A Weekend at Rendy
Happy Goats and Happy People
I pulled into the 2018 North American Pack Goat Association (NAPgA) Rendezvous nervous and unsure of what to expect. My nervousness lasted about 10 minutes and by the end of the Rendy, as the regulars call it, I didn’t want to leave.
I made my way past a fire ring surrounded by chairs, stumps, and blankets to the pavilion with a NAPgA banner. The lady behind the table smiled and welcomed me with such warmth I was instantly put at ease. I introduced myself and explained I was here from Goat Journal. She pointed out people I should talk to, including her husband, Curtis King, the current president of NAPgA.
A Brief History of the Rendy
Rendezvous is an integral part of the North American Packgoat Association. In fact, the first Rendezvous held in Carson, Washington in 1999, was where the organization was founded. When the Sawtooth National Forest attempted to regulate goat packing, it became obvious that a national organization would be necessary to give goat packers a voice in public land use decisions. Curtis remembers an early Rendezvous in Montana where there were 37 people and 87 goats. “And it has grown, he said “It staggered for a while in the late 90s. Attendance wasn’t that great. But it has flourished and taken off again. We currently have about 215 members in our organization. We grabbed about six more this weekend. We were at 209 and I think we’re going to be closer to 215 now-active members.”
Day by Day — Friday A.M.
Shortly after I arrived, Marc Warnke of packgoats.com and Matt Lyon of Bantam Tack and Saddle presented an equipment and transporting class. The bleating of goats echoed through the campground. Every direction I looked, I could see grazing goats through the trees. Across the fire ring from me, two little girls cuddled with new baby goats and I got the chance to scratch the ears of a friendly and well-mannered dog.
Marc talked about saddles, packs, and panniers. He showed different designs and talked about his experiences with each before moving on to hauling goats. He discussed the stress hauling puts on the goats: one hour in the trailer is equal to two hours on the trail. Other longtime goat packers lent their experiences on how best to load and haul goats as well as the best ways to weigh panniers to ensure even distribution. One of the best things about Rendy was how everyone was encouraged to have a voice, even the newcomers.
Matt took over and did a quick survey to see how much goat packing experience the audience had. We ranged from not having goats yet but interested (me), to 20+ years of experience. He went on to talk about and demonstrate goat packing accessories like high lines, rain shells, goat coats, collars, bells, and lead ropes. The audience continued to ask questions and share their own experiences. It felt like watching 74 close friends sit around in a meadow discussing something they all love.
Immediately following the equipment and transporting class, Curtis King did a practical demonstration on hoof trimming. People took pictures and asked questions. Whenever anyone wanted a closer look, other observers willingly gave space. The goat didn’t seem to mind the extra attention at all.
That evening after the campfire cookout and potluck, attorney Andy Irvine talked about the current legal situations facing the pack goat community and what he and NAPgA are doing about them.
After that, President Curtis King gave what he called a sermon about being positively contagious. He gave orange plastic tether screws, which he called collectively the torch of contagious positivity, to two children and had the kids pass them to the audience. We passed the positivity from hand to hand until it came full circle. He then read NAPgA’s best management practices and explained why everyone should follow them. “We do not live in a perfect world. The Forest Service, Fish and Game, etc. are watching. It is our responsibility to be responsible for our goats.”
Saturday started with delicious blueberry sourdough pancakes provided and cooked by Clay and Charlotte Zimmerman. Other people contributed additional breakfast food like fruit, muffins, and fresh goat milk. Breakfast in the mountains is a wonderful place to socialize. By this point, I was pretty convinced there is no such thing as an unfriendly goat packer.
After breakfast, Clay and Nan Hassey presented a class called Goat Packing 101 & Saddle Fitting. They showed step by step how to saddle a goat, add packs, and make sure all the straps are placed and tightened properly. One of the goats got skittish when the cinch was tightened. Nan was surprised as her goat is usually calm and quite used to being saddled. She then remembered that it had been horned in the side a week or two before. She might not have realized the animal was in pain had she not known it and its reactions so well. As soon as she loosened the straps, it went back to being the calm happy goat she knew. They switched goats and the demonstration continued. People lined up to feel what a properly tightened cinch feels like.
After lunch, Dwite Sharp of Paradise Ranch Pack Goat Research and Development talked about goat health, including nutrition and parasites. According to NAPgA president Curtis King, “Dwite is one of the largest pack goat breeders in the United States and has probably produced more pack goats for the general public and pack goat community than anyone.” Dwite currently has around 140 goats of seven different full blood pack goat breeds and 20 mixes. He discussed not only the best feed but how to keep the goats from wasting so much hay. He answered questions about nutrition for kids and seniors and explained what sort of warning signs to watch out for in teeth, parasites, and overall health.
Saturday evening brought another potluck dinner followed by an auction to raise money for the organization. Bidding started with a bottle-fed three-month-old Alpine goat then moved to smaller items including equipment, gear, and Goat Journal hats. We all laughed and joked as well as cheered for each item won. I bid on several items, but only went home with a compact solar camping lantern.
Sunday morning, Clay and Charlotte hosted another delicious pancake breakfast and after learning I was in dire need of coffee, Lila King shared from her personal pot. After breakfast it was time to break camp and say goodbyes. It was hard to leave this wonderful group of people who truly made me feel like family. I made plans to hike with a man who packs with goats in my county and offered to show good Idaho hiking trails to the president of the association and his wife. I said goodbye to the mother and daughter who told me their story while they made a delicious organic vegan meal to share and the newlywed couple who attended Rendy as part of their honeymoon.
Looking to the Future
As packing with goats grows in popularity, pack goats face more regulation throughout North America. The Forest Service, BLM, and Wild Sheep Foundation worry that domestic sheep and goats, including pack goats, transmit disease to wild bighorn sheep. NAPgA fights to ensure public lands policies regarding goats are based on science rather than speculation. Unfortunately, legal battles are never cheap, even when you have a lawyer who cares as deeply about the cause as Andy does. If you would like to help with this fight, go to napga.org and become a member, donate, or shop in their store.
If you are new to goat packing or just thinking about trying it, the NAPgA Rendezvous is the best place to discover all your options in a non-incriminatory environment. You get a chance to meet face to face with people who have been packing for years and gain hands-on experience with different types of equipment. Bring your camper or tent or just plan to sleep under the stars with your goats. You can even get a room at a nearby town like I did. Come prepared to share food and make friends. Just be warned; the people you meet here may end up being friends for life.