Goat pack carries the load for Afton, Minn. man

February’s record-breaking snow may have been a challenge for some, but for one Afton man, it’s provided the perfect training conditions for his goat pack.

You read that right. Richard Bend, former lawyer and Afton Mayor, owns eight goats.

If you’ve ever been backpacking, you know it’s not exactly easy hiking with a 40-50-pound pack on. And you may have heard of pack mules, but what about goats?

“They are very fond of these expeditions,” said Bend.

He has been training goats in Afton for almost two years now. Theirs is a journey that began when he realized his days carrying 80-pound packs on long trips were coming to an end.

“Because I’m in my 70s, the backpacking I used to do in the Alps and the Rockies with heavy packs is something I don’t handle well,” Bend said. “These guys take the load for me and make my life very much easier.”

So, Bend enlisted the help of three goats named Thor, Badger and Fawn. When he realized how capable the goats were, he added five more to the pack. When full grown, each goat will be able to carry 30-40 pounds. They are young now, so this is when they train. Bend says winter in Minnesota is a perfect time to begin.

“My goats, when they hit snow banks in the Rockies, are already conditioned to it,” he said. “The disadvantage is we don’t have the rocky, steep terrain.”

Two or three times a week, Bend and the goats hit the trail.

The key is to make sure they stay with Bend and stay together, which is rarely an issue.

“They’re quite affectionate,” he said. “They never want to be separated from me. If they see me coming, they run to wherever they think I’m going to be so they can be near me as soon as possible.”

He said their desire to stay together and their ability to handle the elements makes them the perfect hiking companions. The snowy Minnesota winters make this one of the better places to prepare the pack for their upcoming family hike and all the others they’ll do as a team.

Bend said they’re taking off in June for a couple of hikes, one of which includes the Rockies.