Monday, June 28, 2010

The Farm Vacation

A couple of weeks ago we went on what we’ve been calling our Farm Vacation.  We stayed in a bed and breakfast on a working livestock farm.  We never would have thought to do it ourselves, but some adventurous friends invited us and we went with them and another great couple.  Sammy was the only kid there (except for the baby goats), but apparently, this is a family vacation kind of thing.  It’s also known as a “farm-stay.”  We stayed for three days at Cornerstone Farm in southwest Virginia, which is just a four hour drive for us.  The owners, Barb and Ward, helped to make it such a great experience that we definitely want to go back again someday. 

It started out with the drive.  We brought our dog, Toby, along with us, figuring that we’d take him on hikes on the farm.  So the car ride was a preview of what it’s like to have two kids in the car.  There were horrifying screams followed by things like: MOMMY, TOBY ATE MY GRANOLA BAR! and HE’S LICKING MY HAND!  MAKE HIM STOP! 

In the end, we enjoyed having Toby with us, but the poor guy didn’t get to do much because it was incredibly hot – too hot to just go for long walks – and also because we needed to keep him away from the working dogs on the farm.  Ward and Barb have four or five working dogs that they keep solely to protect the livestock.  We were encouraged not to interact with them, and we were warned that under no circumstances should we allow Toby to play with them or even approach them at the fences.  These Akbash dogs were really beautiful.  They barked every time we approached the fences, but they were not aggressive.  I don’t know what they would have done if we had tried to hurt an animal, but I wouldn’t want to find out. 

More stuff we saw/did/experienced:

  • We got ticks (Sam called them tic-tacs).  They don’t have lime disease, so they were pretty harmless, but really gross.  Adam won the contest of who would get the most ticks over the whole weekend.

  • We milked the goats.  This was Barb’s domain and she obviously loves those animals.  They all have names, and she knows all of their personalities.  Sam squeezed a bit of milk out but didn’t have that much interest.  I did it twice.  Barb does it twice a day, every day.  It’s a lot of work and they can’t sell the milk, so they throw out whatever they don’t use.

  • We learned that male goats are really stinky, so if you want good tasting goat milk, you need to keep the genders separated.

  • We drank fresh, raw goat milk.  Soooooo good!  We also had goat cheese, which the others liked but I found bland.

  • We enjoyed watching the cows and horses roam in their pastures.  We petted the horses, but the bulls were off limits!

  • We learned that sheep say bah, goats say mah.  It’s hard to tell them apart, though.  Goats have shorter tails that point up, while sheep have longer tails that hang down.  The goats on this farm were Nigerian dwarf goats and were pretty cute, as goats go.  There were many “kids.”  We were able to go in the pasture with them as much as we liked and we spent a lot of time there because Sammy loved the goats.  They would stand up on their hind legs and put their front hooves on her and sometimes even knock her down.  They would surround her and nibble on her clothes and hair.  (Now Sam nibbles on our clothing and we call her “goat girl.”)  But she loved them.  She was fearless, and this was one of the best things about the trip – Sam was so excited that she forgot to be cautious.

  • We saw and petted the alpacas.  A baby had been born just a few days before we arrived, and there was another that was just a few weeks old, so the two mommies were quite protective.  We were warned one of the alpacas might spit, and we hurried away once when we saw the mommy pull her ears back and open her mouth just enough to show us some green, regurgitated stuff.  Yuk!

  • We petted some miniature donkeys.  I didn’t like the braying sound they made – this was probably the animal that I liked the least.

  • Went horseback riding.  This was the highlight of the trip.  Ward taught us how to really handle the horses and we got to ride on a hilly trail and gallop quite a bit.  We also had some freedom in a clearing where we were able to experiment with directing our horses instead of just following the leader on the trail.  Ward claims that horses are smarter than dogs.  I’m still not so sure about that, but riding a horse gave me much the same joy as I get from walking Toby.  When the animal obeys you and you get in a rhythm, it’s really a unique bonding experience.  I saw a snake (which I later found out was a black rat snake) on the path, which I found incredibly cool.

