Packing With Goats

Episode 3
For the Love of Goats

Packing with Goats featured image

Today we are stepping out of the milk, meat, and fiber goat worlds. We are talking about the elite athletes of the caprines — pack goats — with our guest Marc Warnke. We’re discussing how to choose future pack goats, as well as training, and feeding. These are not your typical pet wethers that spend their days lounging in the pasture. These goats grow bigger than any I’ve ever seen. They walk several miles per day while carrying one-third of their body weight. We also talk about how they compare to using horses, mules, or llamas for packing adventures.

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TRANSCRIPT – Packing with Goats

Deborah Niemann 0:17
Hello everyone and welcome to today’s episode, which is brought to you by for people who are living with and loving goats 365 days a year. Today, we are talking to Marc Wornke of And we are talking about packing with goats. You’ve heard me say before, and you’ll hear me say it again, that you should never just copy someone else’s feeding protocol and management and stuff.

Deborah Niemann 0:44
I really want to emphasize that before we get into today’s episode, because pack goats are basically the elite athletes of the goat world. The way that they are fed and cared for is very different than the way that you would care for pet goats or even dairy goats or meat goats. So without any further ado, let’s talk to Marc about packing with goats. Welcome to the show, Marc.

Marc Warnke 1:08
Thank you. I appreciate being here. It’s always fun.

Deborah Niemann 1:10
Yeah, so the first thing I have to ask you and I’m sorry to say that… like whenever people talk about, what can you use goats for? I’m always thinking, milk, meat, dairy..I don’t think of pack goats. So what came first – the goats or the packing?

Marc Warnke 1:30
So for me, I guess I got exposed to goats was… my first goat was when I was a little kid. But we knew nothing, we just kind of got it as a pet. We had for like a year and climbed all over our cars and couldn’t keep it in a pasture and, I was probably 10. But I love that goat, her name was Daisy, she thought she was a dog, she wouldn’t get irritated with my dad. And so my experience with goats is really positive moves. She was like one of my farm buddies.

Marc Warnke 1:59
Then later in life, I had the yearn to get my family into the back country along with me. Due to the heavy packs in the work of it all… I had young children and a gal at that time, my ex wife now. But my wife really didn’t want to do the work to get into the back country, either of carrying a heavy pack. So, goats became the solution to that. And then that’s, where we rolled down that road and I bought my first two goats from just somebody randomly and hoped it would work and, that’s how I got it started. And boy, was it a steep learning curve over the next, very many years. And here I am now.

Deborah Niemann 2:42
What were some of the first mistakes that you made, that you also see a lot of other new people making?

Marc Warnke 2:49
Thinking that you need goat can pack. The majority of goats… we pack with wethers. The majority of people just don’t know what their stock can produce and wether… because if they just did, they are not kept around. Our needs for this are so specific in terms of attitude, confirmation, drive, and size. Especially size being the largest contingency.

Marc Warnke 3:20
We have to have large wethered males that are 200 plus pound goats. And most people honestly couldn’t tell you whether they produced that or not because they’ve never seen a wether live that long or be kept around that long. That’s the number one. People go into Craigslist, buy their neighbor’s goat, think it’s gonna work out and they end up with 140 pound wethered goat that doesn’t have any agility and doesn’t like to work.

Deborah Niemann 3:47
How much weight are we talking about here in terms of… how much weight they’re expected to carry?

Marc Warnke 3:53
Well, a goat can carry more weight per body mass than any other stock animal so they can carry up to 35%. I’ve rarely loaded goats that heavy but they handle it very well. I try to have my Packers carrying under what they need to carry or can carry in. My biggest goat in the pasture right now is 250-ish pounds. And I can easily put 78 pounds on him. He can carry it for…the longest day I’ve ever done in the back country is over 18 miles. It was 13 hours of packing we did 9000 feet game.

Deborah Niemann 4:35
Wow, that is really impressive. And the photos on your website are just incredible. Like not only are the goats stunning but where you’re going with them is is stunning too the photos are just phenomenal.

Marc Warnke 4:50
Yeah, we’re super, super lucky. I live in Idaho. 76% of our state is public land. So if you can’t, if you can’t walk a trail, then you’re going to see like half of our state, I mean, literally, tons of our trails. It’s only like 15% of the Napa National Forest trails now are maintained. And so as a result of that, stock normal stock horses in wheels can’t get in there, backpackers, only goes so far. So if you want to go in deep, reall,y literally the only stock animal that can get into the country that’s accessible here is a goat.

Deborah Niemann 5:27
Right. So, one of the things too that’s really stunning about the photos are the horns on your goats. Like…you see, I have never seen horns like that. And I know it’s because I’ve never seen wethers with horns who’ve lived that long. So I suspect that the horns have something to do…leaving the horns on has something to do with the fact that these are going to be working goats. Is that true?

Marc Warnke 5:51
Yeah, I tried to really remain non judgmental about the choice to leave horns on or not because it is really a personal choice. The goat pays a bit of a price when they’re little as we all know, it’s not like the dehorning is not a painful process, but so is lots of things that you have to do for them to help them live their most effective life alongside you. I choose to leave horns on goats because to me, they look unnatural without them. And a goat is a beautiful, beautiful, amazing animal.

Marc Warnke 6:22
That when you’re used to being around goats performs, when you run into them hornless, they look weird. Now socially acceptable…people all the time asked me the most ridiculous question when I’m walking on trails around town or when I come across people, one of the number one questions to the starry-eyed newcomer is, “Is that a goat?” Which seems like such a ridiculous question to me.

