

I have purchased Marc Warnkes instructional courses, where else can I look for reliable info on caring for packgoats?

Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

If these topics are covered elsewhere on the forum please drop a link for me.  


RE: Preparing farm for packgoats - Taffy - 08-04-2021

Welcome! The 1st thing you need to do is join the North American Packgoat Association. You'll be able to locate other members (a number of them are in MT), learn about Best Management Practices (BMP's), learn about the breeder's code of ethics and the buyer's guide, research breeders and gear suppliers and more! It's an outstanding organization!

RE: Preparing farm for packgoats - Putnam Pack Goats - 08-04-2021

Lots of great questions here so I will try to answer them as best as a I can. We are homesteading on 15 acres ourselves.

1. Loafing sheds should work fine, we build a three sided shelter out of pallets because goats tend to be protective of their space. 1 pallet deep and 2 wide with a tin roof. I have 10 of these to accommodate 20+ goats. A wind break is most important for them in the cold temps and deep straw bedding and then the hay being digested in their rumen keeps them warm.

2. Livestock field fence is cheap and easy to put up but it doesn’t last. I fenced 15 acres with it myself and am now overlapping with 16’ x 50” livestock panel. Spendy but will last forever and give you peace of mind. Another concern may be predators. We corral our goats at night in a smaller area so that we can easily locate them at night to check on them. If mtn lions are a concern then I would recommend at minimum 6’ fencing in this area if not fullly enclosed dog runs at night.

3. Goats will kill any trees they have access to. I would be more concerned about this then the fruit. You will want to fence them out of any trees currently on the property to protect the trunks from being girdled.

4a. Goats will figure out the toxic plants to keep away from but I would still recommend clearing what you know may harm them and keeping activated charcoal on hand.

4b. Alfalfa/Grass is preferred. In the warm months I would supplement with alfalfa pellets and start developing your wild forage rather then planting alfalfa. Goats are browsers so plant a diverse option of shrubs and grasses for them. Supplement with hay as graze runs out. Set up your pastures for rotational grazing so they don’t wear it all down at once and sections have time to recover.

5. Ann Summerton is a breeder in Hamilton, MT. You can reach her through the Napga member search and she can put you in contact with a vet. She is also a wonderful resource on goats herself and I have two alpines from her that are everything I want in a pack goat.

6. Yes we regularly feed ours Christmas trees. They love pine needles especially the long ones and it’s a natural dewormer.

7. See #5. Adult goats pop up occasionally but these are typically problem goats or poorly conditioned. Not many out there selling high quality adult packers.

8. 15-20 is asking quite a bit out to them. 10-15 is doable depending on elevation gains and load weight. 5-10 is more realistic for most goat packers. I regularly hike mine 8-10 miles for training hikes but try and limit them to 5-7 for multi day adventures. You would need to have some pretty high performance goats to be able to do 10 plus day after day.

Join Napga for more info, or feel free to reach out to me privately. Thank Taffy for this response I am not usually on here. We also have a North American Pack Goats discussion group on Facebook.

Nathan Putnam

RE: Preparing farm for packgoats - Nanno - 08-05-2021

I'm going to add a few things to what Nate said.

#2. "Wildlife friendly" fence means predator friendly. For your situation, and especially since you have mountain lions in the area I highly recommend getting a livestock guardian dog or two. In order to be baby goat friendly, the squares on your field fence need to be small enough to keep them from putting their heads through, especially if they have horns. Or you can string electric wire on the inside at about baby goat face height and this will keep them from getting too close. In fact, I recommend protecting your fence with electric wire both inside and out to keep all goats from climbing/leaning on it and to keep predators from climbing or digging under. Electric wire is very cheap, very effective, and much easier than constantly repairing the damage to your permanent fence that happens when goats have access to it. You can also use moveable electric net fences to subdivide your pasture for rotational grazing purposes. This is a much cheaper option than permanent cross fencing.

3. Definitely fence them away from any fruit trees. Even if it's not toxic, goats can gorge themselves when the fruit comes in and end up with bloat, polio, or other gut balance related problems. They are greedy critters and don't always have an "off" button when it comes to delicacies like fruit. And as Nate said, they'll kill the trees. I believe some fruit trees have toxins in the bark and leaves so do your research even if they're non-producing trees you don't care about.

4a. I am not an expert on toxic weeds, but many of the ones you listed are either not toxic to goats (at least not in small quantities) or they are avoided by goats anyway. However, if you know for sure that something is toxic, remove it. Youngsters are the most susceptible to toxic weed poisoning due to their curiosity.

