June 22, 2018
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Hike with baby goats at this Maine farm

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Updated:

Leaping up onto the granite boulder, the baby goat easily found his footing with his cloven hooves, then bent his head to nibble at a patch of moss. Carter, his soft coat completely white, was the boldest and largest of the four baby goats hiking Waldo Mountain that sunny, spring day. His companions circled the large boulder until they found an easier approach, then scrambled up after him.

“We’ve been hiking with our goats for the past three or four years,” Sean Twombly of Frankfort said. “This is the first year we’re actually inviting people to come with us and enjoy it the way we do.”

Sean and his wife, Sonja Twombly, care for a herd of about 40 milk goats on their homestead, Lally Broch Farm, where they produce a wide variety of products, from fresh goat cheese to mosaic pendants crafted from painted chicken egg shells. They also offer classes in how to make cheese and soap, and this year, they’re offering a new experience: hiking with goats. In early January, they posted a list of a dozen dates throughout the spring, summer and fall for hiking with goats experiences. In no time, these private group hikes — $75 for a group of up to six people — were sold out.

“If someone calls and says they’d like to do a hike and we can fit it into our schedule, we will,” Sonja Twombly said. “But we have to be careful to balance what the goats will enjoy doing and our time as well.”

In addition, Lally Broch is offering free hikes with goats at their June and October open farm days, which they announce on their website, lallybrochfarm.org, and social media pages. And throughout the rest of April, they’re hosting a drawing for a free goat hike at Tiller & Rye grocery in Brewer, which sells some of their products. Entering the drawing requires the donation of a non-perishable food item, which the farm will donate to a Bangor area food bank.

There’s plenty of opportunities to frolic through the woods and over rocks with goats, if that sort of experience appeals to you.

“We like to get the goats out on the hikes because they have such a great time,” Sean Twombly said. “They get up on the rocks, and they suddenly figure out, ‘Wow, this is what these feet are for.’ They just enjoy being goats. And we enjoy it. We love watching them.”

For the first hike of the season, a group of six gathered at Lally Broch Farm on a sunny morning in mid-April. The snow had just melted away from the homestead’s goat yard, vegetable gardens and fenced-in duck and geese pond. Chickens roamed the property, and the goats crowded together on one side of their enclosure’s tall wire fence, eager for attention from the visitors.

Two adult goats faced each other and lunged, clashing their curved horns together before walking off together, away from the excitement at the fence. Not all of the goats were in the mood to be petted, but those that did bleated, stood on their hind legs, stuck their noses through the fence and nibbled gently at fingers and coat sleeves.

“Goats just make you happy,” Alana Hutchins of Swanville, one of the hikers, said. “Touching them, looking at them. They’re just the cutest thing. They make you happy within two minutes.”

“Thirty seconds,” Laura Lougheed of Belfast called out, correcting her sister.

Hutchins laughed and agreed. The sisters had been to Lally Broch Farm before, a year ago, just to meet the goats. They’d visited the farm for Lougheed’s birthday. Hugging a goat, she said, was on her list of things to do.

“We got to bottle feed a goat and hold one, and we were crying — happy crying. It was awesome,” Lougheed said.

As the goats greeted the hikers at the fence, Sean Twombly hopped over it into the goat yard and called out for the day’s hiking goats: Carter, Benton, Mekhi and Malik. For this year’s kidding season, the Twombly’s had assigned the kids names from the hit TV show “ER.” Goats, like dogs, learn their names and will often come when called, even at a young age.

For the two sets of brother goats, it was their first hike. The Twomblys chose them because they’re bottle-fed and therefore accustomed to being taken from their mothers and handled by humans many times a day. Their mothers have a genetic trait that makes them unable to produce milk. Therefore, being separated for a couple hours wouldn’t distress them.

Each spring, about 15 baby goats or “kids” are born at Lally Broch, and when they reach about 1 year old the majority of them are sold as pets or milk goats. Lally Broch is a no kill farm, meaning all their animals live out their natural lives on the property, including their 100-plus chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys.

“They all pay their rent in some form when they’re young,” Sonja Twombly said. “We sell farm fresh eggs and jewelry [made] out of eggshells. It pays for them to retire when they’re no longer laying. Then they just eat bugs and work in the garden.”

For the goats, the females take turns birthing kids every other year, then produce milk for about 9 to 10 months before their kids are naturally weaned and they dry up until their next birth. In addition to feeding the kids, the excess milk produced by the mothers is made into chevre and feta cheeses, as well as goat milk soap. And now, some of the goats will also “pay their rent” by becoming expert hiking companions.

From Lally Broch Farm, it’s just a short drive to Mount Waldo, a popular hiking location among locals. There the group took their time hiking up to the mountain’s quarry pond, first on a gravel road, then a wide trail, guided by Sean Twombly and the goats, which seemed to take turns walking beside different hikers and even seemed reluctant to leave anyone behind. They appeared to be the perfect hiking companions, aside from their continually becoming distracted by vegetation. Dead leaves, moss, pine needles — they tried it all. But because they seemed to want to stay with the group, they never stopped to browse for long.

Their goats eating vegetation along trails is one thing the Twomblys have to watch out for, not only because they don’t want them defoliating the landscape and killing plants, but also because many common plants — including Hemlock, rhododendrons and lupines — are toxic to goats. The couple had to scout the area ahead of time to make sure none of those plants bordered the Mount Waldo trail.

Dogs can also be a problem. If approached by an off-leash dog, all hikers are briefed on how to pick up a baby goat to protect it. And if they’re hiking with adult goats, they simply take the goat by its collar, pull it off trail and stand in front of it.

“Often people say their dog is good with animals, but the reality is, unless your dogs have been around goats, you don’t know how they’re going to act, so it’s best we stand off the path and let them pass,” Sonja Twombly said. “We’ve never had an issue.”

When the group reached the quarry on Mount Waldo, the apex of their trek, Sonja Twombly unpacked a snack of the year’s first batch of garlic and herb chevre, French bread and diced cantaloupe. Meanwhile Sean Twombly distracted the kids by leading them off to play on the rocks. They jumped from boulder to boulder, intent on sticking with the farmer.

A few minutes later, the baby goats were ready for a nap. Basking in the sun, the hikers sat on the rocks and held them as they nodded off to sleep.

“I think most people just think they’re another barn animal, and they’re not,” Lougheed said. “They’re like cats and dogs. They’re friendly and snuggly. Who knew? I didn’t know I needed this.”

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