Marc Warnke 6:46
But most people just aren’t, they literally don’t know whether females have horns. But “Is that a goat? Because he has horns.” And, we’ve basically conditioned the American public to believe, a large portion of society to believe that goats don’t have horns. And, there’s debatable input on whether they get rid of heat through their horns, whether it’s kind of a natural radiator, I personally have low amounts of faith in how much heat dispersal actually happens through their horns.

Marc Warnke 7:21
But I have a high amount of faith in the fact that goats use their horns as a fifth appendage. They very much so do they, they scratch themselves with it, they move things with it. There’s actually a video where we’re navigating a super difficult, very, very steep rockfall. And you’ll see that several of the goats as they stumble, they actually stick their horn in the ground to hold them in position. So they’re, they’re very aware of that as another appendage.

Marc Warnke 7:53
And, when they’re dehorned, they don’t get a chance to use it. I understand why people dehorn but the reason some of those horns are have such big horns is I’ll have a tendency to let my new bucklings my new packer prospects that are coming in to then be that years breeders. So I’ll breed them, I’ll let them breed my goats and then all castrate them at usually anywhere from six to eight months, and they get enough chance to get enough testosterone to grow some pretty big horns. And if you actually really look in detail at my goats’ horns, you can see on their horns when they were castrated, because they always have a very distinct component at that time. It’s pretty interesting.

Deborah Niemann 8:37
Oh, that is fascinating. I know, we used to have Shetland sheep and the males grow horns. And I learned, unfortunately, that when you castrate them, it stops the horn growth. It slows it down to a crawl. And so like, you don’t really want to do it too early, because we did it really early with a couple of lambs once and their horns stayed like about two inches long for so many months, that they got caught in the fence more than any sheep I have ever had.

Marc Warnke 9:15
Oh, what a pain. Yeah.

Deborah Niemann 9:17
I never did that again. Because if I castrated them at two months, the horns were already so big. They could not get their head through the fence.

Marc Warnke 9:24
Mm hmm. Yeah, I get it.

Deborah Niemann 9:27
That’s interesting that you don’t have a lot of faith in the explanation that they need their horns for heat radiation because that’s what I’ve heard a lot of angora goat breeders say.

Marc Warnke 9:38
Yeah, well, the reality is…has somebody literally, I mean, again, you got to remember how much of what we have, especially in goats. I would probably call it one of the most understudied animals on the planet.

Deborah Niemann 9:54
Oh, yeah.

Marc Warnke 9:54
Got 10 goat experts together and you ask them how to work for the barber pole. You would get nine different answers. And you get three different fistfights because people were so adamant that they were right. So when you go clear to the nuance of saying that literally a researcher at a university has put a goat on a treadmill, and then measured his body temperature with horns and without horns, and they actually because again, every goat is different, their fat content is different. Their hair content is different. For people that actually say they have the information that proves that that’s an effective heat dispersal under duress, I just, I call BS. I just don’t think the research is there.

Deborah Niemann 10:40
Yeah, that’s really fascinating. I hadn’t actually thought of that before. But yeah, you’re right. Like, I don’t think anybody has ever actually tested that.

Marc Warnke 10:49
Yeah. So in my experience, when you grab a goats’ horns, when you hold the goats’ horns, it is noticeably warm, it does radiate heat, it is blood-filled. All you had to do is see if could break their horn, and you realize how much blood in there and it’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Marc Warnke 11:07
That wouldn’t lend itself very well to that theory, if you have a whole of pack goat with black horns, and his horns are absorbing heat, and they have as much a tendency to be dark as they do light. So, I think a lot of people try to as they do with all things, when they have an agenda, they’re gonna stack up their argument for the reasons why their argument makes sense. And I think there’s a pro-horned goat people out there, and they’re going to use stuff like that, to help validate their point, I still think dehorning a goat is unnecessary and fairly barbaric, but it is what it is.

Marc Warnke 11:44
I understand that people are concerned about others and nurses such a thing as a factory farming and, and I celebrate their ability to take care of that goal over time, and not have the, side damage that is potentially created by that. No, I’m running mostly wethers, but I run milking goats with them. And I still have yet to ever have an injury. But I know it’s all my frontier. I know somebody’s gonna hurt somebody, but I prefer some others without horns too.

Deborah Niemann 12:13
So that’s interesting. I was going to ask you about does because you had said earlier that you really just use the wethers for packing. So if you use, is there a difference in using does, like can they carry the same amount of weight or…

Marc Warnke 12:29
They’re very effective, they’re short, they’re squat, they’re not conformed super well as a packer. But the ladies are a beautiful component. Because when you have a goat re experiencing his mountainside or her mountainside, you know, these guys are matriarchal. And so it is my does that remind the wethers that “Hey, guys, we got to go eat, we’re working here”. It is their milk production that keeps them on the forage where my wethers lay around and get skinny during packing season, if I don’t have a doe with them to remind to go eat instead of hanging out, kind of funny to see that dynamic.

Marc Warnke 13:11
But having a really strong good herd twin that packs well alongside you is something I love. Plus there’s nothing better than fresh back country milk. How cool is it to have an animal gathering my protein in my fat for me while I’m out there, and I can get it on a daily basis. I mean, it literally is part of my calorie count I’m actually considering doing a trip this year…100 miles in the back country, which will take me 10 miles a day for 10 days, which is a lot with the elevation gains and losses.

