Greek Epic: free program and book signing at Billings Farm & Museum

Have you ever walked into an old theater in a small Vermont town and been overwhelmed by its stunning architecture and ornate decor? Join us on Friday, June 23rd @ 5:30 p.m. to meet Gordon Hayward, a nationally-recognized garden writer, designer, and lecturer who will discuss and sign his latest book: Greek Epic: the Latchis Family & the Theater Empire They Built.

Greek Epic tells the compelling story of the extraordinary Latchis family and their journey from a mountain village in Greece to Brattleboro, Vermont.  He shares their successes and sorrows along the way and focuses on the magnificent and historic Latchis Theater – their family legacy and Brattleboro’s cultural hub. Greek Epic is a testament to the hard work of four generations of the Latchis family as well as dedicated community-minded people who stepped forward to save the Latchis Memorial Building.

“Movies and the performing arts in Brattleboro are centered around the nearly 80-year-old Latchis Memorial Theater, overseen since 2003 by Latchis Arts, a non-profit for which I have served as board president since 2014,” said Gordon Hayward. “I have written this book to further this cause: to keep the theater thriving, to maintain and restore this magnificent historic building, and to celebrate its contribution to the culture of southeastern Vermont.  All proceeds from the sale of Greek Epic will support of the work of Latchis Arts.”

Admission is free; to reserve tickets or for more information: Billings Farm & Museum: 802-457-2355; info@billingsfarm.org or www.billingsfarm.org

 

Programs for Pre-schoolers

It’s a great time to enroll your kids (or grandkids) in Billings Farm & Museum’s Programs for Preschoolers, taking place Wednesday mornings in July, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. Each Preschool Program will feature a story, visit to the farm, hands-on activity, and snack.  The cost is $3.00 per person for Billings Farm & Museum members and $5.00 per person for non-members (includes admission to the Farm & Museum).

Scroll down for our enrollment form and details on each program:

   Run With the Wind.  Wed., July 5. Little Foal is afraid to leave his mother because it’s a big scary world out there! But when his mother eventually returns to work he discovers a wonderful playmate—the wind! We’ll take a walk to visit our horses, play pin the tail on the pony, and enjoy a snack with friends.  

     Should I Share My Ice Cream?  Wed., July 12.  Gerald is excited about his “awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice, cool ice cream” cone. Should he share it with his friend, Piggie? We’ll read along to see if Gerald shares, then head to the Ice Cream Parlor at the National Park before we enjoy an “awesome, yummy, sweet, super, great, tasty, nice, cool ice cream” of our own.

     Hurry.  Wed., July 19. The hay is down and a storm is on the horizon. Nora must help Grandma and Grandpa get the hay in quickly. Discover why hay is so important for the animals on the farm when we visit our horses and discover hay-making equipment in our Farm Life Exhibits. Make a peek-a-boo barn and enjoy a snack with friends.

     Rusty, Trust TractorWed., July 26. Mr. Hill of Hill’s Tractor Sales wagers twenty jelly doughnuts that Granpappy’s old tractor won’t make it through haying season. Will Granpappy buy a new red tractor with the fancy-dancy engine? Or will he keep his “old friend,” the rusty, trusty tractor? We’ll take a look at our farm equipment up close and enjoy a doughnut. Paint your own wooden tractor to take home.

To register for Programs for Preschoolers, please call 802/457-2355, week days, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. or use the form below. Each program has limited enrollment, and advance registration is required.

 

 

 

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Billings Farm & Museum Summer Camp: Registration now open

This summer, Billings Farm & Museum invites Children aged 8-12 to step back in time and join us for our Farm Adventure Camp. Experience five fun days of activities and adventures, based on the personal journals of children who grew up in villages and on hill farms in 19th century Vermont.

Running twice, from July 10 – 14 and Aug. 7 – 11, 2017 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.), this unique and exciting program lets kids explore the Vermont of 150 years ago through hands-on farm chores and pastimes:

Help groom and feed our livestock; bake an apple pie and molasses cookies from scratch in the kitchen woodstove; discover stories in old journals and start writing your own. Compete in sack races and watermelon seed spitting, make ice cream, and enjoy a horse-drawn wagon ride. Be prepared for an excursion into the village to discover your local history and the importance of becoming a contributing member of the community, and much more…

The program costs $300 for members and $340 for non-members. Spots are filling fast so call 802-457-2355, e-mail reservations@billingsfarm.org, or use the form below to book today.

