If your kids have been streaming so many episodes of ‶Shaun the Sheep″ on YouTube (cq) and Netflix that they think farm animals walk on their hind legs and play tricks on the farmer when he isn’t looking, it might be time for a dose of equally delightful reality. Livestock actually spend most of their time eating and hanging out in the shade. That doesn’t make them any less adorable, especially if you’re a preschooler. Honestly, goats and sheep and even cows are pretty adorable whatever your age. With pigs and chickens, it helps to be short enough to face them eye to eye. Here are five spots for the family to get in touch with New England’s agricultural roots.
Drumlin Farm, Lincoln
‶What do you want to see first, the lambs or the owls?″ a mother asked her toddler on a recent Saturday morning. That’s because Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm is both a wildlife sanctuary and a small-scale working farm where lowing cattle, bleating goats, and crowing roosters leave no doubt about where you are. Most children head first to the farmyard’s separate fenced areas for goats, sheep, chickens, cows, and pigs. The goats and sheep, in particular, are as curious as the children and often come to the fence to investigate their visitors. Touching is okay, but it’s best to stick to scratching on the muzzle or behind the ears. Cows, pigs, and chickens are more standoffish — maybe because everyone obeys the signs telling you not to feed the livestock. A wildlife trail lets kids see rehabbing pheasant, ruffed grouse, several kinds of hawks, great horned and barred owls, and a couple of red foxes.
208 South Great Road. Open Sat–Sun 9 a.m.-5 p.m. by timed online reservation. Adults $9, seniors and children age 2 and older $6. (Mass Audubon new family membership is discounted to $32 for 2020.) 781-259-2200, www.massaudubon.org/get-outdoors/wildlife-sanctuaries/drumlin-farm
Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield
This museum campus dedicated to Shaker culture is also a working farm where modern environmentalism dovetails with the Shaker tenet that work and prayer are interchangeable. In fact, the 1826 Round Stone Barn is the enduring symbol of Shaker stewardship of livestock. For children, the baby animals in the dairy ell are the big draw. This year the museum constructed special outdoor enclosures for viewing the lambs, calves, chicks, kids, and piglets before the barns and many buildings could open for visits. The sheep and goats are usually grazing outside. Between the barn ell, the adjacent barnyard, and the surrounding pastures you’ll encounter the entire Old MacDonald menagerie — including donkeys and Veruca, a 1500-pound sow.
1843 West Housatonic St. Open Thur–Sun, 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Adults $20, seniors $18, ages 13-17 $8, age 12 and under free. 413-443-0188, hancockshakervillage.org
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge
Although the historic buildings of OSV may be closed, interpreters in period garb are stationed around the property. Toss in free admission for kids ages 17 and under through Labor Day, and this museum of New England life circa 1830 is a perfect family outing. Livestock at OSV represent a number of heritage breeds, in some cases back-bred to display the characteristics of period animals. The Freeman Farm has most of the critters, including a small herd of Horned Wiltshire/Dorset sheep, a large number of truly free-range chickens, Devon and Durham Shorthorn cattle, and even a couple of Large Black pigs. A flock of Merino sheep spends the day at Fenno Barn, but when their gate is opened each afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m., they gambol across the Common en route to the Towne Barn. Depending on the farm tasks needing attention, you might also see the young team of Shorthorn oxen, Sid and Tom, hitched to a plow.
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road. Open Wed–Sun 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. by online reservation only. Adults $28, seniors $26, college students $14, up to three children 17 and under free with an adult through Labor Day. 800-733-1830, osv.org
Coggeshall Farm Museum, Bristol, R.I.
The range of livestock is more limited at Coggeshall Farm than some other properties, in part because the farm lost a lot of its fence to harsh weather conditions last winter. So look to Coggeshall’s partner, OSV, for sheep and cattle. But the seven docile and friendly Large Black pigs and the flock of chickens will keep the small fry occupied. The chickens range far and wide and can hop away from even the most determined toddler. The so-called ‶dunghill″ breed is the chicken equivalent of a mutt — a hardy if stringy bird with highly variable markings. The pigs, which have long ears to protect their eyes, are ‶rooters.″ They grow fast — the piglets put on 10 pounds a week — and can ‶turn over a yard in a week.″ As staffer Casey Fredette says, ‶they’re our co-workers.″ Now considered threatened, the breed is accurate to the period of the 1790s Rhode Island salt marsh farm. Most interactive of all are the farm’s three resident cats.
1 Colt Drive. Open Thur-Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Adults $10, up to three children 17 and under free with adult through Labor Day. 401-253-9062; www.coggeshallfarm.org
Weir River Farm, Hingham
The interactive animal experience at Weir River is both more limited and more intense than at other sites. The half-hour ‶guided barnyard tour″ is limited to a single family or quarantine group at a time, with time slots available each Saturday. This is your chance to get close to chickens, pigs, sheep, and goats in the company of a member of the farm staff. The tour starts in the barnyard, which also includes the horse stable, and continues to the pastures where the cattle, sheep, and goats graze. One caution: the trail from the parking lot to the barn is steep and uneven, making a baby carrier better than a stroller.
140 Turkey Hill Lane. Trails open daily sunrise to sunset; barnyard open Sat for guided tour by advance online reservation. Trails free, $20 per group for guided barnyard tour. 781-740-7233; thetrustees.org/place/weir-river-farm