4b. I personally am not a fan of alfalfa for wethers. If fed at all, it should be in limited amounts. My belief (not tested) is that the most common type of urinary tract stone in our packgoats is not the phosphorus-caused stones that are prevented by feeding ammonium chloride, but are the calcium oxalate stones that are caused by an excess of calcium in the diet and for which acidifying the urine does not work. I sold a baby three years ago that last year died of urinary calculi. They were calcium caused, and while the owner did not feed alfalfa hay, he had alfalfa growing wild in his pasture and that particular goat had a deep fondness for it. I believe some goats get addicted to alfalfa and if provided they will eat it to the exclusion of all else, so be very careful about wild alfalfa in your pasture, and about feeding too much in your hay ration. Another problem is joint development. I have seen several wethers on an alfalfa-rich diet develop bowed legs and too-straight joints in their adolescence. I own one and he is an "alfalfa addict". I grew up seeing joint problems develop in several alfalfa-fed colts when I was a teenager so when I saw the same legs develop on young alfalfa-fed goats it rang a bell. Finally, too much alfalfa can block copper and selenium absorption. I believe widespread feeding of alfalfa in this country is one reason goat producers have almost universal problems with copper and selenium deficiency. It's a phenomenon studied among cattle producers but goat producers don't seem to have gotten the memo yet. I'm not convinced that goats need as rich a diet as we tend to feed them. So much of our knowledge is based on dairy and meat production, which places huge and unnatural resource demands on the animals. When we feed packgoats like production animals I think we can really overdo it and screw them up. So while alfalfa can be great for a lot of things, be careful with it and do your research!

5. Join NAPgA and you'll find a map with other goat packers in your area. As a member you'll have access to their contact info and can join or form a local network.

6. YES! YES!! YES!!! Pine and fir are very good for their guts and are even thought to be a type of natural dewormer.

7. A list of packgoat breeders can be found here: I disagree with Nate a little bit about adult packers. Keep your eye on the classifieds section here. Some folks just have more packers than they can feed, or they have a life change and have to move on from keeping goats altogether. I have heard far more success stories than failures from people buying adult packers so don't assume that because it's for sale, it's a dud. Do your research though. Wink

8. I would disagree with Nate on this one. I think a properly conditioned packgoat could do 15 miles in a day as long as he's not fully packed to the 25% maximum. My lightly conditioned couch potato goats have done a few 15-mile days with half loads and have needed a day off to recover, but if they can do that will little or no conditioning I know they could do more if properly prepared. It's been a long time since I read about it, but I believe one of Rex (Northwest Pack Goats) Summerfield's goats hiked approximately 20 miles/day with a woman on the Continental Divide Trail. I think they hiked the whole thing in one shot. It was a slightly built but leggy goat and carried around 20#'s if I remember correctly. Don't underestimate the endurance of a properly built and well-conditioned goat!

Good luck and in addition to joining NAPgA, take some time to browse around this site. There are many great forum archives going back to 2013, plus some much older ones that I copy/pasted from the now-defunct that this site took over from.

RE: Preparing farm for packgoats - Lindy - 08-08-2021

Thank You, Nanno, Nathan, and Taffy for your thorough responses! Your answers gave me a lot to think about and research, which I appreciate!

So first things first, I did join Napga, great suggestion.

2nd, I wanted to let you know more of my plans and see what you think, plus ask a few detail oriented questions.

I have identified the space where I want to build the 3 sided goat barn and the "goat yard" where they will be corralled every night for safety sake.  This space is about 100 feet long x 110 feet wide.  It will contain the entrance to the loafing shed, a baby goat corral, an adolescent area, goat obstacle course and feeders etc.   

Question 1.  is 100x110ft adequate space for appx 10 goats of varying ages.   Maybe 15 goats at most?  (i think I read that 250 square feet per goat was good, but not sure if that was for grazing animals or corralled animals etc.)

Question 2.   do I have to segregate milking does from Wethers?

I have decided to do some form of economical woven fence, in combination with hot wires around the goat yard in order to keep costs down, predators out, and goats off the woven fence as Nanno suggested.    

Question 3.  how small does the woven fence need to be to keep  Horned baby goats heads from getting caught in it?   4"x4" field fence is the cheapest, but will get 2"x4" horse fence or utility fabric if the spaces need to be that small.

Question 4. Can I use say 4 foot tall woven fence below either 1 or 2 single strand hot wires that are strung at 5', or at 5' and 6 feet? or should I just spring for 5' minimum woven fence with hot wires above?   I could see a tall horned goat getting his head over a 4 foot fence and under the hot wire.  Though I plan to have a hotwire inside the fence and outside the fence at 1',3', and 5' levels respectively.

For rotational grazing purposes, I really like the price and mobility of the electric netted fence idea, so that is how I am going to proceed with getting the goats out on the larger pasture.  I researched the premier1 fence line products and they seem to have good options in this fence category, and in their solar chargers, but they only go to 48 inches tall from what I can find.

Question 5.  How tall does my mobile electric net fence need to be to contain the goats during day light hours?  Is premier1 fencing good, or should I be looking at a different manufacturer?  Furthermore, is anyone using this to keep their goats safe in backcountry camps at night?  I have used smaller versions of this for food storage on the Smith River, seems like it would have less impact on backcountry sites than hi lining a string of goats and be better protection for them.

