Follow That Goat – Calypso, Sapphire, and Wisteria: the unpretentious goat guides
Hannah Bracken has an affinity for the trio of Alpine goats grazing in the pasture adjacent to her Monterey home. Calypso, a two-year-old wether, holds a particularly special place in her heart: His mother, part of the herd at Susan Sellew’s neighboring Rawson Brook Farm, had a difficult labor. After a night of struggling, Bracken delivered the “gorgeous boy,” named after a variety of the mottled black and white bean that his coat resembles. Sapphire and Wisteria, a pair of does meant to be milkers, never came into a heat. Rather than render the three animals useless (Calypso is a castrated male), Bracken adopted them. Three years later, she has nurtured her small herd to work in a different field, one found on the beaten path.
The trio are also known as The Friendly Goats, arguably the most uncommon trail guides in the Berkshires. Last summer, Bracken offered a series of guided goat walks at Naumkeag; this year she is blazing her own trail by giving individuals unstructured time in nature with the goats. “I try not to have an agenda,” says Bracken, who hangs back and lets her guests—and goats—do the navigating. “Even when they follow, I think they are in charge,” she says of the highly social and very amusing goats. The animals are neither desperate for attention nor confused about what’s happening when they’re in the company of humans. In fact, they quickly fall into line and lead the way—welcoming others as part of the herd.
Naturally inquisitive, they will wend their way through the forest and find plentiful points of interest, stopping to nibble ferns in the midst of unfurling, tender violets and verdant beech leaves. “They like to taste test,” as Braken puts it, despite the fact that the bulk of their diet comes from high-quality hay. The animals adeptly traverse mossy boulders and rocky outcroppings, and felled trees to old stumps. Although no obstacle can impede their way, “they’ll do anything to keep their feet dry,” Bracken points out as we make our way to the edge of a small waterfall about ten minutes into the forest behind her house. We linger beneath a stand of towering hemlock and maple trees.
“If you run, they’ll run—and they can stop on a dime,” Bracken points out as we walk behind a trio of twitching tails. They are also intuitive and will herd errant kids back to the group, making their presence at any event not only special, but also quite useful. Bracken and her goats have done birthday parties and weddings and were even on hand for last fall’s opening of the New Marlborough Land Trust’s Goodnow Preserve. Perhaps most alluring is their ability to slow down and take notice. “They really understand the world around them,” Bracken points out, swiftly debunking the adage about goats eating tin cans. “They can debark a tree in no time,” she explains, noting the inherent function in doing so: there is fiber to be gleaned from the bark, and in the process, they clean their teeth.
Back in their pasture, a lush field brimming with burdock and ferns, Calypso, Sapphire, and Wisteria keep company with Dion and Lewis, a pair of breeding bucks used to populate Sellew’s herd of milkers just across the road. Bracken, who makes her living as a farmer, is a native of Monterey. She moved back to the area about eight years ago, lured by the promise of all this natural setting has to offer and the gift of both living and working on Sellew’s farm. She is quietly contemplative, yet noticeably connected to the land upon which she and her goats tread. It is a beautiful balance.
“The most amazing and gratifying part is when it is magical for others,” she says.
Through October, Bracken and her goats will be offering guided walks at Tyringham Cobble on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 pm. She suggests contacting ahead as her aim is to keep groups small (thefriendlygoats.com). The delights of the Cobble include a two-mile loop trail that includes a portion of the Appalachian Trail, rugged ledges, fields filled with wildflowers, a meandering stream, and vast views of Tyringham Valley. In addition to these walks, Bracken is open to exploration of her property, your property, and a myriad locales in between. “People want to spend time with animals, and I want to offer them that experience.”