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.