  • Sam got a pony ride – well, it was a miniature horse named Dusty and he was really cute.  She got the same special kind of ride that we did.  She got to sit in a saddle with stirrups and Ward led the horse along a path around the pond.  Sam only had one moment of reservation while getting on the horse, but very quickly she became obviously thrilled.  She has been on a horse before (sitting with her dad on a real horse) and she rode an elephant with us once, but this was a much more independent experience for her.  God, watching your kid grow up is the best thing in the world.

  • Ward showed us his poultry yard.  This is the thing that he loves, like Barb loves her goats.  He had all kinds of chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.  It was stinky and noisy!  Adam and I saw this one rooster and we both immediately thought: “That’s Chantecler!”  If you’ve read the play, you’ll know this means that he was strutting about and obviously was one proud bird.  Adam got a video of this “buff orpington” macho bird crowing,

  • We held some baby ducks that were about 2-3 weeks old.  One pooped on me and I just kept holding it.  Fear of poop: conquered!

  • We saw a baby duck hatching!  Adam got it on video.  The duck had started opening the egg, but Ward just helped finish it up so we could see it come out.  Awesome!

  • Ward has set up a kind of miniature natural history museum of Virginia wildlife in a separate building on the farm.  He has dozens of insects mounted neatly with pins, some animal skulls, and some live reptiles like snakes and turtles.  Sam loves turtles, so this was a highlight for her.  We all admired Ward’s ambition regarding the project, and his obvious love for nature. 

  • We had a bonfire and roasted hot dogs and marshmallows.

  • We learned why horses are so cheap right now.  All the slaughterhouses in the U.S. that were used to make glue or dog food from the older horses have been shut down, so there is no market for those old horses as there used to be (unless you ship them to Canada or Mexico, and it looks like Canada is going to shut down their slaughterhouses soon, too).  So people are forced to keep and maintain their older horses, shrinking the market for new, young horses.  On top of the rights violations and harm to humans involved, thanks to the animal rights folks, old horses are now being abandoned and left to starve to death

  • After the other couples left, Adam, Sam and I stayed another day.  It was still too hot to do much but we swam in the little plastic pool and drank well water from the hose and just relaxed.  It was really nice.

  • As always, at a B&B you spend quite a bit of time with your hosts, and we had some nice conversations with Barb and Ward about all of the improvements they are planning for the farm and other subjects.  Overall, I enjoyed their company and it was actually a bit hard to say goodbye.

We are planning to go back to Cornerstone Farm again, hopefully when the weather is not so hot.  We'd like to go fishing and goat packing (the goat carries your picnic lunch on a hike), and do some stargazing.  Adam and I plan to look into horseback riding locally.  I'm not sure if there is anything like what we did at the farm, though.  So we might have to go back just for that.  Click here for more photos.


  1. I was totally skeptical about the idea of a farm stay vacation, but after reading this, I am sold. I would love to do this someday, and I know Livy would love it.

  2. Yea, Kelly! That makes me feel like a million bucks--thanks for letting me know.

    I do think just about any kid from 3 to 12 would love it (unless they already live on a farm, of course!). Some adults might not, but we enjoyed the differentiation from city-life which most people I suppose try to get by lying on a beach. (I find that boring after half a day. Well, maybe a full day.)

    I forgot to write that Sam also got to feed the goats, sheep, and rabbits (and Barb was amazed at how well she did scooping and pouring--there's your Montessori at work), and that we didn't have to wake up absurdly early for chores. Morning chores started at 7am, but you could join in at any time if you woke up late, and there were more chores at night if you couldn't handle even that. Also, the roosters did not wake me up - the working dogs did, though.

  3. Love it! I've been thinking about doing something like this for a long time.

    Alex's preschool went on a strawberry picking trip and he loved it. We'll be going as a family again some time soon.

    I appreciate the story - we'll know what to watch out for if planning the trip. I remember being around 3 when my parents took me on a mandatory farm trip (you may have heard, they shipped engineers to help on collective farms in the soviet union) and I have real memories of drinking warm cow's milk, feeding the cows, playing with the dog that lived on a chain and was mean to everyone except me, etc. (Sad story: after seeing me with the dog, they let it off the chain, it bit somebody and was shot. That's not part of the memories, however; learned much later.)

