When trekking the Wyoming backcountry, Vance McGahey is grateful to have his pack goats tagging along.
“It eliminates all that weight on our shoulders. I’ve taken them out several times, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of pack goats sooner,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “They’re so handy on the trail. They’re so quiet. Sometimes I’ll wonder if they’re even still behind me. I’ll look back, and there they are.”
McGahey and his wife, Mindy, live outside of Kemmerer and bought their first set of pack goats early last year. They’re up to 14 goats, and plan to add another eight soon.
They’ve started renting goats out, doing business as Wyoming PackGoat Adventures.
The goats and goat rentals keep them plenty busy, especially since they both have full-time jobs. He works at a nearby trona mine, and she manages a store in Kemmerer.
“This is our hobby and our passion,” Vance said.
‘I Saw Some On The Trail’
As an avid hunter and backcountry adventurer of a certain age that’s old enough to just say it’s “of a certain age,” Vance started considering using pack animals, but wasn’t sure what kind to go with.
“A good friend of mine and I started looking into what we wanted to do to alleviate weight on the trail,” he said. “We were asking, ‘How do we get further back into the backcountry without wearing ourselves out?’ Because as you get older, you tend to stay closer to camp. And I’m really big on getting way back to where most people won’t go.”
Then the answer walked right past him one day
“I saw some pack goats on the trail,” he said, and he was sold.
Hardy Trail Companions
Dairy goat breeds are the best for packing, he said. They’re taller than other goat breeds and can weigh up to 200 pounds.
By about 3 or 4 years old, they’re mature enough to handle a full load, which is about 50 pounds per goat, Vance said.
He prizes pack goats for their sure-footedness.
“They’re easy to get across a creek, they’re easy to get across deadfalls,” Vance said.
And they aren’t picky eaters, which comes in handy.
“They’ll eat just about anything out on the trail. Even here down by the house, they’ll take to the sagebrush before they’ll take to the grass,” he said.
After the holidays this year, his goats feasted on old Christmas trees.
“I’ve seen five of them eat down a Christmas tree in just a matter of minutes,” he said.
Bonding With Kids
It’s best to start raising pack goats when they’re quite young – little kids, as it were.
“You want to get them really young. You want to bottle-feed them. That’s how they bond with you,” Vance said. “Now, they’re like puppy dogs to us. They act just like puppy dogs.”
And having one pack goat isn’t enough.
“At a minimum, you need two goats. They’re not only going to have the bonding with you, they need that bonding with each other,” Vance said.
Pack goats are best trained gradually, starting with light loads where they’re about 9 months old. They can handle full loads over long treks until about age 7 or 8, Vance said. He knows of some people who use senior goats, age 10 or so, for shorter hikes.
The goats have impressive horns, but that’s nothing to fear, Vance said.
“People get kind of intimidated by the horns. I’ve never once been head-butted by a goat,” he said. “They’ll head-butt each other. And they’ll nudge me with their sides, but I’ve never been head-butted. They see me as their provider.”
Even with strangers, pack goats are friendly and affectionate.
“They want to be rubbed and scratched,” Vance said. “They’re very easy to control. At night, we put bells on them and stake them down with a 6-foot rope. When it’s dark and it’s time to go to bed, they’ll sleep.”
The goats also form their own pecking order and decide which goat gets to go first down the trail.
“There’s always going to be a leader. There’s always going to be the one goat that’s going to be the chief of the bunch. And if you pull that chief out, another goat will become the chief,” Vance said.
Terms Of Rental
There are a few pack goat rental businesses scattered around Wyoming, but the market is hardly saturated, Vance said, adding that he’s already got some hunters lined up for rentals this fall.
He and Mindy are working to get certified as trail guides on the Bridger-Teton National Forest so they can take hikers on goat pack trips outside of hunting season.
“Pack goats aren’t just for hunting, they’re for anybody who wants to get out deep into the backcountry,” Vance said.
Wyoming PackGoat Adventures rents out a minimum of two goats at a time with rates starting at about $45 per goat per day. They also rent trailers to transport the goats to trailheads.
Pack goats not only help bear burdens, they can also boost morale, Vance said.
“They can really help you press on for that extra mile,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.