Marc Warnke 13:46
And I want to find out how many packing does I have to have with me to supply me enough nutrition during that duration to survive only of goat’s milk, and so, I just think that kind of stuff is cool. I think goats are an anointed animal that got put on this planet for us. They have something extra special about them like other animals that he’s put on the planet. But they are a key critter that in my opinion were the last country in the world that still has yet for to figure that out.

Marc Warnke 14:20
Everybody else knows how great goats are, we’re just starting to find out it seems. To answer your question, I don’t like to pack does. I get to see the measure of energy expended and the less high power diet show up in their milk production. And my dose will decrease in their production in the back country by about 30 to 40% just based on food and effort so I don’t really want them working for me packing the minor loads that they can. I want them making milk and you know being a good herd Queen so I packed with them. But, it’s really the other thing…is they have to wear a bridging. And that whole bridging next to the vagina thing and the P thing and that kind of stuff kind of a pain and I got plenty of big Packers so I just leave the does empty.

Deborah Niemann 15:10
Okay, how often do you take your goats out for packing?

Marc Warnke 15:15
Um, usually I do about 500 trail miles a year. And I’m gone home, usually an average of three days out of seven, all from basically June to mid October.

Deborah Niemann 15:32
Wow. That’s a lot of steps.

Marc Warnke 15:36
Yeah, yeah, I’m blessed. I just didn’t really, I’m not a rich guy or anything. I just have always prioritize time in the woods. And, and I’ve always been able to figure out business enough to where the wheels stay on the bus while I’m not doing my thing.

Deborah Niemann 15:52
So you do guided tours with people and goats?

Marc Warnke 15:56
I do. A lot of people that…one of the fastest ways to learn is through mentorship. And so I’ll have people that want to come on pack trips and experience that to entertain whether they want to get into goats or not. And then I also just in followed pretty large, online globally, and so I have global clientele that just comes in to go on backpacking trips with me, because we see amazing places, and we’d steak and eggs in the back country, we don’t have to, quote unquote, rough it, you still got to walk, you still got to be able to cover country.

Marc Warnke 16:31
But once we get there, we got chairs and real tents, and we’re comfortable and really good food. And I cook this amazing back country food. It’s a saying in our family, that there’s no spice like elevation. I tell people that haven’t been back there before, you won’t believe how good food tastes, and especially if it’s good, you’re gonna have probably some of the most amazing meals that you’ve ever had. While you’re on packing trip with me, it’s really a magnificent.

Deborah Niemann 16:58
Wow. So about how many miles a day do you cover on a typical trip?

Marc Warnke 17:04
For mine or with clients?

Deborah Niemann 17:06
With clients.

Marc Warnke 17:08
Well, that’s varied. In Idaho, it’s very, very sticky how you operate here. So I can’t just go take people out, I have to be a guide of for an outfitter in his operating area. And the operating areas are difficult to get into. It’s relationship based. Some people, like the idea of having your interests, their other’s talents, it’s kind of a, it’s an interesting mixture in the outfitting community in Idaho, all good folks.

Marc Warnke 17:37
It’s just, they own the right to do all the operations within that area and without working with them and abiding by their standards, or their rules, or how they run their business, I can’t go there. So I have three different areas that I take people without fitters that are super stoked to have me and my clients in there and work with them.

Marc Warnke 18:00
One is we pack into three miles of fairly flat trail into a remote hotsprings in the camp. It’s a lower land spot. So it’s my early season and late season, you know…area that I can take people where I don’t have to worry about snow loads. And then when we go into the high country, I have two different areas, one that’s more geared towards small families, that’s only about a two and a half mile hike in and a couple of lakes and some really beautiful stuff and seeing mountain goats and amazing country, but it’s just not a hard hike in and you’d roll in camp and just stay. That one’s more for small kids and families and people who don’t want to work super hard.

Marc Warnke 18:40
And then I have another one that’s in the Frank Church that is literally mind blowing. We’re going into a basin that rarely sees people. You’re seeing elk and deer that haven’t seen human beings before. There’s wolves and cougars. And it’s the real deal. I mean, we’re way back in, we’re seeing stuff that people don’t see. We’re fishing for fish that people don’t fish for. And I mean, it’s just that, it’s that beautiful, amazing stuff that only exists in very few rare places left in the world. And that’s my backyard.

Marc Warnke 19:11
So in that trip, we’re going to do six or seven miles and paid one to get into the first lake and, and then sky’s the limit. We can do a 30 to 40 mile week, which is common for me in a four-day trip because it just gives me such amazing country five or six miles a day kind of stuff.

Deborah Niemann 19:27
Wow, that sounds really neat. So if somebody wanted to do their own, have their own pack goats, you already said that like just getting them off Craigslist or from your neighbor is not a great idea. But should they really, I mean, do they need to raise them from a kid with the idea that they are being trained to be a pack goat from the beginning? Or if they already have some goats that have a relationship with them, would they be able to train them?

Marc Warnke 19:55
Super great question. So if they have somebody that…I mean any goat can do what he can do, right. And the main component is a bonded goat. So bottle fed babies are key. Bottle fed babies when they are out of their natural environment, you put them in a truck, you roll them out to a trailhead, and you start walking, they’re going to be on you like glue, right? They are looking to you to lead them through this new curious world that they don’t know what to do.

