Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sweetfern Farm and Rutland Farm Day (Rutland, MA)

One of the things I love about living in rural Massachusetts is the incredible abundance of farms, most of them small and family owned.  Rutland, which is a small town northwest of Worcester in central MA, has not only a large number of farms, but also a large number of very different types of farms.  These run the gamut from a farm selling Angus beef, to an Alpaca farm, to a farm owned by Heifer International.  Every year, the town sponsors a "Rutland Farm Day," and this year, its fifth, featured 17 farms all over town.

A few lambs
I went primarily because one of the featured farms, Sweetfern Farm, is owned by a friend of mine from college (who was also one of the first readers of this blog), and the farm is a great place to spend a little time relaxing, enjoying the countryside, and of course, enjoying some adorable baby animals. Sweetfern Farm at the moment sells fresh eggs, a product that so vastly outstrips the flavor and quality of store bought eggs that it is hardly even comparable, and by the end of the year is planning to sell seasonal vegetables, broiler chickens, turkeys, yarn/fleece from their ever growing flock of Shetland sheep, and if they quit naming the lambs, hopefully some delicious, tender lamb at some point.  Fresh honey is also on the list for this fall.

One of the goats

 The animals range from hilariously loud and needy (one sheep literally would push her head through the fence every time I got near until I would pet her) to tiny and adorable (the lambs, which were as young as a couple of weeks old, are almost as cute as a puppy, though not nearly so cuddly.  I believe the current numbers are around 26 sheep (including this year's lambs), several dozen chickens, with a few dozen more chicks growing under the heat lamp, both egg layers and broilers, untold thousands of bees, and even two goats. 
Chicks under the heat lamp...adorable little future food!

One of the rams grazing in his paddock
The sheep are generally very friendly, albeit somewhat skittish in some cases, but there are a few that are attention hogs.  This was a great opportunity for kids to come out and see the animals, and even hold one of the more outgoing lambs.  Visitors ranged from locals who came by to check out the farm to one from out of town who came by because he is interested in seeing where his food comes from.  There were numerous children, which is always nice to see, since few kids these days get to experience this kind of thing; I was lucky enough to grow up across the street from a small farm, but I never really appreciated that fact until recently.  Hopefully children being exposed to farms like this will at least give them an appreciation that their food is not simply what they see in the grocery store.
Sweetfern Farm is located at 292 Pleasantdale Rd, Rutland, MA.  Check them out on Facebook for some more pictures and information!


I also visited Sassawanna Alpacas, aka Sassawanna Rabbitry, a small family owned, part time operation that includes raising and shearing alpacas, as well as making yarn from their wool, and also raising rabbits. The owners are extremely friendly and clearly passionate about their hilariously adorable charges, which are distinctly reminiscent of Dr. Seuss illustrations.  I've been a big fan of
Newly weaned alpaca
alpacas ever since I first saw one in Lincoln, MA, where the dog breeder my mom got her Chocolate Lab from was raising them.  They have somewhat disturbingly human eyes, but are adorable as babies and rather amusing as adults; additionally, thier wool is pretty amazing, making some of the warmest, most comfortable knitted items you can find, including a pair of socks that I can only wear on super cold days.  Sassawanna's flock are so friendly and docile that you can feed them out of your hand, something that a few kids took full advantage of, and most seemed to really enjoy the experience. 

The farm sells yarn they make from these incredibly vocal animals, some of it pure, some a blend with sheep's wool, and some blended with sheeps wool and angora from their rabbits (which are adorably fluffy.  Since my mom knits, I picked her up a couple skeins of it, and it is incredibly soft stuff.
Fluffy angora rabbit
I also learned some new things about alpacas from the owner, including that they, like sheep (also did not know this, but Kate, the owner of Sweetfern Farm, told me) do not have two rows of teeth, instead just having a bottom row, and a hard palate on top.  They also hum pretty regularly, which is not necessarily a sign of stress, but is simply a reflex of theirs.  They also breed pretty infrequently, with a gestational period lasting a full year, and rarely have more than one cria.  They are also only shorn (at least at this farm) only once a year, and I must admit, a freshly shorn alpaca is pretty damned funny looking, with their super puffy legs and face.

Sassawanna Alpacas is located at 14 Sassawanna Rd, Rutland, MA.


The last farm I went to was Overlook Farm, technically the Learning Center at Overlook Farm, which at one time raised animals to be distributed by Heifer International, but currently operates to sell locally and act as a teaching resource, where groups that range from elementary school to adults can come learn how the farm works and operates, as well as get a glimpse of life in the various countries that Heifer International operates within.
When I visited, they were hosting a group of about 50 students, I believe middle schoolers, from Philadelphia, PA, who may have been seeing a farm like this for the first time.  It was great to see how many of them (more than half) seemed really interested in what was going on. 
When you pull into the farm, up a long driveway, you immediately see a pen full of sheep on one side of the parking lot, and some gorgeous views to the other, beyond the main buildings.

Small garden behind the main building

The pictures to either side show the twin pillars of the archway leading to the "global village," where the farm represents small aspects of the lives of some of Heifer International's clients.  Signs at the entrance to each area
explain a little about how Heifer International operates there, and about the country or region itself.

Signs explain each
Harlan County, KY, the setting for TNT's Justified, is an extremely poor (over 30% of the population lives below the "poverty" line; I think most would agree that being just north of that line doesn't really change much) county in
southeastern Kentucky. 

Peru, with its llamas and alpacas, is an example of how Heifer International operates these days, providing locally available and appropriate animals.

Guatemala and the Tibetan region of China were also represented, with goats in Guatemala and large, shaggy oxen for Tibet.  The structures at each were also intended to be representative of how people actually live in the
countries, including a rough stone hut and a yak hair tent that instantly reminded me of the steppe people of the Mongol period of domination. 

The farm also features a gift shop, where you can purchase trinkets, promotional items, and some frozen meats from the lambs raised on the farm.  The two farm employees I met were both extremely friendly, and clearly passionate about what they have going on there.                                                                                                    Overlook Farm is located at 214 Wachusett Rd, Rutland, MA.  


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