Ive quite enjoyed this thread, so I thought I would give my two cents.
1st of all, I believe one of the previous comments had asked about the so called founder of modern Packgoating, the person generally regarded as such is John Mionczynski, the auther of the book "The Pack Goat."
2nd; Several folks have brought up the concerns about the possible transmission of disease from domesticated Pack Goats to wild sheep and goats. Though I do not dismiss the potential risks, and certainly would advocate caution for any Pack Goater who ventures into wild sheep country, I am worried that this issue may get blown out of proportion and ultimately result in excessive restrictions placed on those who choose to hike with Goats in the back country. The above mentioned John Mionczynski talks in his book about the first time he decided to use goats as pack animals. At the time, some 30 plus years ago, he was studying wild sheep deep in the back country as a biologist, for I believe the State of Wyoming if my memory serves. He was required to get very close to the sheep in order to study their behaviors, and all other types of packing or pack animals were inadequate to keep up with the herd. I would expect that there have been multiple encounters of pack goaters and wild sheep/ goats since that time, and still to my knowledge, there are no actually documented cases of trained and well cared for pack goats transmitting a disease to the wildlife. Again, I am not suggesting that the risk is not possible, or that proper caution should not be used, but in reality Pack Goats are a far more environmentally sound choice than virtually any other packable animal in the back country, and I would hate to see an overabundance of caution and unbased fear result in a loss of use of these fine animals.
3rd. I enjoy hunting over my goats. This year I took a nice bull during the Idaho archery hunt with two of my favorite goats by my side. It was a good 20 yard shot, and not only was the bull not frightnened by the goats, he seemed almost intrigued by them. They packed my gear in, they packed the meat out, and I wouldnt hunt with out them.
4th. Predators and the goats; During my preseason scouting, my wife and I had my two hunting goats with us when we were attacked by a medium sized black bear. In all fairness, I think the bear thought my two oberhasli goats were calf elk. The bear came out of nowhere and charged one of my goats. We were of course surprised and my wife screamed for me to do something. I tried the bear spray (which only covered about 10 ft of the advertised 30 that it says it will spray) to no avail, and then the bear circled us for about 5 minutes. He didnt act aggresive to us after the initial charge, and I shot a few times at a stump nearby to scare him away. My wife and I were both surprised at how the goats reacted; they didnt run away in panic, rather they ran right to our side (since they had all our gear, I woulnt have had them go anywhere else) and my wife is certain that had the goat not been between her and the bear, the bear would have been on her before she knew what had happened. What I find is one of the biggest benefits to hiking with the goats is that their keen senses (their eyesight is 7 times that of humans) has alerted me to both near and far dangers, plus alerted me to game that I had missed in my scan. At night in camp, they have woken me up when some unseen potential danger is lurking in the dark. Most of the time its probably a squirl or skunk, but just knowing they are up listening does let me sleep a little better. My horned goats would also be a formidible adversary if something did attack. If you have ever seen a mature wether up close, the horns look like 18 inch curved daggers, ready to disembowel the opposing foe.
I enjoy getting into the back country with my goats, and since getting them, I have been able to get out far more than I used to. If anyone has questions about Pack Goats, I am always happy to chat.
For longer trecks I dont like to put more than 50 to 55 pounds on each of the goats. If I am on a day hunt with them, I will try and lighten the loads as much as possible so I can take fewer goats. If I am by myself on a day hunt, I can usually get the packs down to about 20 pounds between two goats. Idaho has new meat rules that dont require a hunter to take the neck or rib meat from and elk, so in a pinch I can get an elk out with two goats and my own back If I dont take the neck or rib meat and bone out the rest. This last elk was about 2 miles in, but it was all down hill, and all but a half mile was on a good trail. I had about 80-90 pounds on each of my Oberhaslis for this short trip and they hardly seemed to bat an eye. Had there been any steep hills in my way, I wouldnt have put more than 60 lbs each. The number of goats I take and the amount I pack on them always depends on the type of terrain and distance I expect to encounter. If I know that the goats will be climbing steep cliffs or navigating deadfall, then I pack them lighter. If I know that we will be on a flat trail the whole distance, I can pack them a little more. The rule of thumb is usually 20-30% of the goats weight, but in reality a well conditioned goat can do more if necessary. They really are remarkable animals. I took a trip to the wind rivers in WY last summer, and we took an untested goat that I had adopted with us. I quickly realized that he wasnt going to be able to handle his load, and we were already a mile up the trail, so we ended up splitting his load between the other goats who were already at their normal pack weight of 50lbs each. Even with an extra 5-10 pounds on their backs, they all did awsome.
When you get back to Idaho, look me up. If you have any more questions dont hesitate to ask.
The best goats to use are the Wethers, meaning castrated males. They do not have an odor like the billies do. In fact, they are cleaner than dogs I would say. Some folks will take a female goat on a pack trip, but if you do you want to find one that does not have a large udder, as it can get injured on the trail. I have talked to a guy who used to pack goats, and he told me of an experience when he had a female goat (called doe or nanny) with him in camp in october (the rut/mating season is about the same for goats and elk) and he had a bull elk bugle right into camp and started sniffing the doe goat who was in heat. An added benefit to having a doe with you is that she can give you fresh milk morning and night.
As far as downsides to using goats; there arent many if you have a well trained one. The problems come, (as with any pack animal) when you have an untrained, or unfit goat. Goats notoriously do not like water, but they can be trained to even swim deep water with a full pack on. My goats will usually hesitate a moment when we get to the first creek of a trip, but by the 3rd or 4th crossing, they have no problems. They will try and find the an easier way around, like crossing a log, or just jumping across though. If you have the goats tied together in a line, and you have one goat decide he wants to cross a log and the others all decide to wade, then you can have a problem. Again, a little preparation and there shouldnt be an issue. If I come up to a particularily difficult looking crossing, I may unload the gear first, or at least untie the string before I let them cross. The nice thing about goats is that they have a huge fear of being left behind, so as long as I cross an obstacle first, they will ultimately either follow in my footsteps or find their own way around, and will be right on my heels before I know it.