  4. It's clear you know nothing about horses. People are not forced to keep old horses. The old horse in todays market is more widely sought and expensive then any other horse. You ask WHY? A sixteen year old horse has 14 years of under saddle experience. Nothing bothers him. That makes him a "bomb proof" kid horse. A mare of 4 years old is NOT SAFE for a child or beginner to handle. The young horses are for experienced riders. The older more experienced horses are for kids and adults who need a safer animal. A price of $2,000 is not uncommon for a 18 year old kid horse.

  5. Hey Skippy, be nice! Amy never posted an actual age to define "old". If you knew something about horses, you wouldn't categorize a sixteen or eighteen year old being old; knowing full well a horse can live to over forty. We have several "Bomb Proof" and sound teen and twentyish horses for our trail ride services. All have been purchase for under $1,000. Just recently we obtained two excellent paints for free. You cannot negate that it is a buyer's market! Amy is referring to elderly horses 30 and above, and/or any that have conditions which make them unusable. Now you're learning.

    Hey Amy, thanks for the comments about your stay here. Did you say my birds were "stinky"? :o) Nah, we were upwind from the buck goats, remember? Looking forward to y'all coming back!

  6. Hi Ward! I'm so glad you read my post! Our best to Barb and all the animals. :)

  7. I have 45 years experience with horses and have been learning for 45 years. Horses rarely live over 30 years old. We know of several horses that are well over 28 years old that are still in the show ring. Horses with bowed tendons can still recover. I suggest that horses over 30 that cant walk or eat be humanly put down or the owner will be baby feeding him or her and manually exercising him or her. Just because your horse grows old does not lift your responsibility to the animal. Before slaughter for human consumption horses were passed to younger sisters or the neighbors kids. Not once did the animal live to be forty. Not once did ANY horse become crippled. It depends completely how you take care of the animal. With billions of dollars in equine research I think all of you are completely out of options. You are missing out on the FINE older horse market. That is where you can buy a horse with $25,000 in training for under $2,000 the horse being 18 years and up. The animal spends the rest of its life with a circle of people. It is given everything it needs.

  8. Amy,
    I apologize for this, but I had to respond to Skippy. We will not respond again as I feel it is taking away from your stay at the farm and I don't want this to turn into a political discussion on horses.

    I won't prolong this conversation as Amy's intent was to share with folks about her family stay on the farm and not to be focused on the problem of older (30+) aged horses in the USA. The horse market on the whole is dead. Thirty is considered average, so that means they die older and younger to make 30 the average. The record age is on a Barg horse, which lived to be 62. Our farrier put her childhood pony down at age 48. The teen years are just that in horses, the prime of life, not old at all.

    As Ward said, we just attained 2 horses (age 7 and 11) free because the owner could not sell them after 1 year of trying, but needed them off his property. Both are beautiful paints, which are the "hot" sellers right now and the mare is registered. The gelding is a tri-colored paint and gaited, absolutely gorgeous. Both are excellent rides and no buyers.

    With PETA and the HSUS shutting down the slaughter houses, horse sales have dried up and older horses (28+) can not be sold and are being abandoned by owners and let loose as stays. Google abandoned/stay horses and this pops up first:

    An Epidemic of Abandoned Horses - TIME
    Rising gas and grain prices, along with the closure of American slaughterhouses, are leading to a dramatic increase in unwanted, stray horses.

    Horses in the US were never slaughtered for human consumption, as Amy stated they were used for glue and dog food. The soundness of horses was never mentioned, so I do not see the relevance to those statements you made. Age is what we are talking about.

    Anyone that spends $25K in training and the horse is only a young teenager and sells that horse for $2K shows that the market is dead. Just 5 years ago, $25K in training of a horse would have brought close to $50K at the sales. We have friends that did this. Today they no longer do it because it is not worth what they get in re-sale. I agree that people need to be responsible for animals that they own, but in the economy we find ourselves, some folks can not even afford to do the humane thing. It is sad.

  9. Barb, Ward, and Skippy -

    I don't mind the discussion about horses. It's true that I know next to nothing about horses and the horse market, but after Ward mentioned the slaughterhouses closing, I did my own research. Closing the slaughterhouses did affect the market, as did the downturn in the economy. Horses are indeed being abandoned in greater numbers. Government interference in the economy (and, like it or not, animals are property) will always cause problems and this is just one example. I am a huge animal-lover, but (or should I say, "and therefore") I am 100% against PETA and any kind of "animal rights."

    But let's end this discussion here.