Marc Warnke 20:24
So therein lies the packing goat beauty is that you don’t have to lead them and they stick like glue. Scared goat runs to you not away, stuff like that. In terms of getting them to put a saddle on, they’re very amicable. It’s a fairly easy process. People misunderstand the value of really good pack saddles. I often liken it to the fact that if I were to say to you, “Hey, let’s go on our first hike. And let me have you wear a pair of shoes that are one size too much too small”. And let’s see how it feels at the end of that.

Marc Warnke 20:59
Now you know what it is to put a cheap well thought, poorly thought out saddle on the back of your loving companion that’s trying to work for you. And you put them in a pair of shoes that were a size too small. Goats are very organically shaped there, wide in the back, wide in the front, shaped like a 55 gallon drum or shaped like an A frame. And if you don’t have a saddle that fits them, which I make the only fully adjustable saddle for goats and, out there, and it ain’t cheap to make it I wish it was but it isn’t.

Marc Warnke 21:32
And now you’re putting on it’s either that or you’re putting a soft saddle that conforms to their back through being non rigid, but then you need a decent amount of center pressure to keep that saddle in position. And again, it’s less comfortable. So it would be like me putting a backpack on your back. And the chest strapped down really tight so it doesn’t move, you have difficulty breathing, it’s not as comfortable, you’re not going to be able to work as hard or as long, just stuff like that.

Marc Warnke 21:59
So, it’s one of those things where you can kind of do it in your leisure, and it works. And if you want to do it really well, you need to be kind of be willing to step up to it. As far as training…there’s such an amicable critter in so much in the process is just having them follow you that really you just need to get them used to something on their back, which if I take nine out of 10 goats at five years old that have never been on a trail, and I just gently in handling them, put a saddle on them. Give them a few minutes to walk around and get used to this thing that’s on my back. What is that he’s gonna follow me down the trail and we’re not even have slightest issue. They just don’t have the blow up button or the freakout button of forces and, I’ve packed every kind to stock horses in wheels, along as the goats and goats are 10 billion times easier. And all those.

Deborah Niemann 22:55
Wow, that’s interesting. Can you expand on that a little bit more about the comparison between the goats and the other animals that you’ve worked with?

Marc Warnke 23:04
Yeah, I mean, here’s my main concern about horses. They hurt people often. Right?

Deborah Niemann 23:12
Yeah. They’re big.

Marc Warnke 23:16
They are. And when I’m in the back country, I’m in a very vulnerable spot in terms of being able to self rescue, right when I’m miles back in, I am hours from a solution, minimum. And then I’ve seen so many people be hurt by horses, I can’t even tell you. These are good stock-experienced people, people that know what they do. Anybody who’s really good at what they do will tell you, you cannot sit in that saddle on that horse in a trusting stance the whole time. You need to be ready for something to happen.

Marc Warnke 23:49
I’ve got nothing against horses, they’re just dangerous. And they’re expensive, and they take high levels of equipment and everything else. So personally, I don’t want to deal with the expense, the danger or the hassle of owning a horse and trying to pack it into the back country.

Marc Warnke 24:07
Llamas are just a weird animal they just are. They’ll let you touch them. If they feel like it that day. They’re definitely not your buddy. Their lights are on but nobody’s home. They have a blow up button where they will literally kill themselves in front of you because they’re freaking out. And you got to drag them around. And they refuse, right? I mean, you have to tow them along. I don’t want to have to hold on to an animal the whole time I’m walking because he might walk away doesn’t give a crap about me. Right? That’s not a good packing command companion.

Marc Warnke 24:42
There’s benefits to both of those species though. In mostly the amount that they can pack. They can pack large loads. A big Llama can pack almost as twice as much as a big goat. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you’re going to get low quality with that, and you’re also going to get longevity.

Marc Warnke 25:02
The fact that goats are short lived species that can’t take loads, full loads till they’re four. And they start slowing down at 10, or 11, although we’re starting to disprove some of that, because again, nobody’s taken exceptional care of physically nutritionally teeth, and everything else, like we are in the pack of community, I think we’re going to see some of the longest lived, most effective goats on the planet that are going to come out of the pack of community because we’re floating teeth, we’re nutritionally keeping them as good as they can be. And we’re keeping them highly conditioned.

Marc Warnke 25:36
If you have a bunch of fat dudes sitting around in the chairs, you’re certainly not going to get a measure of longevity and humanity. And that’s what we’re trying to get as a measure of longevity on goats. It’s just…exercise is a component to health. And we’re the only community of breeder doing that. So as far as the negatives, and I’m sorry, I rambled for that. But as far as the negatives on goats, it’s mostly their, their lifespan, their Packer lifespan is short. And so you constantly need new ones coming up, you need old ones going out, and you need to find out effective ways.

Marc Warnke 26:12
You know, to be able to dispatch your buddy, I mean, these are your working buddies, they’re your friends, they work their guts out for you, they are loyal, they’re loving, and when they’re 10 years old, and they can’t pack anymore. Now what you do, you just…so there’s that component. The negative with goats, is again, they’re limited in the amount of size that they can carry. So you need more goats.