 

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Programs for Preschoolers at Billings Farm

May is coming up, and it’s a great time to enroll your kids (or grandkids) in Billings Farm & Museum’s Programs for Preschoolers, taking place Wednesday mornings through May, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. Each Preschool program will feature a story, visit to the farm, hands-on activity, and snack.  The cost is $3.00 per person for Billings Farm & Museum members, and $5.00 per person for non-members (includes admission to the Farm & Museum).

Scroll down for our enrollment form and details on each program:

 Woolbur.  Wed., May 3. Woolbur is not like other sheep, which causes Maa and Paa to pull on their wool all night. What will happen when they insist that he follow the flock? Find out as we read this delightful tale of a free-spirited sheep. We’ll visit Billings Farm’s flock of wooly Southdowns, work with their wool, and enjoy a tasty treat.    

The Flowers are Calling. Wed., May 10.  Learn about the cooperation between plants, animals, and insects as they work together in the forest. We’ll take a walk in the National Park to look for signs of spring, plant a seed to take home, and sample flower-shaped snacks.

Zinnia and Dot. Wed., May 17. Zinnia and Dot are plump hens that argue constantly about which one lays better eggs. When a weasel pays a visit and steals all but oneof the eggs, they work together to protect their prized possession. We’ll visit our new chicks, make a chicken craft to take home, and share a yummy snack.

Click, Clack, Moo. Cows that Type. Wed., May 24. Farmer Brown has a dilemma. His cows like to type – which doesn’t seem to be a big problem, until the cows start leaving him notes! Come listen to what the cows say to Farmer Brown. Meet our Jersey cows in the barns, make a cow puppet, and enjoy a delicious dairy snack!

Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt. Wed., May 31. Discover the hidden world between the leaves of plants and beneath the ground. We’ll visit our heirloom garden and search for the creatures we read about in this story. Make a bug project and share a veggie treat.

To register for Programs for Preschoolers, please call 802/457-2355 or use the form below. Each Preschool program has limited enrollment, and advance registration is required.

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Nintendo has Accepted our Challenge: Part Two

Several weeks ago, we had some pretty unusual visitors here at Billings Farm. If you’ve read  Nintendo has Accepted our Challenge, you’ll know that after discovering Nintendo’s now-infamous cow milking game and concluding that their designers had no idea how difficult it is to milk a non-virtual cow,  we decided to send them a letter challenging them to a milk-off!

Amazingly Nintendo, one of the world’s largest entertainment companies, accepted the challenge and sent a team to Vermont to learn more about the hard work that our farmers put into caring for our herd of award-winning Jersey cows. Nintendo execs. David Young and Tim Kwong explored the Billings Farm and Woodstock, milked their first cow, and took on farm staff Alayna and Tyler at a virtual cow-milking contest in the center of the cow barn.

Now that the dust has cleared, we’re happy to share the following video, showing how the contest evolved and who won. This was an amazing event and we couldn’t be happier with the results. The team from Nintendo were wonderful guests, with exceptional enthusiasm and eagerness to learn how Billings Farm operates. They’re welcome to return for a rematch any time!

Celebrating Baby Animals at Billings Farm

Every year at Billings Farm & Museum, the Saturday before Easter marks our biggest event of the season: Baby Animal Day.

This year, we decided to change things up a little and make the occasion even better. The newly-named Baby Farm Animal Celebration featured two days (Fri.-Sat.) of family activities, giving visitors the opportunity to meet this year’s newborn lambs, steers, rabbits, calves, and chicks for the first time. The Baby Farm Animal Celebration was arguably our best April event ever, with bright sunshine, mild weather, and visitors joining us from all over New England and beyond…

We featured Flemish Giant Rabbits from our friends at Putting Down Roots Farm, our current team of oxen-in-training, Briggs and Stratton, made their first public appearance, and visitors enjoyed both tractor- and horse-drawn wagon rides through the farm fields. There was delicious ice cream on hand, the chance to make pom-pom chicks and other fun crafts, and watch the afternoon milking of our Jersey herd in the cow barn.

Take a look at the photos below and for those of you who missed our Baby Farm Animal Celebration, don’t worry! Billings Farm is now open daily from 10-5 through October 31st, with a wide range of fun events and activities taking place throughout the seasons. From November through February, we’re open weekends and holiday periods, 10-4.

