Pack goats are not your typical farmyard goats. They are athletes – carefully bred, raised and trained for the purpose of carrying equipment into inaccessible wild places. They carry small, specially designed wooden saddle with panniers that can be loaded with gear.

Pack goats excel in rough terrain and go willingly where other pack animals fear to tread.

Hardier than a horse, friendlier than a llama, more willing than a donkey and more agile than a mule – goats are the ultimate wilderness companion.

They love to go on adventures with their human herd and captivate us with with their intelligence, sense of fun and enthusiasm for the trail.

Pack goats have been popular in North America for decades now – and interested is growing. It’s our goal to bring the joy of goat packing to Iberia.

Our goats love nothing more to be out on the trail, exploring the rocky landscapes of Serra da Estrela. It’s exactly the type of habitat they evolved to thrive in. They get very excited to see their saddles and gear as they know it means adventure. Goats are very loyal to their human friends and follow us willingly wherever we go, without the need to be led or cajoled.

Our Goats

Melaço

Melaço (Molasses) is a local landrace goat. He is all black, extremely clever and extremely greedy. He is the current herd boss and has a very strong enthusiasm for the trail. He is usually the first goat in the line and has a lot of energy when he’s hiking.

Páscoa

Páscoa (Easter) is a hybrid of two native breed goats (a Serrana and a Serpentina). He is quite clever and very stoic. He is also our smallest goat, which means he will never be the best pack goat in the world, but we love him anyway.

Pandora

Pandora is Boromir’s half sister. She is a very silly, extroverted and energetic girl who likes to nibble hair. She is one of our breeding does for next year.

Ulises

Ulises (Ulysses) came from the same herd as Melaço and they act like brothers – sometimes fighting, sometimes cuddling! Ulises is beautiful blonde goat who is very calm and friendly goat who loves being petted.

Boromir

Boromir (named after one of the fellowship from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’) is an Anglo-Nubian with a bit of local Serrana goat. He is still growing and will be one of our breeding bucks for 2025. Boromir is very playful and affectionate.

Pavlova

Pavlova is Marfim’s sister. She is a sweet and gentle goat who is still gaining confidence in the herd. Next year she will breed to Boromir.

Gerônimo

Gerônimo (AKA ‘Gerry’) is another local landrace goat. He is a very thoughtful and cautious goat, but once you gain his trust he is extremely loving!

Marfim

Marfim (Ivory) is a Saanen x Anglonubian (AKA a ‘Snubian’). Like Boromir, he is still very young and will also be breeding in 2025. Marfim is a very handsome snow-white goat who is very relaxed and enjoys gentle petting and sweet-talking.

Lundy the Dog

Lundy is our farm dog. She is a Newfoundland x Bernese Mountain Dog who loves hiking, food, cuddles and making new friends.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why pack goats?

Pack goats are the easiest pack animal to work with. They are small, friendly, feed themselves along the way and can traverse rough terrain that no other pack animal can handle.

Pack goats make nature more accessible for wider groups of people, helping to carry gear. This is a great help to people who struggle to carry their own backpacks, for example due to age, injurity or disability.

Goats and herding are an intrinsic part of rural Portugal – particularly here in Serra da Estrela, so pack goats work within the cultural context of the region.

Do goats enjoy being pack goats?

Most goats love it! Every goat is a unique individual with his own preferences. Some people don’t enjoy hiking and neither do some goats, but most goats seem to find it extremely enjoyable as it appeals to their natural instincts.

Goats are clever animals that thrive on stimulation and challenge. They love to see new places, meet new people and have an important job to do.

We only ever use goats that are happy and enthusiastic about packing. Goats are extremely stubborn and it would be impossible to force a goat to do anything he doesn’t want to do. If you’ve ever walked a dog, you know how excited they get when you get out their lead – our goats are the same with their saddles. They line up at the gate excitedly waiting for us to put their kit on! If you come on one of our goat walks, you will see for yourself!

Is it safe and healthy for them?

Goat packing, like any activity involving animals, must always be undertaken with the goat’s best interests at heart. Our goats are pets and are part of our family, so their welfare is our top priority.

Pack goats are not random goats, but are specially selected to have the right qualities – both mental and physical – for packing. There is a big difference between a race horse and a plough horse – and it’s no different in goats. Most goats are bred for milk or meat – we are breeding ours for packing.

Our goats are trained since birth to ensure that they grow up confident and calm. They are then gradually conditioned to hiking. Just like a person, they need to be in good shape to walk in the mountains and carry equipment. We train each goat over three years, building up their muscle, coordination and problem solving skills before adding weight in incremental amounts.

At home, our pack goats receive the highest standard of caprine care, informed by the latest research. We work with a local livestock veterinarian who understands our unique needs.

Each of our goats undergoes a weekly health inspection. They have their feet looked at and trimmed, if needed, every two weeks. They eat a specially formulated high-quality diet, tailored to each goat’s individual needs. We even import goat-specific vitamins and minerals from Germany that are unavailable in Portugal.

The reality is that most pack goats are in much better condition than their so-called ‘pasture potato’ brethren that never leave their barn or field. They get daily exercise, great food and mental stimulation that meets their ancestral needs. We believe being a pack goat is a pretty great life for a goat!

How intelligent are goats?

Goats are highly intelligent animals that can solve complex puzzles, recognise human faces and interpret emotions. They are considered more intelligent than cats and dogs – and we believe it!