Marc Warnke 26:41
Really, those are kind of the predominant negatives in comparison, horses and llamas can’t get into the same country uphill, the goats can because I can scale closer to my pack. So that’s kind of some comparisons that way. I also would say that horses and mules have the capability to go deeper, they have a better endurance only because their average walking rate is like 3.7 miles an hour, where it goes down and like two and a half with if he’s in shape. And, he’s going at it, that’s what he walks, so he can cover 30% less distance than a horse or a llama.

Deborah Niemann 27:17
Okay, that is awesome information. You touched on this just a little bit, and I want to circle back to it. And that is you were talking about the care that these goats need and how it’s different from other goats, like dairy and meat and stuff. So what do you do that’s different for your pack goats?

Marc Warnke 27:39
Well, it’s not so much that I’m just looking for different outcomes, right? So, I’m looking for an animal that I’m trying to keep weight on and muscular build while he’s working. So I’m pouring feed during packing season. And he’s also having to learn how to naturally forage a ton of that so he’s literally learning how to take care of his own needs based on really like a mule deer diet, a natural goat diet is what he ends up getting. But despite that, he and I can’t eat enough food to overcome the energy expense that we pay during season.

Marc Warnke 28:21
So, when I get home, like pour the feed to them, and I’m feeding things like, straight alfalfa during pack season, to make sure that they just keep enough weight on. I’m feeding things like, black sunflower seeds that are a fat source, to help them to keep that weight on. And then in the offseason, 50/50 grass hay mix. During the offseason, during the winter, there’s a lot to me that…I’m balancing in my herd between, I’m pouring the feed to my baby. So you know zero to one year old, they’re getting free choice varying, they’re getting free choice alfalfa, and I’m trying to grow as big as I can get them from zero to one.

Marc Warnke 29:01
Now when I started packing, urinary calculi issues starting at one year old, I now put them on 50/50 grass hay mix, but also free choice, but they’re living in the same pasture with my Packers that are about four years old that have now quit growing and love to keep their head stuck in the feeder and get fat during the offseason. And it takes a couple of months to get to go back and conditioning to get super fat. And so I’m limiting their feed, and I’m giving the adolescents and the babies free choice.

Marc Warnke 29:33
So the way that I have figured out my feeding system is to have pass through windows that only a certain size goat can get through and they have access to their own independent bedding and their own independent feed that’s size appropriate and age appropriate. And I’m basically feeding four different animals. I’m feeding my goats differently, than I’m feeding my adolescence, than I’m feeding my babies, than I’m feeding my adults.

Marc Warnke 29:58
My adults long range plan is to keep them on the edge of thin. I always want to feel their ribs. And I have ectomorphic goats and endomorphic goats and I’m really looking for a goat that would be better likened to a Spartan athlete because that’s an endurance athlete that’s strong. I’m not looking for linemen that are big goffy short meat goats, because they’re carrying too much body mass and it’s inefficient.

Marc Warnke 30:25
I’m looking for tall, leggy, short-bodied, non depth, with enough width to carry a saddle well, and I want to see a little hip, I want to see a little rib, and, again, I think that’s a rare goat that gets raised. Usually the thinner goats they get raised, are the goats that aren’t well taken care of. They don’t have good mineral on that pasture you pass by and everybody’s got fishtail. That’s kind of the, what we’re seeing in that…and then as you know, this whole wether…nutritional needs is the one that the vet communities still never get any training on, because there is no such thing as an adult male wether that lives longer than one year old in agriculture.

Deborah Niemann 31:14
Right. Yeah. So did you say that–that the kids get free choice grain?

Marc Warnke 31:25

Deborah Niemann 31:26
Because that’s not something that we hear. I mean, there are people who, their kids can wind up with all kinds of rumen issues if they get too much grain. I avoid that.

Marc Warnke 31:39
No, we feed free choice, we feed a mixture of calf manna and grower goat, so it’s a pellet. If we want to try to use…I have my own pellet mixed up, that I feed mine, but it’s very similar to we do a 50/50 calf manna, grower goat mix, and that’s free choice from their whole first year along with alfalfa…straight up alfalfa or 50/50 grass hay mix. And we’ve been raising goats like that for 15 years.

Deborah Niemann 32:16
Interesting, do you have free choice baking soda available?

Marc Warnke 32:20
I used to but I get some leery of the urinary calculi issues. I never personally have had any of it on my property. I’ve never had it with any on my goats. But the free choice baking soda always just makes me leery. And I’ve never had an issue of bloat, you know, or anything that I saw that be a preventative towards. So, I don’t. It just makes me leery to it. And at the same time, I will tell you, if there is any chink in my armor, it is my depth and breadth of health and wellness and nutrition. I’ve been a goat owner now for seven years. And I honestly think it takes 20 to truly say your authority.

Deborah Niemann 33:03
With the year I was thinking about urinary calculi earlier, and I’m thinking that maybe the reason you haven’t seen a problem with that is because your goats are so huge. Because that’s really the issue and that you wait so long to castrate.

Marc Warnke 33:21
I don’t do that, as a rule. A lot of my goats are banded in 30 day. If I have the choice, because when you’re trying to raise an animal to be handleable, to let them go to sexual maturity and let them get bucky makes them two things. Number one is an animal you don’t want to touch which having your hands on your goats is a critical part to a good pack goat. And also I see them very often turn in a way that’s not positive in getting kind of horny at that point.

Marc Warnke 33:52
When I say horny, I mean using their horns as a communication tool. And that is, I mean, again, our goats are all formed. They’re all huge. They’re around children, they cannot have even the slightest bit of aggression towards a human being. And you risk that the later you let them go towards sexual maturity in my opinion and experience.

