backcountry travel learn from other trailblazers

Goats Go the Extra Backcountry Mile

By: Ardis Eckel
Trip Date: 05/01/00

Rex and Terri Summerfield backpack with goats! After considering motorcycles and trying horses, the Weippe, Idaho couple, settled on goats to meet their recreational requirements. Rex, Terri and their nine-year-old son, Abram, like to hike, hunt and fish the backcountry. Before Abram's birth, the couple backpacked extensively. And even before Abram's arrival, Rex and Terri started seeking an alternative to carrying both packs and toddler. Rex had long been a motorcycle enthusiast. But motorized machines didn't cut muster for wilderness treks. Terri, a horsewoman from way back, leaned toward horses that seemed better suited to the backcountry experience. The Summerfields bought two horses, tack, and trailer. All that, the feed, and hoof care turned into a major money outlay. Compared to backpacking, handling the big animals seemed hard work. While horses provided the perfect solution for many families, they just weren't working out for the Summerfields.

Discouraged, Rex was watching television one evening when he saw a program on pack goats. He asked Terri, who works in Weippe, as the library director, to find a copy of a book he'd heard mentioned. "She did," Rex recounts, "and at 8:00 that night, I started reading it. I read it straight through, woke Terri up at 3:00 in the morning and said, 'The horses are going. We have to get goats!'" Terri was less than enthusiastic-especially upon being wakened in the wee hours. But Rex's mind was made up. "Here are animals that will pack 50 pounds, follow you like a dog, and go anywhere you want to go," he says. "Animals that (unlike a runaway horse) would happily stay with you."

Terri eventually agreed that goats were worth a try. The horses, tack and trailer were replaced by four mature dairy-breed goats. None of the wethers (castrated males) had been trained to pack, and two didn't care to be trained. The remaining two must have read the same book as Rex because they caught right on to the idea of hiking with humans, even if it meant carrying a pack, enduring an occasional rain storm, and meeting up with critters they'd never before encountered.

Terri was totally won over. "I discovered I could take the pack goats by myself and go," she says. "While there are women that are very capable of backing big horse trailers around and loading up and hauling by hemselves, I'm not one of those. But with the goats, I just let down the tailgate, they load up and we're off."

As Terri and Rex's enthusiasm for pack goats grew, so did their goat herd. They trained the goats according to written instruction and common sense. "Goats need praised when they do good, and reprimanded consistently," Rex says. "Basically, goats are herd animals. If they're bottle-raised as babies, they bond to people. They think of their masters as herd leaders."

Goats, in general, have been domesticated for centuries, used for meat and milk, leather and wool. But they've become increasingly popular in recent years as pack animals. That popularity pushed the Summerfields past simply enjoying their pack goats and put them smack dab in the middle of the pack goat supply business.

It all started with their own search for pack gear. What they found was either expensive, inadequate or hard to use. So Rex built a pack saddle from scratch. Terri whipped up a thick, but flexible saddle pad. And after consulting with a seasoned horse packer, Rex developed durable panniers with built-in straps based on hitches and buckles that replace difficult pack saddle knots.

Orders forced the Summerfields to set up a business, Northwest Pack Goats & Supplies. Then they printed a catalog. Next they developed a website. Now, they don't have time for backpacking. "With my job as sheriff deputy and Terri's as librarian," Rex says, "we spend the rest of our time making and selling pack gear."

Not that they're complaining about the business boom. In fact, they're constantly adding new items to their inventory. "Right now," Rex says, "we're designing a goat cart and easy-to-use harness that doesn't ave 50-bazillion straps and buckles."

Because the Summerfields want to keep equipment affordable, they offer a variety of saddles and saddle kits. "The kits make great 4-H projects," Terri says. "And customers save money by doing the sanding and varnishing themselves."

Rex, who handcrafts each wooden saddle, says, "the saddle is based on a basic cross-buck horse pack saddle design. But it's sized down to about 12-inches-long, and the sideboards are beveled differently to fit a goat's frame."

That makes the saddle a perfect fit for wethers that can weigh in at 200 pounds and pack 50 pounds on their backs. Double-stitched durable Cordura panniers that fit over the saddle come in two sizes and a variety of colors. Pads, that fit under the saddles, are made of thick synthetic felt with colored Cordura covers. "On a goat, the pad needs to be flexible enough to bend. If it's too thick, it works out from under the saddle, and if it's too thin it doesn't protect the goat," Terri explains. "These soft pads are comfortable and conform to the goat's back."

Northwest Pack Goats & Supplies also offers: feed bag/muzzles, lead ropes, collars, halters, grooming tools, compasses, camp tools, pepper spray and more.

"We get lots of hits on the website," Rex says. "And we've had inquiries from everywhere from Kosovo to downtown New York City."

The Summerfields believe pack goats will become increasingly popular. Northwest Pack Goat &Supplies is set to provide everything those companionable creatures need to carry hikers' extra gear.

For more information, call Rex and Terri at: 1-888-PACKGOAT,