Question 6.  Is there any advantages or disadvantages to having a wood floored barn for the goats?   Seems like it might be warmer in the winter?   Easier to scoop and clean.  What might I be missing?

Question 7.  Can folks recommend a breed or two of gaudian dogs?   will these dogs experience anxiety being left at home when I am hunting, or packing with the goats, or do folks take them with?  I could take them on training excursions, not sure I want to add dogs to my hunting and wilderness ranger work?

Nanno, interesting thoughts, and experiences you have had with Alfalfa, I will definitely be keeping that in mind and being careful/researching its use.  I take it you supplement with copper and selenium then?  or do you just not worry about it, as you watch alfalfa consumption carefully?

It sounds like I will have to keep my goats in tip top shape in order to get the kind of miles out of them that I typically do on foot, 8 miles is probably my shortest trail day for work, but I am encouraged by what I am hearing.  

You folks rock! thanks so much for taking the time to read and then answer my questions.  

I will be heeding much of your advice and will share my progress here for all to see.  My wife and I are super excited to get started!  We just had goat milk for the first time today and were surprised how unremarkable it was, as in it did not have any off tastes and we liked it quite alot.  Hence, my question about whether and doe segregation.  it would be freakin awesome to have a milking doe in the backcountry!


RE: Preparing farm for packgoats - Nanno - 08-09-2021

#1. 100 x 110 ft is plenty enough for corralling 10-15 goats, but not for grazing. That many goats would eat that down pretty quick if kept on it all the time. I put my goats into a pen about that size at night and let them out to browse on my 40 acres during the day. That way the pen doesn't get eaten down to dirt.  

#2. Some people separate wethers and does, others do not. I've done both. It really depends on the temperament of your wethers. Mine are pretty good with the ladies and I usually keep them all together during the summer, fall, and early winter. Once the pregnant does start to get big in late winter/spring I separate my boys because fights can break out over the hay feeders and shelters and a hard hit could abort a heavily pregnant doe. For my situation, the main thing with keeping boys and girls together is to make sure there are enough shelters for all. Otherwise the boys tend to each take up a shed by themselves and lay across the doorway so no one else can get in.

#3. 4"x4" is a good choice. An even smaller weave is better, but if you want to be economical, stringing a hotwire on the inside will keep them from getting close enough to poke their heads through.

#4. I would spring for the 5' woven fence. I would agree that a large goat could put his head over the fence and under the hotwire. The higher the fence, the last tempted they are to try to stand on it or jump it. 

The electric netting only goes to 48", but goats react to it quite differently than to wire fences. Because the whole thing is electrified, there's no temptation to climb it or even get very close to it. The psychological effect tends to keep them from jumping over it even though it's only 4' high. I've been using Premier1 fences since 2013 and I've only rarely had a goat jump out. I've never had one try it a second time because all of them zapped themselves on the way over. 

#5. I know several people who use the smaller portable electric fences for camping in the backcountry. If you're camping near your truck and trailer it's an excellent choice because your goats can graze a larger area and it provides predator protection. However, they are not practical to carry around for backpacking. 

#6. Dirt floor is probably the warmest as long as you can keep it dry. The floor of the loafing shed should be a little higher than the surrounding ground so it doesn't flood in a rainstorm or during snowmelt. Wood is easier to sweep out, but it can rot pretty quick because of how much goats pee. Wood can also be a bit hard on their joints and can get pretty slippery. I personally prefer dirt floors. 

#7. I have a Pyrenees cross and an Anatolian Shepherd. I much prefer the Anatolian because of his shorter hair. The Pyrenees cross is way too hot all summer long and her hair gets so matted and full of burrs that it's painful for her. I used to get her shaved in the springtime, but she's too old now to stand for the groomer so she just has to suffer from the heat. The dogs should be fine if left home. I would not recommend bringing them with you on a backcountry trip. If you have chickens or non-hiking goats, the dogs will still have something at home to occupy them. Even if you end up taking all the goats, the dogs should be fine on their familiar territory. 

I don't supplement very much copper and no selenium. Our soil has naturally high molybdenum content and that is what blocks copper/selenium uptake. So in springtime when the pasture first comes in I usually have to give copper boluses to the pregnant does who have been eating alfalfa through the winter. I occasionally have to supplement my wethers as well but not usually. I don't usually supplement selenium. We sometimes have a kid with crooked legs and I'll give that one selenium gel the first day or two after birth, but I've never given a BoSe shot. We have so much selenium content in our soil that I worry about overdosing them. 

I don't see any reason why packgoats can't do 8 miles a day if you keep them in condition and you make sure their equipment fits properly so they're comfortable. You probably should not load them to their 25% max capacity if you're doing a lot of miles for many days in a row, particularly if the terrain is rough and/or the elevation is high, but at 20% they should be able to keep up admirably.