Nintendo has Accepted our Challenge.

Here at Billings Farm & Museum, in Woodstock, Vermont, we’re proud of our reputation as having one of the best registered Jersey dairy herds in the United States. Our farm staff work tirelessly seven days a week, from 4 AM milking to sunset, to ensure both the quality of the milk we produce and the health and continued happiness of our animals. As an educational farm, we also believe strongly that a vital part of our mission is to educate the wider world about the almost super-human dedication and hard work it takes to be a dairy farmer.

Because of this, when we read that Nintendo recently released a virtual cow milking game on their new console, the Nintendo Switch™, we decided to call them out, feeling that no game could do justice to our profession! Tom Remp, our Director of Marketing, and Alayna Perkins, our farm manager, wrote to Nintendo to offer them the chance to visit with us and learn what milking a cow really takes.

Here’s what we said:

Dear Nintendo

 We’re one of New England’s premier living history museums. We’re writing because our farm staff recently saw the cow milking game for Nintendo Switch and decided that you’ve taken all the challenge out of milking. We have 30 adorable Jersey milking cows that we milk twice a day, and it is NEVER that easy. We also think that you guys look pretty slow.

 To this end, we’d like to set up some sort of challenge to pit our team against yours to see who can milk the fastest. If you accept, let us know and we can work out the details. The question is: Is your team brave enough?

 Thanks, Tom and Alayna”

We’re pleased (and slightly amazed) to say that Nintendo recently responded, and WILL be joining us this Wednesday (March 29th) to take part in a bit of friendly competition with their milking game, and learn more about what it really takes to milk and look after a cow. You can see how they responded to our challenge via Facebook here.

Although the event will be closed to the public, we’ll be producing a video to show you how it went down, and are happy to invite members of the press. Those interested should contact Tom Remp at tremp@Billingsfarm.org or 617-894-9219 for more information.

Southdown Sheep: A Billings Farm Legacy

Famous for high-quality ice cream and cheddar cheese, Vermont has a reputation as one of the premier producers of dairy products in the United States. Because of this, you might be surprised to learn that the Green Mountain State was once famous for its sheep, with as many as half a million here by the mid-19th century.

Southdown sheep played a major role at Billings Farm from the 1870s until the World War II, when the farm maintained a flock of several hundred. Today, we’re continuing this tradition with a small flock of Southdowns that are featured in our educational programming.

Highly valued for their combination of top-quality meat and heavy fleece (weighing around 4-5 lb. per shearing), Southdowns are docile and friendly, with great mothering instincts. Below, we’ve gathered everything you need to know about our flock, from what they eat and how we care for them, to the role they played in Billings Farm history.

A Brief History of Sheep in Vermont

Through much of the 19th century, sheep dominated the livestock interests in Vermont, outnumbering both cows and people. In 1812, wealthy merchant and former United States Consul to Portugal, William Jarvis, moved to Vermont to establish a large-scale sheep farm. In Europe, Jarvis had managed to obtain an export license for Merino sheep, prized for their superior, water-resistant fleece.

The public went wild for the new product and “Merino mania” soon gripped Vermont, with many small farms being consolidated into larger operations. At the peak of the boom there were almost one million sheep in the state, with an alarming amount of forest being cut down to provide grazing for them. This created a series of environmental problems: sheep are much harder on pastures than cattle because they graze grass down to the roots, exposing soil and causing erosion.

By the 1840s, due to changing tariff laws and competition from farmers in the newly settled West, the sheep boom was turning to bust. Vermont farms, with their mountainous and rocky terrain couldn’t compete with western farms whose costs were often much less. Wool prices dropped from 57 cents per pound in 1835 to 25 cents per pound in the late 1840s, forcing many Vermont farms into bankruptcy. This crisis was compounded by the 1848 discovery of gold in California, when thousands of New Englanders left their farms and headed to the West Coast in search of fortune.

Soon, the conversion to dairy cattle was under way.

Southdowns at Billings

Even as the Merino boom was beginning to fade, plans were afoot to introduce sheep to Billings Farm. During the 1870s, Frederick Billings and his farm manager George Aitkin decided to import a flock of Southdowns from Britain’s top breeders, notably the Prince of Wales. This was in line with their efforts to increase agricultural productivity at the farm, exemplified by the introduction of Jersey dairy cows.

