May 22, 2022

Goats, geese, chicks: Baby animals help farm thrive

BRANDY STATION, Va. (AP) — Visitors from near and far have been seeking refuge at a farm in Culpeper County to escape the daily cares and pressures of life. They are coming away joyful.

“This is the best thing I’ve been able to do all year,” said Elizabeth Coco of Alexandria at Charming Hill Farm on a recent balmy spring afternoon. “It turned out to be just perfect.”

Nearby her children — Grace, 8, and 4-year-old Thomas — were crowded by pleasure-seeking goats of all sizes as the children sought with eager hands to stroke the furry creatures.

Coco, who underwent emergency surgery a few days prior, had been forced to cancel spring break plans with her children and selected a visit to Culpeper County as an alternative activity.

“I think it turned out better overall,” Coco said. “My daughter is super into this. She wants to be a zookeeper when she grows up.”

For many weeks now Charming Hill has been welcoming the public to show off the many new animals that have joined the vibrant four-legged staff members that help the local agri-tourism enterprise survive.

“We’ve had four births already so far, with many more coming in the weeks ahead,” said Matt Boyer, who owns and operates the farm. “We’ve got baby bunnies, geese, turkeys and a donkey this year, in addition to the goats, pig, chicks, dogs, cows and other animals we’ve had in the past.”

Boyer said a couple hundred people had visited so far in 2022, giving him a boost up on his bottom line for the coming year.

“All farms struggle with income,” Boyer said. “Each of the animals has their own bank account to take care of feed, veterinary care and housing, so the $10 per person is used up pretty quick.”

Ten dollars is what it costs to fondle the farm’s furry friends for an hour. With about 40 young goats and a variety of chicks, horses, peacocks and other breeds, there are plenty of warm bodies to go around.

“All these people contribute to the local economy when they come down here,” Boyer said. “They always tell me they go to this or that brewery or restaurant after their farm visit or shop downtown. I’m glad to be able to help out my fellow businesspeople that way.”

Boyer, in addition to running the now 2-year-old farm, also works remotely as vice president of institutional giving with The Arc, a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that protects the rights of people with intellectual and development disabilities.

With his connections in Northern Virginia and involvement in a very active Facebook mom’s group there, Boyer said he’s gratified to be getting pretty steady bookings.

“The moms of Northern Virginia rule the world,” Boyer said, smiling. “Everyone should have them on their side.”

He said the moms are constantly recommending his farm to others for play dates and birthdays and for adults coming to simply relax and to enjoy the country atmosphere.

Many grown-ups come simply to see and cuddle the animals without having to do the accompanying work, the farmer commented.

“Some people who live in the area actually come and volunteer here because they like the work,” Boyer said. “Having people do that makes it feel more like a community effort.”

Matt Viljoen, who lives a mile or two down the road from Charming Hill, has been volunteering there for about 18 months.

“It makes me happy to help the animals make other people happy,” Viljoen said.

He creates products out of wood that Boyer encourages him to offer for sale to visitors. Viljoen has been getting a small income that way.

Boyer said he’s grateful for Viljoen and his dedication to the farm.

“When I can’t be here he guides people through,” Boyer said. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

Tammy Smith, an allergy doctor from Warrenton, and her teenage daughter Emma seemed relaxed and happy as they stroked goats and a horse at Charming Hill.

“A friend recommended it to me,” Smith said. “My girls used to ride horses. We like to be around animals, so I was glad to find a place we could come and do this.”

A senior at Kettle Run High School, 17-year-old Emma Smith hugged a couple goats at once as they clambered for the food she was offering to them.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “I could stay here all day.”