Deborah Niemann 34:15
So when you are…because I know you sell pack goats. And so does that mean that you sell goats that have the potential to be pack goats? Or how far along do you get them started? And at what age do you sell them?

Marc Warnke 34:30
Yeah, really, really good question. And it’s important that you realize before we answer this question, I don’t want to be nor is it profitable to be in the goat selling business.

Deborah Niemann 34:41
I agree with that.

Marc Warnke 34:44

Deborah Niemann 34:45
I totally agree with that. Yeah.

Marc Warnke 34:46
I just feel dutiful to the pack goat industry to help to be a part of making sure that people get started right. Okay. And there is so much deception about what people are looking for and people who don’t know, as a consumer. And then secondarily, there’s so many people that just want to get rid of their bucklings because they can’t find a place for it. And we’ll say whatever it takes to get that buckling to go away for a decent price, then they can sell on me that…there’s a lot of ’em.

Marc Warnke 35:20
When I use the word deception, that’s really wrong. It’s just naivety. And I see so many people for years down the road scratching their head looking at their 140 pound weirdo, that’s never going to be a good Packer. And they’ve invested four years of time, nutrition, and everything else. So my involvement, and I don’t get any of the credit or accolades for what we have today genetically in the community that all goes to Dwite Sharp.

Marc Warnke 35:50
Dwite Sharp is this really great little guy out of Kansas. He came from the NASCAR industry of all things. He’s a brilliant man. And his pet project. His side passion was he was one of the early early adopters of running pack goats. To me, he’s one of the first guys that did clear up in the middle of Kansas. And he made it his mission to build the perfect accurate piece right next to Kansas State University. He had access to sperm tags. He was super connected in the goat and stock community. And he served mixed a lot and found some of the most amazing goats and basically as breeding for the perfect pack goat for for almost 20 years.

Marc Warnke 36:35
When I moved in, I changed how people looked at pack goats. When he first looked at pack goats, I believe he was really looking for size which was just really difficult. How do you get a built big, right? And he did. He successfully has a breed out there that he’s pushed a ton of which is he’s bred with some of the tallest Saanens out there. He mixed them with a really tall Boer. And he got a literally…I have a goat out there in the pasture right now. That’s one of the Sabors that’s what he calls it a Sabor. And that Sabor is now…he’s a year and three quarters old. So, this spring he’s going to turn two and he’s 230 pounds-a two year old. Right? So that goats going to finish 41-42 inches as the wethers and be over 300 pounds. If he’s fit, he’s a monster. I actually tracked his growth rate, he grew faster than a pig. Okay. So, he was 180 pounds as a one year old.

Deborah Niemann 37:39
Wow. Bigger than a Boer, like a purebred Boer.

Marc Warnke 37:44
Correct. And he’s, instead of being 32 inches tall, he’s 41 or 42 inches tall. So, he’s massive. He’s huge. And that’s the thing…if you see my goats in the pictures. If you stepped in my pasture, the first thing you say is, “Oh, my God, that are way bigger than I thought they were”. That’s what everybody says. The pictures don’t do justice. They’re huge, merciless. His horns catch me at about the temple. And I’m six feet tall.

Deborah Niemann 38:10
Holy cow.

Marc Warnke 38:10
He’s huge. And he’s not my biggest goat. He’s just has those giant horns. And he’s really cool and all that stuff. So back to the breeding. Dwite Sharp gets all the accolades. He’s an amazing man that spent a lifetime doing it with no financial return. And then the story of him is that last year, he was on a head-on collision, he almost died, he’s lucky to be alive, he could walk a few steps, he’s been in the process of recovery, his body was ravished by that, that wreck and he and his aging wife could no longer take care of that goat herd.

Marc Warnke 38:50
So I rallied through my connections in the goat world, to broker all those does, which was 85, to be brought out to the west and dispersed across the west, with people within the pack goat community. And we now have recovered the genetics and we’re keeping high end breeding within the pack goat industry. And I’m kind of the central conduit for that at

Marc Warnke 39:20
So I only have four breeding does. But literally every goat that I would turn people on to that they would get has a relative in my personal string. So their genetics I can vouch for. I know what temperaments are, I know what their sizing is, what their conformation is, because I literally have their uncle, brother, grandpa or cousin in my string personally, and I dealt with it for years.

Deborah Niemann 39:45
So at what point do you sell kids? Like at what age and do you do any training before you sell them?

Marc Warnke 39:51
Good question. I don’t. They just need love. It’s all about bonding in the beginning. Having them be very familiar with water is a really nice thing, having a baby pool that you put them in and having them except, I mean, again, if I’m special in one way, it’s that I understand how to communicate with a goat probably unlike almost anybody else out there. And I don’t think I’m original in that in the pack goat community. But I’m the most public figure that’s done that.

Marc Warnke 40:25
I feel like I’ve been training animals my whole life, in preparation to be the guy that figured out how to crack the nut and how to train a goat. And there’s this really gentle, loving way. That’s so different from a dog and different from a horse and different from other animals. And I don’t use treats. Treats, in my opinion, are a risky way to reward a pack goat. I use them through pressure and praise. Teaching a baby to stand in a puddle of water when he’s little, and me being there with him. He’s assumes he’s me, he assumed I’m him. We’re together.