James Aitkin with the Billings’ Southdown flock, circa 1880.

First bred in Sussex, England, during the late 1700s, Southdown sheep are a hardy and adaptable breed, able to cope with a variety of climates. Highly regarded for their superior meat, good-quality fleece, and calm dispositions, Southdowns are excellent all-round animals that are relatively easy to care for and maintain. The typical adult weighs between 150-200 pounds, with a sturdy frame and fine to medium coat.

Within a few years, the Billings’ flock was one of the best in Vermont, with the farm actively seeking to encourage breeders to invest in their bloodlines. This was a well-publicized effort, as seen in the advertisement below.

The Billings Flock Today

Billings Farm continues the legacy set by Billings and Aitken by keeping a small flock of Southdowns and a ram (depending on the season). The life of the Billings Farm flock follows an annual cycle that would be familiar to George Aitken and his farm crew. During the colder months, the sheep are kept inside to protect them from the snow and freezing temperatures. When in the barn, they’re fed a mix of hay and grain and as many are pregnant during this time, they’re monitored regularly by our farm staff.

Lambing begins in late March. Each Southdown produces one or two lambs every year (occasionally, three), with a gestation period of around five months. This is an exciting time at the farm, but hard work for the farm staff who work overtime to monitor the health of the new arrivals. Because lambs are born with very light coats and early spring can be extremely cold, we immediately outfit them with a woolen sweater knitted by one of our staff – making them stylishly warm!

As the weather warms and the pastures fill in, the flock can finally be let outside to graze. Soon after, the ewes’ shaggy coats are sheared and their fleece is gathered. We showcase this rite of spring at our annual Sheep Shearing & Herding with Border Collies celebration.

Shearing

Held the first weekend in May, Sheep Shearing & Herding with Border Collies is one of the highlights of our season. Our master shearer demonstrates the various techniques used over the centuries – from simple, steel hand shears, to hand-cranked clippers, and today’s electric shears. In the fields, a half dozen of the area’s champion Border Collies demonstrate their keen instincts and training as they round up sheep.

This is a wonderful family event, with sheep shearing, Border Collie demonstrations, and hands-on activities including carding wool and lamb handprints.

Remembering Joe

The first few days of 2017 were tough ones at the Billings Farm, with the passing of Joe, our 25-year-old Percheron. Joe was a wonderful horse with a calm demeanor and a love of working with his partner, Jim.

We’ve been deeply touched by the tremendous outpouring of support and kindness we’ve received from so many of you since Joe’s passing. We’ve read hundreds of Facebook and Blog messages expressing fond memories and condolences for our staff  – and for Jim, Joe’s faithful partner.  Ms. Leonard’s 2nd Grade Class at the Prosper Valley School was kind enough to send us drawings and letters, many addressed to Jim directly. We are pleased to report that Jim appears to be taking Joe’s death surprisingly well and has been in good spirits.

We’ve reprinted many of your messages below, including letters from the Prosper Valley School. Although we’re able to feature only a sampling of the almost two hundred notes that we’ve received, please know that even if your message isn’t included below, it has been read and is very much appreciated!

From everyone at Billings Farm: thank you for your kindness and support. 


Barbara: The Prosper Valley 2nd Grade is very sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. As the 2nd grade teacher here for 25 years, I really feel this loss not only on my professional level, but personally as well. My out-of-town grandchildren loved nothing more than visiting BF&M, with the highlight of their visit being Jim and Joe. Many wagon rides and barn visits will stay in my memory for years to come. Wishing all the best to Jim as he adjusts to life without his best bud!

Marilyn: I am so very sorry to hear the news about Joe. He was very special. I remember him well. When I would come to Billings Farm & Museum to visit, the first place I went was to the barns to see the horses. If they weren’t in their stalls, I went to the pasture to be with them. I have always had a fondness for horses, because my grandfather raised Percheron horses on his farm in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, in the early part of the 20th century. You are at peace, Joe. Run free and wild in Heaven. I have always enjoyed the wagon rides around the Farm, too. I love Billing Farm & Museum . . . it is a wonderful and educational experience, indeed.

April: I am so sorry to hear this. I’m very glad to have seen him on our many trips there. What a majestic horse he was. Billings is one of my favorite places and his presence will be missed.

