at Roadside Menageries
By Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor
Old MacDonald may have had a farm with pigs oink-oinking here and cows moo-mooing there, but could your toddlers have taken a cute selfie with Porky or gotten close enough to Elsie to whisper sweet nothings in her ear? They can at a scattering of roadside menageries – little interactive farms sprinkled throughout the Merrimack Valley.
“We’ve been here for 30 years,” Brenda Schacht said of Carriage Shack Farm in Londonderry, situated on a bumpy, dirt road not far from the town’s strip malls and fast-food eateries “It’s truly a family operation.”
While Schacht spoke, a gaggle of preschoolers giggled as they careened through a cloud of bubbles spewed by a machine at the entrance to the barnyard where visitors pay a small admission fee.
On a recent sunny day, Evie Whittum, age 2, climbed a small tractor outside a pen filled with goats, while her parents Hayley and Tim Whittum of Manchester looked on.
“We love it here,” said the mom. “Everyone is friendly, and they are never too busy to answer a question.” She laughed while her toddler got off the tractor and ran to the poultry section of the farm. “Evie loves to chase the chickens, but the chickens aren’t that happy about it.”
Another visitor reached over a chain-link fence to scratch the chinny-chin-chin of Bongo, a surprisingly personable and handsome goat. A handful of ducks floated in a kiddie pool while soft ponies watched from a pen.
William Durant, part of the farm family, flitted between the clusters of visitors in the barnyard identifying the various animals and providing their names. In the distance, a tractor pulled a wagonload of visitors through a pasture while enjoying free bags of popcorn and bottled spring water. In addition to welcoming visitors for a fee, the farm offers two-hour tours to school groups.
A rooster crowed. Ducks quacked, turkeys gobbled and pigs grunted. In the middle of the barnyard, several of the visitors sat at shaded picnic tables while a llama slept in the sun.
Zach, the burro, dawdled in a small pen a short walk from the barnyard. Inside the barn, Homer the tortoise was cooling his clawed heels.
The farm smells… like a farm. It’s part of the experience.
At McQuesten Farm in Litchfield you can visit their free roadside menagerie in a fenced-in area between the farm stand, greenhouses and barn off the Charles Bancroft Highway (Route 3A).
One weekday morning, under the watchful eyes of their parents, two toddlers and babes in arms watched in wonder as a flock of ducks dabbled in the shallows and a handful of goats looked on with bulbous eyes. Much attention was devoted to a small, long-haired hoofed animal that looked like a cross between a teddy bear and a cow that we figured to be a Scottish Highland calf.
When the farm stand is open you can buy a little bag of animal feed while picking out your cantaloupes and cukes.
You can caress a calf at another farm stand – J&F Farms in Derry.
“We try to swap out the cows so there is always a calf that the children may pet,” said farm manager Melissa Ferdinando Dolloff, who says the farm on Route 102 has maintained the free menagerie for more than 20 years.
In addition to the cows, in a pen adjacent to the hilltop farm stand, you may also visit miniature ponies with the TV show names of Bo and Luke, a llama named Mochie and goats called Aspen, Blizzard and Samara.