Oh, baby: Hancock Shaker Village lifts veil on crop of newborn animals

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Sandra Byrnes, who has volunteered at Hancock Shaker Village for 20 years, rubbed the top of a young cow's head Saturday morning, surrounded by children who were interested in learning about the farm animals.

Each spring, the historic village opens barn doors to let the public meet and celebrate piglets, lambs, calves and chicks recently born on the farm. Saturday was a record-breaking opening day to the season, with more than 1,700 visitors, according to village spokeswoman Maribeth Cellana.

"I grew up on a dairy farm, but most of these children have never seen large animals," Byrnes said. "Farm animals are fun. Today's kids don't get exposed to this."

Hancock Shaker Village has been hosting the public for newborn season for the past 16 years, in an effort to get families thinking about where food and products come from, Cellana said.

"We really want to introduce agriculture into the way people think about New England and our history," she said.

Hancock Shaker Village has about 750 acres of farmland. This year, in addition to a relatively high rate of pig births, with 31 piglets, there were an unusual number of twin births.

"The sheep had a good winter," Cellana said. "The winter wasn't as hard on the animals."

Children and the newborn animals appeared to interact comfortably with one another Saturday.

As babies, cows enjoy being petted and interacting with humans, but as they get older, they lose interest, Byrnes said.

The animals are surrounded by humans from birth, and leading up to opening weekend for the baby animal exhibit, they slowly become familiarized with crowds through group tours, according to Cellana.

"It isn't an average day for the moms, but they tolerate it really well," she said.

Byrnes said she enjoys the baby animal exhibits in the spring to educate children about livestock. She encourages them to pet the sheep and cows.

Several pigs nursed piglets as young as a week old while visitors watched from a few feet away Saturday.

"Those pigs are fun to play with, but after a year, we rename them bacon," Byrnes said. "That's why they're here. It's an unfortunate fact of life."

Beverly Chambers is visiting the Berkshires from Idaho to baby-sit her two granddaughters, ages 2 and 4, who live in Lenox.

Other than seeing a few horses here and there, Hancock Shaker Village is the girls' only exposure to farm animals.

On Saturday, they climbed into pens to pet the newborns.

"The absolutely love it," Chambers said. "We don't have anything like this in northern Idaho."

Aside from the livestock, visitors also had the opportunity to learn about Shaker history, see one of only 31 remaining wooden silos in the United States and ride ponies.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.

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