They are extremely curious about the world around them and will investigate anything that captures their interest. They have a long memory and will remember individuals, places and events for their entire lives, in addition to hundreds of species of plants.

They have a complex social hierarchy and communicate very expressively both with body language and vocalisations. Once you know how to ‘speak goat’, watching them becomes a fascinating past-time as you observe the relationship dynamics, love and power struggles within the herd. Each goat has his best friends and daily routines.

Our goats also know their own names very well and come when we call them. They also know a range of commands like ‘let’s go’, ‘stop’ and ‘stay’.

How much can a pack goat carry? How far can they walk?

A peak condition pack goat over three years old can safely and happily carry 25-30% of his body weight. Goats are incredibly strong and efficient for their size. If a horse were the same size as a goat, the goat could easily carry up to three times more weight than the horse.

Without weight, a fit goat can walk 30km a day. Just like with people, the more they are carrying the less distance they can cover.

We never ask a goat to carry more than he his comfortable with. They only ever carry weight that is comfortably within their load range and well below the limit.

What do pack goats eat?

Unlike sheep and cows, which are grazing animals, goats are browsing animals like deer. They are designed to live on sparse, woody vegetation, trees and shrubs, with a smaller quantity of grasses and grains. They prefer to eat at eye-level rather than on the ground.

At home, our pack goats eat quality hay, some pelleted grains (depending on the age and gender of the goat), trimmings from our trees, some healthy fruits and vegetables as a treat and a wide variety of mountain plants they that forage themselves.

They also require salt and powdered minerals balanced specifically for goats.

Out on the trail, goats do not require additional food and will live happily on whatever they find growing. They eat hundreds of different plant species and will seek out the ones they need for a balanced diet. This makes them much easier to pack with than horses, mules, donkeys – all of which require a large amount of supplemental feed on the trail.

How good are a goat’s senses?

Goats have incredible senses. Their vision is designed for long distances and they can see seven times better than a human, often spotting wildlife a long time before we do and alerting us to its presence.

Their hearing is very sensitive, as is their sense of smell, which they use to identify hundreds of species of edible and non-edible plants.

How do you train a pack goat?

Goats are very easy to train due to their high intelligence and their sociable, loving nature. We train our goats with positive reinforcement, using treats, cuddles and praise.

Most goats take to packing very fast. They may have a funny five minutes when you put a saddle on them for the first time as they wonder what it is, and then they think nothing of it for the rest of their lives. Some goats don’t even seem to notice it from the beginning.

Goats instinctively follow humans – they have been bred for this for 11,000 years and it’s not something that we ever need to teach them. When we walk with them, they simply accompany us without needing to be led or told where to go. This makes training and walking with pack goats much easier than working with equines or camelids – which must always be led on a rope.

We will lead goats on a rope if we have to walk through a busy village or on a tarmac road with cars, which is not something we do often and we try to avoid it whenever possible.

What breed is a pack goat?

A pack goat can be any breed of goat, but some will be more efficient than others. Commonly used breeds are Alpine, Saanen, Nubian, Boer or hybrids.

In our breeding programme we are also using some endangered goat breeds native to Portugal.

Where can I get a pack goat?

At present there are no pack goat breeders that we know of in Europe. There are several in the USA. If you are interested in acquiring a Portuguese pack goat, get in touch with us. We are working to improve our herd genetics and will be expecting yearly kiddings.

Pack goats are almost always castrated male goats also known as ‘wethers’. Wethers are friendly, grow up tall, don’t smell bad like some bucks do, and are less competitive one another.

History of Goat Packing

Modern Goat Packing

Modern goat packing originated in North America, where purpose-bred goats are used to transport camping and hunting gear into remotest reaches of national parks and forests. It is now enjoying growing popularity around the world.

The use of pack goats was popularised in the 1980s and 1990s by field biologist John Mionczynski – the so-called ‘father of goat packing’.

Mionczynski started using goats as pack animals in the 1970s while studying bighorn sheep. The goats enabled him to carry his camp and delicate scientific equipment into inaccessible mountains where all other pack animals had failed him.

Mionczynski subsequently started providing pack goats to other scientists who needed to carry field equipment into mountains and later expanded his outfitting service to include a growing market of tourists, hunters and hikers.

Since 2003, the interests of American goat packers are looked after by the North American Pack Goat Association, who advocate for the sport and keep the pack goat community connected and informed.

Pack Goats of the Past

Goats were domesticated 11,000 years ago, making them our oldest animal companion after dogs. Domestic goats were developed from populations of bezoar ibex.

Goats are theorised to have been used as pack animals since as early the Neolithic. Although not commonly thought of as working animals, draught goats carrying panniers or pulling carts were once quite common in Europe and beyond. The earliest known record of goats being used as beasts of burden is a Cretan ring dated 200BC, depicting goats pulling a chariot. There is also a written description (also from Crete) from the same period of goats being used to plough.

Pack goats were used on the silk road (and are still used) in mountainous parts of Asia such as the Himalayas – to transport goods in caravans across rough terrain. In Medieval Europe, goat were considered the ‘poor man’s ox’ and were often used for draught work by impoverished people who could not afford oxen, horses or donkeys. In the 1800s, goats were commonly used to deliver light goods such as milk and vegetales, and were used to bring supplies to troops in WWII.

Further Reading:

• Sutliff, D. J. (2018) Pack goats in the Neolithic Middle East

• Mionczynski, J. (1992) The Pack Goat

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Seia, Serra da Estrela