GRAY – It’s not often you go on a spring hike around farmland in Maine and feel the full wonder of history. And we’re not talking about stone walls or cellar holes.
Come tromp through the woods, through fields and over a creek with characters named Joshua Chamberlain, Flyrod Crosby and Percival Baxter. These are some of the names of the goats at Ten Apple Farm, which is owned by photographer Karl Schatz and author Margaret Hathaway.
And it’s right the goats here are named for a Civil War hero, a legendary guide and a forward-thinking conservationist among other famous Mainers, because these quick and playful creatures are full of themselves. And the full nature of their dispositions, or personalities if you will, comes through on the goat hikes offered at Ten Apple Farm.
“There is a pecking order in a herd. The goats move up in the line or fight to move ahead. The big black alpine, Joshua Chamberlain, he’s the number one goat,” Schatz explains.
Since Schatz and Hathaway started their goat farm seven years ago, they’ve led occasional goat hikes that are followed by lessons in goat cheese and the business of milking goats. This spring they are planning more.
What is a goat hike? Something the two Maine farmers modeled after the goat pack trips they took out West during a year they toured the country and researched their book on goat owners, “The Year of the Goat.”
But hiking with the herd of eight Ten Apple goats takes some attention.
“Many goats have their horns cauterized so they will not grow. Our goats have their horns. We made that conscious decision. It’s partly aesthetic, and it’s partly because that is how they’re made,” Schatz said.
Given that, Schatz asks that goat farm guests not touch the horns or to move too quickly.
“They’re on the lookout for predators. We don’t have predators here. But if they hear or see movement, they’ll get skittish,” Schatz explained. “Just try to be casual. They will think of us as members of the herd. So just try to move with the goats.”
By keeping a safe distance while hiking alongside the goats, and by taking care not to threaten the animals, a goat hiker can enjoy an unbelievable view into this creature’s movements and habits.
As Schatz stops at a creek to explain how much goats dislike water, the red-haired one stands up on her back hooves to swing her head toward a packmate. She wasn’t threatening any two-legged hikers, still her frisky outburst is a good reminder these quick and agile critters can do harm.
Despite that, the small children who came out for the hike, a total of four in all, are enchanted by the journey through the woods with the skipping critters.
Lisa Gleeson of Portland loved the natural experience of migrating with the goats as they traveled along their woodland journey to stretch their legs on a sunny day.
Gleeson learned about the goat hike on a Facebook page for mothers, and came with her husband, Alex, and 11-month-old son, Adler. She said they’d be back.
“(Adler) only has seen goats in books. This is more real, it’s very intimate. I grew up in Vermont. So it’s nice for us to get out of the city for something like this,” said Gleeson,
At one point as a half-dozen guests stop to let the goats go first, the animals stop with their human travelers. Schatz tries with little success to get the goats to move along.
Finally the goat farmer has to herd the humans, proving that despite horns and hooves, goats make perfect travel companions.
“They’re herd animals, so they are happy to hang back with the people. There is safety in numbers,” Schatz said.
TO FIND OUT about goat hikes at Ten Apple Farm, go to www.tenapplefarm.com
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: