Goat backpackers training to help hikers, backcountry campers in mountains

·3 min read
Goat backpackers training to help hikers, backcountry campers in mountains

Robert Hatton-Fearnley got the idea of training goats to carry hiking gear while on a camping trip with his dad.

"He's 60 years old and carrying a 50-pound pack," he said. "Like, if I want to keep doing this with my dad, I'm going to have to figure out a different solution."

  • Watch the video at the top of this story to see the backpacking goats in action

Hatton-Fearnley is the owner of Climbing High Farms near Strathmore, Alta., and has several trained pack goats.

"I looked at horses and donkeys and mules, and when I found some videos of goats, I was like, 'Well, this is cool.' So we decided to get goats," he said.

"All my friends and family thought I was a little nuts because they're like, 'Are you really going to do this?' And I'm like, 'Of course I am.' Now we can't stop talking about camping and then going on adventures with goats."

To train the goats, Hatton-Fearnley has been building up their comfort with packs.

"For training, they can't carry any weight right now, so there's just balloons inside the packs to give them some width so they get used to carrying the packs," he said. "They're not full grown. They can't pack, you know, a full pack until they're three."

At three, the goats will be able to carry 30 per cent of their body weight.

"We're hoping that they grow to be about 220 pounds, which gets us to somewhere in and around 60 pounds a goat for carrying capacity," Hatton-Fearnley said.

"They are just like humans. We need to walk and work up to a distance. We can't just go out there and hike 20 kilometres if you haven't hiked 20 kilometres or worked your way up to that."

Hatton-Fearnley is training the goats on all kinds of terrain.

"We bring them back here to train them on the logs. They can be slippery, they can have moss, you know, they could be wet over top of a creek," he said. "They can handle steep mountain terrain just like a mountain goat, just like a mountain sheep. Incredible animals for following you.

Everything we asked them to do, they do. Everywhere we go, they go."

Based on his research, Hatton-Fearnley says the goats should be able to pack for 12 years.

"We'll be taking them to Crown land in the Foothills. That's why we want the goats, because they haul in some of that gear that's required to spend a night in the backcountry where you don't have any facilities."

Monty Kruger/CBC
Monty Kruger/CBC

Hatton-Fearnley is a member of the North American Packgoat Association, which trains goats for backpacking and backcountry camping. They train with best practices such as leaving room for others on the trail, and focus on making sure the goats always follow the hikers.

"We're giving them a job to do and we're giving them a purpose," he said.

"This is something that they're perfectly capable of doing. It's not taking advantage of the animal, using it for our own purposes," he said.

"It's giving them something that will make them happy, and then also make us happy at the same time."

It's clear that Hatton-Fearnley enjoys his rugged companions.

"They put a smile on my face every time I spend time with them."

Monty Kruger/CBC
Monty Kruger/CBC

With files from Monty Kruger.