Exploring the wilderness
Goat packing has become a popular activity recently. Using goats to pack can be a fun and useful way to go on a hike in Alberta's beautiful backcountry. It is important, however, to consider wildlife conservation when exploring Alberta’s backcountry. Goats can be carriers of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (or M.ovi for short). M. ovi has had devastating consequences to wild sheep and goat populations throughout the American and Canadian Rockies. M. ovi is spread through the breath of domestic sheep and goats. Even in Alberta, there has been large-scale die-offs of wild sheep.
The Yukon and Northwest Territories have improvised strict rules and regulations for domestic sheep and goats. Sheep and goats are not allowed to be used for packing or weed management in the Yukon or the Northwest Territories. For more information on Sheep and Goat in the Canadian Territories click here:
Pack goats are unique because:
• Their hooves leave very little impact on the soil
• Their droppings resemble native species such as deer and rabbits
• Their rumen destroys most weed seeds so they are less of a vector for spreading noxious weeds than other pack species
• They do not tend to overgraze areas but prefer to browse here and there, taking only a little of each plant
• They are smaller than other pack animals and can ride comfortably in the bed of a pickup truck
• They are easier to care for and manage than other pack animals
• They are small enough for children and elderly people to handle
• They willingly follow their owners without a rope
• They can go almost anywhere people can go, including boulder fields and deadfall
• An average person can handle a goat
The AGA supports producers’ endeavors to use their goats to make a profit but caution that there is an increased risk to wild sheep and goat populations with more domestic sheep and goats in their environment.
Welfare and Best Practices:
The packs the goats use for packing should not exceed 50 lbs of weight, equally distributed. Goats should be healthy with no sign of illness. Please remember to use the PID system when packing.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife recommend domestic sheep and goat owners should:
Test for M. ovi. (If you are interested in having your animals tested, please contact Dr. Mark Ball, AEP Wildlife Disease Specialist (Mark.Ball@gov.ab.ca) or your local Government of Alberta Biologist Fisheries and Wildlife Management – Contacts
Report strays in high-risk areas to the local Government of Alberta Biologist. For contact information see Fisheries and Wildlife Management – Contacts
Use good biosecurity practices and regularly monitor herd health
Apply no-contact fencing
Do not use domestic sheep or goats in high-risk areas. These include areas within wild sheep and mountain goat range, and adjacent lands within 30-50 km (refer to the Mountain Goat and Sheep Areas Disease Buffer https://www.alberta.ca/wildlife-sensitivity-maps.aspx. Pack goats are prohibited in wilderness area (i.e. Ghost R., White Goat, Siffleur) and you must receive written permission from Alberta Environment and Parks to take a pack animal in an ecological reserve
Report sightings of bighorn sheep near domestic sheep or goats to the local Government of Alberta Biologist. For contact information, see:
The National American Packing Goat Association (NAPgA), has a best management practice listed on its website. The AGA strongly suggests you follow these best management practices as well if you are to participate in goat packing.
BMP#1: Individually Identify Your Pack goats
Each pack goat shall be individually identified. Each goat shall have a collar with a tag attached to it containing, at a minimum, the current owner’s name and phone number. Pack goats may be identified with a tattoo or microchip, which is specific to each individual goat in conjunction with a collar. Tattoos containing the individual pack goat’s Scrapie Herd Number & ID or an official Scrapie ear tag may be used in conjunction with a collar.
All pack goats shall be under direct human supervision at all times. They shall be on leads or have leads attached to their collar/halter. In camp all pack goats shall be in direct sight or tethered in some fashion (picketing, high lining, etc.). All pack goats shall be tethered at night within 30 feet of humans and bells will be attached to their collars.
Goatpackers shall minimize pack goat contact with wildlife.
BMP#4: Lost Pack Goat
If a pack goat becomes lost every effort will be exhausted to locate and recover it. If the owner is unable to locate and recover the lost pack goat the following agencies shall be contacted by telephone as soon as possible. Information given should include a detailed description of the pack goat (size; color; ears erect, hanging or none, horned or not), any equipment they are carrying, the last known location and a photograph of the pack goat, if possible. The local County Sheriff’s office. Call 911 or the non-emergency line to dispatch of that county. Most hikers, hunters, landowners or citizens will call the RCMP or local Fish and Wildlife office first if they find a lost pack stock animal, Alberta Fish and Wildlife or the local land management agency responsible for the area where the pack goat was lost. Post information, including photos if available, at convenience stores, trailheads and campgrounds with owner’s contact information, goat and gear descriptions. Contact the North American Pack Goat Association (NAPgA) to report the loss. NAPgA will maintain a documentation file on all lost pack goats. NAPgA will request an initial report as well as an after-action report from the pack goat’s owner/user. The information will be used for documentation as well as continued training and educational awareness training for pack goat users.
BMP#5: Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace principles are strongly encouraged. Leave No Trace principles are found on this website: https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles.
Click here for more information: https://www.napga.org/resources/best-management-practices-psr/
Most domestic sheep and goats have a tolerance or immunity to M. ovi and infections go undetected.
Some domestic sheep and goats exhibit mild signs of pneumonia, ranging from coughing to reduced growth rates.
Recent testing of domestics finds high occurrence of M. ovi in some flocks in Canada and the US.
In Alberta, M. ovi testing in domestic sheep and goats is limited and infection rates are largely unknown. M. ovi has been detected in some of the domestic sheep tested to date.
Strong scientific evidence indicates increased risk of pneumonia in bighorn sheep following contact with domestic sheep or goats, including a single encounter with an infected domestic sheep or goat.
The Wildlife Society and the Association of Wildlife Veterinarians believe disease transmission from domestic sheep and goats poses a significant risk to the conservation and restoration of wild sheep populations. Visit the Wildlife Society website at:
TWS and AAWV Joint Issue Statement: Domestic Sheep and Goats Disease Transmission Risk to Wild Sheep
Grazing, weed control and/or vegetation management, and backcountry packing can bring domestic sheep or goats in close proximity to bighorn sheep range in Alberta.
The Alberta Government generally does not allow domestic goat grazing near bighorn sheep ranges. Domestic goats may be used for back-packing; however, their use for recreation and commercial purposes is not recommended near bighorn range and a commercial permit is required.
Interesting YouTube Documentary:
Wild and Wool