Programs for Preschoolers begin September 6th.

Programs for Preschoolers will be offered Wednesday mornings in September, from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.  Each 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). To register: 802/457-2355 or reservations@billingsfarm.org.

September 6: Mrs. Fickle’s Pickles

Discover how much Mrs. Fickle likes her pickles in this delightful rhyming,  repeating book that takes us through the growing season. We’ll visit the heirloom garden, hand craft a recipe to take home, and, of course, for snack we will enjoy…cucumbers and pickles!

September 13: Reuben and the Quilt

When Reuben’s best friend’s grandfather gets sick, Reuben and his family make a quilt for his benefit auction. We’ll visit the museum’s annual quilt exhibition to admire the beautiful creations on display, then create a quilt pattern, followed by a delicious snack.

September 20: Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Do you know the signs of fall? This colorful book will help us identify them before we walk across the street to the National Park to see if we can find signs of fall here in Woodstock. We’ll make a puppet and enjoy  a fall snack with friends.

September 27:  Too Many Pumpkins

Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins! How many recipes can be made from pumpkins? We’ll find out after we read Too Many Pumpkins! See many types of pumpkins, on display, make a pumpkin stencil to take home, and enjoy a delicious pumpkin bread snack.

Changes at the Billings Farm Horse Barn: An Update from our Farm Staff

As a working farm with a proud agricultural heritage going back to 1871 when Frederick Billings and George Aitken first brought Jersey cows to Woodstock, Billings Farm & Museum is dedicated to improving the way we work the land and care for our livestock. From fine-tuning what we feed our animals to maintaining our position as one of the best Jersey herds in the country, we believe that it’s vital to constantly evaluate our practices to find those that best suit our mission as both a working farm and award-winning history museum.

As with any farm, sometimes the decisions we have to make are not easy. Recently, our farm staff have begun the careful process of reevaluating the needs of our horse barn, and have decided that several changes will be made to better provide and care for our animals.

Lynne and Sue, our team of black Percheron mares, have been a beautiful and popular part of the Farm for much of the past decade. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly apparent that they are no longer thriving here. Hard workers who are happiest when pulling a wagon or sleigh, they are also shy and prefer a quiet and calm environment. Because of this, they will be leaving us and moving to a nearby farm where they will be worked much more without the stresses of a busy barn.

Tom and Jerry, our Belgian geldings, will also be retiring in the next year for medical reasons. Jerry has recently been diagnosed with acute Lyme Disease, and our animal care team has advised us to limit his workload. Because of this, the team will be moving to a private residence in the near future, where they can rest and be cared for in a quieter environment.

Jim, our single grey Percheron, will be staying at the farm and will soon be joined by a younger team who will be responsible for wagon and sleigh rides in the future. Please stay tuned for updates, and feel free to let us know if you have any questions by contacting us at info@billingsfarm.org

Two Homes, One Estate: Combined Tour of Billings Farm & Museum and the National Park

Billings Farm & Museum and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site are partnering to offer “Farm House/Manor House,” a special tour that explores life, work, and leisure in their respective historic homes. The program will be offered one Saturday each month: July 22, August 19, September 16, and October 21, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

In the late 1800s, what we know today as Billings Farm and the National Park, formed a single estate, a “model gentleman’s farm” operated by the Billings family – first by patriarch Frederick Billings, then his wife Julia and their daughters in the decades following his death in 1890. In 1889, Billings began construction on a modern farm house for their newly hired farm manager, George Aitken, his wife, and four daughters. The Billings and Aitken families began a professional and personal relationship that spanned two decades and brought great acclaim to the estate’s farm and forestry operations.

The guided tour will take visitors back in time – to the Farm House, restored to its 1890 appearance and the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion, which features original furnishings and personal effects from 1869 through 1997.

“We’ll explore the unique aspects of these two homes: the state-of-the-art amenities that set apart the Billings farmhouse in its era and the superb local craftsmanship in the Billings Mansion,” said Stephanie Kyriazis, Chief of Interpretation at the National Park, “One of the wonderful aspects of this estate,” she continued, “is the surprising details of its history – from the close relationship between the families of a ‘captain of industry’ and a professional farmer, to the fact that both the Billings and especially the Aitken women transcended the expectations of their time.”

The program will be offered Saturday, July 22, August 19, September 16 and October 21 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and will begin at the Billings Farm & Museum.

Admission: $20 for adults, $16 for seniors (62 and over) provides admission to both homes and the Billings Farm & Museum. Reservations recommended. To reserve: 802-457-3368 ext. 222.

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.

Contact

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.