Marc Warnke 41:03
And well, that big guy who’s just like me standing water, it must be normal for me to stand in water. So little things like that when they’re babies. But honestly, the majority of baby training gets done is just manners, teaching them to stay down, telling them back and having them respond, having them fear. The squirt bottle is a long arm of the law. Simple commands that are just more manners and get on with human beings because these guys need to be trained almost like a puppy.

Deborah Niemann 41:33
Okay. Well, I cannot believe that, like 40 minutes has just flown by. But of course, we’re talking goat. I always say I could talk about goats all day long. And that’s kind of what happens.

Marc Warnke 41:47
Yeah, I feel like a goat nerd like me when we’re in the back country is a feed off of discussion is goats. I’m like really don’t have anything else to talk about. You want to see one of the most interesting things ever, that’s really, really fun, that I can do meditatively for hours is go amongst my herd when they’re free grazing.

Marc Warnke 42:08
It is so amazing to see a goat naturally forage on a very diet and to see how he selects what he eats, what part of the plant he eats. What he rejects, what he accepts, how much he takes is something he likes. They’re one of the most intuitive eating animals on planet Earth. It is magical to watch them eat. And it’s fun to watch them. Tear off a blade of grass, strip a twig of all its leaves, and then pick individuals off from another and then eat the barbs of a thorn right in front of you that you’re like, “Oh my god, how would that just go in your mouth?” Right? Amazing. They’re an amazingly highly intelligent consumer of plants and vegetables. They’re magical.

Deborah Niemann 42:53
Yeah, I really agree with that. I know, I get a lot of questions from new people about poisonous plants and stuff. And there really is not a good list out there. I actually spent an afternoon with a toxicologist from a veterinary school in the University of Illinois poison plant garden, which sounds like something should be at Hogwarts. And we’re going through there and he’s telling me about all these plants that are poisonous to horses and cats and dogs.

Deborah Niemann 43:25
And it was interesting, like I actually had a lot more information about goats than he did. And that was when I learned that there really is not like you said, there’s so little research about goats. There really is not any solid research on what is poisonous to goats. Like, I was all excited, I thought I’m finally going to get all my poison plant questions answered. Because I could see a lot of people saying, “Oh, but aren’t you going to be worried that they’ll eat something poisonous if you take them out into the middle of the woods where they can eat anything?” And that is never happened in your case and all the years of packing?

Marc Warnke 44:01
It hasn’t. No. When I’m…the most toxic and poisonous plants feed them regularly. And here’s my…no…I think it could possibly happened to us and I’ve had goats vomit. And I’m sure they got something. But no, but nobody went down. Nobody. Nobody has ever had anything other than it. Got it. And I think that is a goat’s natural inclination is to eat a little bit of a lot of things.

Deborah Niemann 44:30

Marc Warnke 44:31
And really fast, just like we did that first thing that we ate that we puked our guts out on we could never taste again. And I think…learn through that mechanism. Just the hope is they’ll run into something so toxic thyme number one like rhododendron, pear, you know, pitted fruits, those sorts of things. Those are the ones that make me wary in my area. But, I’ve seen goats devour stinging nettle and not have anything. I’ve seen them eat Lupin regularly, and it’s on the toxic list.

Marc Warnke 45:05
I think there’s also a conditioning to two different things. And again, I think there are some general assumptions that get made about goats. But if you were to actually ask whether a biologist actually fed that to a goat and then measured his physical response to it, my guess is the answer would be I don’t think he could find the study. I didn’t even find it on major stuff. But I said, there’s lots of, well, this is poisonous for this category. So it must be for goats too. I mean, that’s how goats get mounted. Tons of studies.

Deborah Niemann 45:39
Right, especially cows, so many people think they’re just little cows. And they’re not. Well, it has been wonderful chatting with you today. Is there anything else that you wanted to share about pack goats before we go?

Marc Warnke 45:51
Just that I would encourage people to, I mean, I’m not like on a mission to help people get into pack goat. That’s not my thing at all. It’s just another form of really amazing interaction with a goat. I mean, we’re preaching to the choir. And it’s most likely goat people that are listening to this. And so I don’t have to impress upon you the amazingness of the animal that the goat itself is.

Deborah Niemann 46:13

Marc Warnke 46:14
Something that’s next level, and I would liken it to people who milk. When you milk and especially when you’re only milking one or two or three, there’s a Zen moment happens where they depend on you, and you depend on them. And it becomes this really beautiful teammate-ship, where you’re done and she licks your face. And, you thank her and this is really beautiful, energetic exchange of resources. Right. And, it’s really similar in the back country, but to the whole next level, because now they’re actually working for you. They’re carrying your stuff in there, depending on you for their protection.

Marc Warnke 46:53
You know, there’s a loyalty and a surrender. And that’s really beautiful that happens in that relationship. I mean, the goats would sleep in the tent with you, if you let them. And it’s neat. It’s just really a neat thing. My goats learn how to warm themselves next to fire, they learn how to go out and feed and, they can be 3-400 yards from camp. I know goats, and I could hear the bells ringing through the woods, as they’re all running towards me together as pack, because they don’t want the dad to leave them.

Marc Warnke 47:27
I mean, it’s just, there’s this amazing, amazing, super cool thing that happens when you work with them back there, and they take on any presence when they’re on unfamiliar ground. That’s a unique thing to most people. Most people will say, “Yeah, my goat follows me everywhere”. Around your farm the way which you get onto a trail in the back country, I would suggest people literally take their goats for a walk like they do their dogs. They’re an amazing companion.

