APPLETON, Maine — Everyone has a favorite holiday delicacy, and for the herd of goats at Appleton Creamery, it’s something a little unusual: recycled Christmas trees.
On Sunday, the bright-eyed and ravenous goats began tucking into the pile of trees that had been brought to them from near and far.
For the Finlay family of Hope, the chance to help feed the goats was a reason to take down their tree a little earlier than they otherwise would have done. They’ve been to the farm before to meet and even bottle feed the baby goats, so coming back with their tree was an easy decision.
“It’s a lot more fun than composting,” Pat Finlay said. “And to think, they actually want to eat them.”
For the goats, a herd of about 25 milking does, bucks and a few “retired old ladies,” according to farm owner and cheesemaker Caitlin Hunter, the trees really are treats. So, for her, is having people come visit the farm, especially after a pandemic year in which most usual activities were upended.
“I was trying to not encourage huge crowds, but at the same time, I didn’t want to not do it,” she said. “Everybody is desperate to do things.”
The annual event provided some joyful moments of levity — it’s hard to be gloomy while watching goats like “Stinky Mike,” a buck with big, curving horns, munch on fir trees.
But it’s bittersweet this year. Caitlin and Brad Hunter are planning to retire, with health concerns forcing them to do so earlier than they had hoped. Caitlin Hunter, 67, has been raising goats and making cheese for 40 years. If all goes well, she’ll sell the herd and the business to someone else, and this year’s Christmas tree drop off will be the last one for her.
The farm will still accept trees for another week or two, she said.
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“I just love the goats. They’re smarter than dogs and cleaner than cows,” she said, adding that running a farm and creamery has been a lot of work but worthwhile. “It’s a lifestyle choice — and we’ve eaten really well for the last 25 years.”
Mark and Marie Hankinson of Winterport were glad to participate in the tree drop-off. The drive down to Appleton was especially pretty after the Saturday snowstorm, and the goats were appreciative, they said.
“We try to come every year,” Mark Hankinson said. “To see the trees go back to nature, and get some really good cheese.”
It felt particularly meaningful this year, he said.
“We were really excited this was still happening,” Hankinson said. “Any activity where you can be outside and enjoy the things we can still enjoy — that is [important].”