Raising sheep and goats in suburbia
Across the country, there is a growing trend towards reconnecting with our agricultural roots. This certainly seems true in Wilton, where many residents have started their own vegetable gardens and now experience the joys of growing and eating their own produce. Some families in town are taking this movement a step further, adopting farm animals such as sheep, goats, and chickens, and raising them in their backyards.
“It is one of the best things I ever did for my four boys,” says Lucy Sandor of her decision to adopt six baby chicks three years ago. When her children were young, she started a vegetable garden, but as they got older, she started to think about getting some chickens as well. When she received an email from a friend looking for someone to adopt some chicks, she recognized it as a sign. The next weekend, her family set out to build a chicken coop. The original chicks were all hens and when they matured, her boys learned first hand the pleasures of going out on a cold morning to collect fresh eggs for breakfast. About a year ago, Lucy’s eldest son unexpectedly brought home six more chicks that had been part of a high-school project. This introduced new challenges of integration, especially when the Sandors discovered three of the chicks were roosters; the term “pecking order” has taken on a whole new meaning in their household. While the chickens feel like pets—they greet Lucy’s car each time she pulls into the driveway—lessons of nature can be harsh. At one point, a fox moved into the neighborhood and feasted on several chickens before the Sandors could prevent him from getting into the coop.
When the Gaillards moved to an almost four-acre property in South Wilton, they were delighted to have space for animals. Family allergies had prevented them from getting a cat or dog, but their two children had watched a television show about a breed of miniature sheep used in French vineyards for weed control because they never grow tall enough to reach the grapes on the vines. After a family discussion, the Gaillards decided to purchase two “Baby Doll” sheep, which are about half the size of regular sheep. They fenced in a large pasture for them to run in during the day and installed a lean-to structure where they could sleep at night. For the last four years, their two children have taken on the daily responsibilities of feeding Sparky and Lorelei and bringing them fresh water, a not-so-fun chore in the winter when they have to lug heavy buckets of water through the snow to reach the pasture. However, because their daughter graduated from high school this past spring and starts college in few weeks, they have decided it is time to find another home for Sparky and Lorelei.
Wilton resident Gus Athanasiou grew up in Greece where farming was a typical way of life. He moved to the United States as a teenager and met his wife, Mary Ellen, here. He pursued the American dream, buying a house, starting a family, and working as a contractor. He and Mary Ellen now have five grandchildren who all live close by. Several years ago, as Gus was slowing down his work schedule, he decided he had time and space to start a small animal farm. He purchased six goats and about ten chickens, much to the delight of his grandkids who stop by frequently to visit the animals. Gus has to milk the goats every day; he uses the milk to make feta cheese, following his Greek heritage. He always has several batches on hand and is generous in sharing his cheese and eggs with family and friends.
While these families acknowledge that caring for their farm animals has required a lot of work, they all agree it has been worth it. “Doing so has renewed our connection with the natural order of life,” says Lucy Sandor, “and I am grateful to be able to share this experience with my children.”