There are six common dairy breeds here in the US and several meat-type breeds. Any type of goat can be trained to pack, you just have to decide on what type of goat will fit your needs. The final judgement as to which breed is best will be the one you have and love.
A pack goat can be any breed or cross-breed of goat. All the breeds have different personalities and different physical characteristics. If you are interested you should check out as many breeds as possible before making your purchase. A good pack goat needs to have long, good, strong legs. Personality is a major component of a good pack goat. A good temperament makes up for a lot of size faults with a pack goat. Our Ober Taz was one of our smallest goats, but he had endurance and "heart" to spare on long treks. Like the energizer rabbit.
It is not recommended to take any fertile (able to reproduce) goat into the wilderness. Most pack goats are wethers (neutered males) because they tend to get larger than the females and do not have the odor and behavior problems of bucks. Does are not recommended as pack animals due to udder chaffing and that the udder may snag on brush and harm the goat.
[We have had a high success rate with goats of indeterminate breeding. Cross-breeds tend to exhibit the best of each breed.]
The Alpine is a breed of goat that originated in the Alps. The goats of Alpine type that were brought to the United States where they have been selected for much greater uniformity, size, and production.
Alpine goats can come in any color, their ears are upright and they are an alert. They are a medium to large breed. Color is of little significance to the packer, but to the breeder it is important because the prettier ones tend to sale first.
Alpines are hardy, adaptable animals that thrive in any climate while maintaining good health. They are very agile on rocks and very friendly. Weak pasterns occur in some bloodlines, but seldom affect an exercised wether. They train easily and are very in tune to the people with whom they work. Watching for slight movements or gestures, even making eye contact with humans, traits not as common in other breeds. Docile and friendly, but with instincts running at high gear. Only Toggs are as (or more) alert on the trail. An older, experienced Alpine can be surprisingly trail wise, remembering the exact lay of a trail it's been on before, even when the trail is covered by a foot of snow, or remembering significant details about a route off the trail; even with years between times on the trail. Any experienced goat can develop this sense, but Alpines seem to be the most adept at it.
Our LaManchas have, perhaps, the most obscure history of any of the popular breeds. References were made to short-eared goats as far back as ancient Persia. The exact background is as yet, however, unknown. As the Spanish missionaries were colonizing California, they brought with them a short-eared breed of goat suitable for either milk or meat production. If not true LaMancha's, these animals were very close to them. This strain is usually thought to be the forerunner of our present LaMancha.
In more recent history, a crate of the short-eared goats was sent to the Paris World's Fair for exhibition (1904). The inscription was unclear, but the words, "LaMancha, Cordoba, Spain," were easily read. The name "LaMancha" stuck and became the accepted term for the American version as well. Phoebe Wilhelm is reported to be the first to establish a herd comprised of Lamanchas. She owned approximately 125 in the 1920's. As few true-type bucks were available, those of the other breeds were used to propagate the race. Even after years of hybridization, however, the true LaMancha characteristics continue to dominate.
LaMancha goats can come in any color. Their ears must be 2 inches or smaller to conform to their breed standard. They are a hearty sturdy breed of medium size that are very people orientated. Horns are of a lighter brown or black, and smallish, tending to curl back more like the Big-Horn sheep as the animal ages.
LaManchas are one of the most consistently lovable and agreeable of all the breeds for a pack goat. Bonding with humans is exceptional. LaManchas will follow you anywhere and therefore are a little easier to train. (In fact the term “underfoot” fits them well.) They are possibly the most intelligent breed. You have to experience the LaMancha to fully appreciate them. [We have loved our Munchy's and Munchy mixes. "In Trouble" is another term that they wear well. These boys are the first to cross the camp line and enter tents, check out the fire, investigate the gear and so on. The LaMancha breeder we acquired Star from told us a good axiom: “You will either have to love them, or you will hate them; Munchy's do not allow a middle ground.”]
Nubians (correct Registry Name: Anglo-Nubian)
Anglo-Nubians were developed in England by crossing British goats with bucks of African and Indian origin.
The Nubian is regarded as an "aristocratic" appearing goat and has very long, pendulous ears that hang close to the head. The Nubian carries a decidedly Roman nose and is always short-haired. They are a midium to large breed, that can come in any color.
[You get "airplane ears" with crossbreeds -- the ears extend from head two or three inches then fall another two to four inches-- depending on the cross. These outward extending, floppy ears, tend to lend an "I can fly" look to the crossbred goat.]
Oberhaslis (pronounced: Oh'-bare-hoss-lee)
Oberhasli goats are bay in color. Shades of red with black markings on head, top-line, underbelly and legs; their ears are upright. They are a medium sized goat that enjoys working and tolerates water easily.
Oberhaslis are one of the smallest breeds used as a pack goat, but they are used for a dairy goat ‘fault' that is very common to this breed. It's called "hockiness," a tendency for the hocks of the hind legs to be turned inward. This makes a goat more agile on rocks. A hocky goat can bound up the side of a near vertical cliff. As far as the serious goat packer is concerned, the hocky tendency in the Oberhasli is a fortunate throwback to the natural form of the wild goat.
Many Obers seem to be aquaphilic; they like water. [We have not seen it to the point of LIKING, but our Obers did not require water training, they simply followed us through.] This can be a definite advantage since most goats have to be trained to cross streams due to their natural fear of water. Obers have a pleasant, mellow, easygoing personality. Some breeders are working to increase the size on this breed for a better packgoat.
