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PHOTO: Chris Shields

Cute Overload

Parents and children go buggy about babies at springtime petting zoo

By Nicole Klaas


‘I’ve never seen a baby turkey before,” says a city slicker in a black wool trench coat and matching leather gloves. He coos over the infant fowl as his son, no older than 11, stands atop a hay bale and peers into the same wooden crate. He, the son, remains mute as the feathered flock scurries about. “When you look at the babies, it makes you not want to have Thanksgiving dinner again, huh?” the elder adds.

Father looks to son, anticipating a reaction. The response comes, instead, from a bleating sheep, whose “maah” cuts the still air and echoes briefly through the small barn. The elder makes a half turn to meet the noisemaker, a lamb whose head bobbles at the end of his neck, which is stretched through the gap between the lowest boards of the sheep pen. He’s the runt of the pack, but his one “maah” is all it takes to incite a chorus of bleating.

“Be quiet sheep,” demands an 8-year-old in a pink coat. She covers her ears with her palms, pointing her elbows straight out.

While the ruckus might typically cause mild annoyance among the crowd of seemingly non-country folk, at the moment it provides a refreshing alternative to a screeching 4-year-old with pigtails who howls at the sight of any animal larger than a breadbox.

“Daddy!” she shrieks at the sight of the black calf.

“Are you afraid of the cow?” he asks as she continues to whimper. “He’s behind the fence. He can’t bother you.”

Welcome to the daze—Baby Animal Daze—Indian Ladder Farms’ springtime edition of the barnyard petting zoo. From a calf to goslings, chicks and piglets, the farm’s apple barn is filled with painfully cute animals that are so newly out of the womb (or egg) that their ages are better numbered in days or weeks than months or years.

A cluster of four square pens in the center of the barn separates the bleating lambs from the calf, a pair of piglets and two black goats. There’s a separate pen to contain the kids—baby goats, people . . . four baby goats.

As a mother and her blonde-headed brood approach the kid pen, the goats, three of which are outfitted in sweaters, run to meet them at the wood barrier. One sticks his head out between the boards while another jumps up and rests his front hooves on the wood plank waiting to be scratched between the nub horns.

“Look, girls,” says the mother, pointing to the first. “He’s saying, ‘I wanna get out. I wanna get out.’ ”

After a few seconds, the second goat loses his footing and clobbers over another as he falls to the straw bed below. It hops over to the corner of the pen and nuzzles the underbelly of a kid that’s resting on her side. Mother-turned-Dr. Doolittle—minus the theme song, of course—again gives words to a silent creature. “He’s saying, ‘Wake up. Wake up. I wanna play.’ ”

One of the farm’s animal guides points to the smallest of the kids. “He actually won’t get much bigger than that,” she says of the 4-pound pygmy goat that, at 8 days old, is at least half the size of the others.

When the barn temporarily empties of children and the bleating subsides, faint cheeping sounds arise from the far left of the barn, where a row of three wooden crates contain various breeds of turkey poults and chicks. At the opposite end, another line of three crates house goslings, bunnies, and ducklings.

Baby Animal Daze is an event clearly designed for the kiddies. While there’s something about the idea of mixing small children with small animals that seems to scream for a Kodak moment, on the other hand, there’s something about the combination that sounds, well, like you’re asking for trouble.

Take, for example, the scene unfolding at the box of turkeys, where a father holds a poult in his cupped hands for his daughter to touch. Instead of a delicate, one-finger rub down the tiny creature’s neck, however, the child interprets “pet” to mean “bop the fowl on the head.”

Meanwhile, a pair of older boys, perhaps 12, test what they define as the “skill” of particular poults that they select for an odd experiment that involves cradling a turkey in their hands and then rapidly moving them up and down so that when the bird is quickly lowered, its wings—presumably both voluntarily and involuntarily—fly upward. “This one has skill,” enthusiastically declares the taller of the duo.

At the rabbit station, an animal guide retrieves one of the two snow-white bunnies and holds it out for a group of children to touch. “Gentle,” instructs a parent, but the directions come too late to one boy, who already has attempted to poke the floppy-eared creature in the eyeball.

Other children, who better understand the meaning of “gentle,” comment about how soft the fluffball is—and how tiny.

None of the creatures will remain small for long, however, a guide reminds a group huddled around the crate of goslings. There are about 10 of the mustard-yellow birds, all of which climb over one another in an attempt to secure a place underneath a hanging heat lamp. Today, their bodies are about the size of a fist. “In two weeks, they will be more than double in size,” she says.

Baby Animal Daze continues at Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont through April 22.

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