Amy, Jeff, Ella, Avery, and Olivia: Oh Joe, rest peacefully. My girls will surely miss your gentle presence. To all of the Billings family and community, and most especially Jim, we wish you peace and healing.

Julie: A sad loss for the Billings Farm Family. He lived a good life and we were blessed to have Joe as part of our team. He will be missed.

The O’Connor Family – JoEllen, Lily and Carolyn: The horses are the biggest draw to my girls. We would always go into the horse barn first to see if Jim and Joe were in their stalls so we could say hello first. Joe you will be greatly missed. You were a gentle giant. Billings will never be the same. Rest in peace Joe and enjoy your side of the rainbow bridge.

Margaret: So very sorry for your loss of Joe. He was a beautiful horse and I know he will be missed. I have been to your farm once and saw Joe and the other horses in the pasture. They are all wonderful animals.

Susan: Sorry for your loss of Joe. Thank you for loving and taking such good care of him, he will always be with you.

Peg: So we saw you this past fall and you were beautiful and very sweet. You will be greatly missed.

Jean: My thoughts and heart go out to the Billings farm staff/family. A truly heartbreaking time. Joe was cherished by everyone who met and knew him.

Allison: So sorry to hear this. Jim and Joe were our very favorite part of our visit to Billings each year. So sad

Wendy: I am so sorry, for Joe, Jim, & everyone. I didn’t know he was sick, but I took this picture on the 31st. I really stopped & sat with Joe this day, and felt something in his eyes. I even mentioned it to a horse friend, telling her he had a gentleness/softness or wording to that effect. Animals are INCREDIBLE! Both are boys spent time in the summer with both Joe & Jim. Oh boy. Gulp.

Not sure if this is Joe or Jim but we loved them enough to have this picture out and framed in our house. Hugs for Jim.

Debra: So sorry to hear this news. But he had a wonderful home and great life at the farm I am certain.

Jo-Ann: He was my buddy . . . every time I would go inside the barn he would nuzzle me with lip kisses oh I will miss him so.

Diane: Such hard news. A whinny and a toss of the mane up to horse heaven. Joe has a special place there, for sure. Our grandchildren will be so sad when they hear the news.

 

Percheron Joe: farewell to a noble friend

Last Friday was a very difficult day at Billings Farm. Joe, one of our four beloved Percheron draft horses, left us after a long battle with melanoma and osteoarthritis.

Joe was a magnificent horse, much loved by our entire Billings community. Sweet, gentle, and loyal, he was the first to greet our farm staff in the morning with his signature whinny.  Joe’s strength and temperment were exceptional when pulling sleighs or wagons with his team-partner Jim, or taking part in field work demonstrations. The two were inseparable until they parted, always happiest when running across the pasture together and play-fighting in front of visitors.

In recent years however, Joe’s health declined – due in part, to age. When Billings Farm bought the team over ten years ago, we believed that Joe was about four years old. After consultation with our farrier however, we learned that Joe was probably at least eight years older than we previously had thought. When he passed away, he was actually around 25. This is a very respectable age for a draft horse, especially when taking his health issues into account.

Since being diagnosed with cancer and osteoarthritis – a debilitating joint condition commonly known as ringbone – our farm staff tried everything possible to keep Joe in good health, equipping him with special horseshoes and giving him supplements to improve his mobility and keep him as pain-free as possible. His condition worsened very suddenly late last week and after consulting with our vet, we made the difficult decision to put him to rest.

This has been a sad and trying time for our staff at the farm, many of whom spent nearly every day with Joe for many years. Alayna Perkins, our Farm Manager reflects:

“The livestock at the farm are not just animals to us – they are literally our family. We spend more time with them than we do with our human families. We love them, we appreciate them, we cherish them; they keep us going on tough days.

When you are asked to make a grave decision in the best interest of a family member like Joe, it is not taken lightly.  At the end of the day though, the decision needs to be what’s best for the horse.  Joe had a good life, he was loved unconditionally by his buddy Jim, our members and visitors, and most of all, his farm family.

We laid Joe to rest last Friday evening. His family was there to say their final good-byes and Jim got to see his friend pain free, once again. Joe was a wonderfully huge part of Billings Farm, as well as a huge part of each one of us. We will miss him dearly.”