Marc Warnke 47:52
That said, the learning curve, and the gear and the information. The neat part is all of it is on I have courses that people can take. But people that are resourceful, the problem is there’s so much information on my site that you’re going to end up spending a lot of time sifting. But over the next year in the courses that we’re developing will help people literally go through step by step tutorial on everything they need to know about goats in general as relates to pack goats. So we’re kind of doing…we got the gear, we got the help, we got the genetics, we’re trying to kind of basically help people from cradle to grave. And if I don’t die an old broke guy, I’ll be super happy.

Deborah Niemann 48:36
Well, that is a wonderful note to end on. Not you dying as a not an old broke guy. But all the beautiful stuff you were saying earlier about the relationship with goats and what special animals they are and everything. And I know they definitely love to sleep with people. Because when my daughter was a teenager, she thought that she always had to have a baby goat in her bed with her. And just the idea of having one in a tent with you when you’re out packing sounds like so much fun. That sounds so wonderful.

Marc Warnke 49:06
Yeah, let me let me put a caveat in there, that I don’t want poop or pee in my tent.

Deborah Niemann 49:14
Right. Yeah, there is that.

Marc Warnke 49:16
So, well, yeah. So if I can be helpful and all that stuff, I’m still pretty available. I have to admit of being fairly overwhelmed. And time, and really trying to balance that stuff. And I have a couple folks that work for me and they help to field some of the emails and that stuff. And we have…the fun part is that, because of my connections to Hollywood through my other business, we’re really putting goats out in the front in the media as well.

Marc Warnke 49:49
There’ll be in a documentary that will be in the Sundance Film Festival next year. They’re doing a reality TV show right now on me and my operation. And my whole mission is literally to help people to understand that goats are the most ignored and highest deserved pet on planet Earth. And it is so ludicrous. It is absolutely ludicrous that every municipality in the country will allow barking, stinky poop predator in their backyard. But they will not allow to dairy goats and I want to change that.

Deborah Niemann 50:28
Yeah, I know that is pretty fascinating. Well, it has been wonderful chatting with you today, the time has just flown by. It’s been so much fun for me to get a peek into this whole different world where goats live and do a magnificent job, of course, because they’re just amazing animals. So thank you very, very much for joining us today.

Marc Warnke 50:52
My pleasure.

Deborah Niemann 50:53
And of course people can visit your website at to learn more. Thank you so much.

Marc Warnke 50:59
Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Deborah Niemann 51:00
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode, which was brought to you by my online goat membership program, which is for people who are living with and living goats 365 days a year. I hope you’ll join us next week when we are talking about getting ready for kidding season. And remember to hit the subscribe button if you want to make sure that you don’t miss any episodes. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you again next time.

brown goat with horns

18 thoughts on “Packing With Goats”

  1. I’d like to learn how you “groom” your goats. Hoof trimming – what tools do you use, how frequently do you trim, how do you rehabilitate overgrown hooves? Clipping – if you’re not showing your goats is there a reason to trim their fur, is it helpful to shave their udders, and if so how, etc?

  2. Great information. I like to dam raise but after listening to this podcast and wanting the goats to follow me through the woods on my farm, I will be bottle feeding a few this year.

  3. I would like to know more about bucks and nutrition, how to feed bucks. how to take care of bucks in rut season, how to put weight on skinny bucks safely

    • Most fair shows don’t allow bucks because the public is going through the barns, but I remember years ago there was a fair show that said they were having bucks, but you had to bathe them daily. So, no, you can’t really do much to reduce their odor.

  4. Great podcast. I’ve searched for goat podcasts before and there weren’t any good choices. A subject I’d like to hear about is tips for goat show success.

  5. Hi!

    I am a friend of Marc Warnke’s. He is an amazing man and has helped me in getting my pack goat business started.

    Thanks for getting the word of pack goats out there!

  6. Hi Deborah,
    I’d love to hear how you deal with willful bucks, mine is still young and not full grown but he’s​ already bashed posts out of the ground that were two feet deep in cement. I think you said somewhere that even electric fencing won’t keep a persistent rutting buck in check. Also, how and when to introduce kids and new moms into the herd, particularly bottle babies. Basically ways to keep my guys and girls happy and safe (and my doelings unmolested)

  7. Thank you so much for posting these podcasts and newsletters!
    Hoof trimming, we’d like to know more about the tools and tips you’ve experience.

    thanks so much! 🙂

  8. Loved your Pack goats episode!

    My husband and I would definitely like to hear more about goat nutrition, milking and dairy goat issues, and topics revolving around home made products using goat milk. Perhaps, interviews with business owners who currently make and sell items from goat milk, like soap, and what has been heloful to them as a goat and business owner.

    We are so grateful for all that you do!

  9. Great info. As usual, something I did not think about for goats.
    I would like to see judging of goat condition. Using pictures and live animals, with good and bad comparisons. In order to help buy/keep high quality goats.

  10. Didnt get to listen on time. My husband has been sick
    Loved the podcast and would love for you to discus what milking machines are better/easier on the does to use. I heard you should only use a milk machine that pulsates??
    Ours does not so don’t want to be using something that is harmful to my girls.

    Also, wish he would have commented on how he castrated at 6-8 months.

    Thanks again Deborah you are doing a great thing for goat owners to learn more.


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