Saanens (pronounced: saw-nen)
The Saanen dairy goat originated in Switzerland, in the Saanen Valley. Saanen goats are medium to large in size with rugged bone and plenty of vigor. They are white or light cream in color, with white preferred. Horns are large at the base, long, tan in color, and a flattened scimitar shaped, and deeply ringed. Saanen goats upright ears and they have strong bones.
This breed's disposition for packing is perfect – super- mellow and quiet, virtually silent on the trail and in camp. The lovable personality is a strong plus. They make good pack animals and are especially good in crosses with other breeds.
Saanens are most serviceable in alpine elevations and at cooler temperatures. Their light color and pink skin is linked to a tendency to overheat in hot weather, and this holds true for Saanens that have been crossbred with other breeds.
[Since we now live at 7200 ft, and summers very seldom get over 90° F, we have been very happy with this breed. They tend to be longer in the back than other breeds so we do not have the "pin bone" chaffing that a few of our short backed boys have had.]
The Toggenburg is a Swiss dairy goat from Toggenburg Valley of Switzerland at Obertoggenburg. They are also credited as being the oldest known dairy goat breed.
This breed is medium size, sturdy, vigorous, and alert in appearance. The hair is short or medium in length, soft, fine, and lying flat. Its color is solid varying from light fawn to dark chocolate with no preference for any shade. Distinct white or cream markings on the face, with white or cream ears and "socks". The ears are erect and carried forward. Horns are large at the base, long, tan in color, scimitar shaped, and deeply ringed. Generally, Toggs have strong legs and strong pasterns, but beware of short legged strains (more common in the western states.) Wethers should be at least 34 inches high at the shoulder when four years of age.
Toggs are less mellow and independent the other breeds, especially as they get older. Along with these traits comes an advantageous wariness in the woods. This breed makes for an excellent watch goat which is not noisy but will stare in an alarm posture. Furthermore a goat's night vision is remarkably acute. A small tinkle bell on a Togg around camp at night will keep you aware of intruders -animal or human- beyond your own senses.
Never lose your temper with or abuse a working Togg, either in the training phase or when the goat is an adult. These are very sensitive creatures who enjoy their independence. They are loyal, but from a distance. Typical behavior is to avoid being saddled, be a model packer until camp is made, then go off quickly and stare back at the human. This is merely a Togg's way of stating his independence. Be accepting. There are worth the patience. Toggenburgs perform best in cooler conditions and have great endurance.
There is also another breed that is for meat production that shows good qualities for packgoats. [We have had a very favorable success with them.] Bred in the harsh environment of New Zealand the Kiko goat can make a good packer. Bold and strong, they can be friendly and docile when properly raised and trained. As a breed they are known for the distances they can cover.
The appropriately named Kiko goat was purpose-bred in New Zealand for meat production – the Maori word “kiko” meaning flesh or meat. The primary characteristic of the Kiko goat is its hardiness and its ability to achieve substantial weight gains when run under natural conditions without supplementary feeding. In New Zealand it has been called the "go anywhere, eat anything" goat signifying its ability to thrive under less than ideal conditions.
The Kiko is large framed, can be of solid or pattern coloring, with a coat that ranges from slick in summer to flowing hair when run in mountain country in winter. Mature males display substantial characteristic horns and are of a bold disposition. The horns are broad first curving back, then outward in a spiral pattern. Ears tend to be droopy. The Kiko doesn't really jump out at you with its looks, as a matter of fact, some folks say they look like plain old brush goats; but what the Kiko lacks in good looks it makes up for in endurance. The Kiko is a consummate browser and will range extensively when run in open country.
The Kiko is not affected by substantial climatic variation and is equally at home in sub alpine mountain country and arid brushland. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the breed is the rate of growth. The kids are born of average size but with considerable vigor. From birth to weaning the Kiko displays a rate of growth at least equivalent of any other purpose bred meat goat breed but this is achieved without the management and feed inputs generally required for satisfactory meat production in other breeds. The Kiko goat needs less deworming, less hoof trimming, has less disease and less kidding problems, they grow rapidly, have sound feet, are parasite-resistant, need minimal maintenance input.
Bore (Also Known by: Africander, Afrikaner, South African common goat.)
The Boer is an improved indigenous African breed with some infusion of European, Angora and Indian goat breeding many years ago.
Boer goats are primarily a meat breed. They have lop ears and show a variety of brown on white color patterns. They are a very stocky animal, and can get very heavy. They work well in crosses with other breeds. [The Boer breed is a meat goat and very seldom will you find a pure bred one that can pack due to legs being too short and it's body to fat. However, crossed into other larger breeds they can improve the muscle quality.]
Meat Goats and meat crosses are sturdy goats of medium height with lots of muscling throughout. Their muscling seems to limit them in jumping ability and agility on certain types of terrain. Crossing them with the dairy breeds for pack goats gives you a more sturdy frame and an animal that will be able to pack more weight when mature. Some of the Boer cross goats have a bit of a tendency to be more stubborn.
Cross-Breed goats seem to be stronger and healthier then the full blooded goats. Some of the largest goats we have seen were cross-breeds. Quite a few packgoat people use the cross-breeds and are very happy with them.
Mini Breeds like the Pygmy and the Nigerian Dwarf can be used for packing but the amount of weight they can carry and the distance they can travel will be much reduced. Acquiring gear for these little goats can be a bit of a problem also. But if you just take little strolls and want the company of the goats or for them to just carry your lunch then they may work for you.