By Megan Cain
On this farm, you pop out of the womb ready to work. At 1 week old, you become the star of the show, and the show sells out almost every single time. You’d think it would be a lot of stress for these kids, but they take it all in stride.
Their mothers on the other hand? Not so much.
As Tiffany Breindel presses herself between the metal wiring that holds the makeshift pen together, Mocha, now 5 weeks old, bounds through tufts of grass toward her. Breindel scoops her small frame with ease, careful to support her inflated belly — she’s been munching under the sun all day. When Breindel carries Mocha out of the pen, Mocha’s mom shatters the tranquility of the crisp air with cries of disapproval.
“They’ve got to earn their keep, momma,” Breindel says over her shoulder in response.
And earn their keep they do. Mocha and five other baby goats, all younger than a year old, are the main subjects of today’s goat cuddling sessions.
It costs $10 per person to get up close and personal with these fuzz balls at 1870 Farm. From January through April, groups of up to ten can join the goats in a small pen for 30 minutes. Hold them, pet them, entice them to crawl on your back. How you spend your cuddle session is up to you.
The sessions started this past year on a pure whim. Breindel noticed the success of goat yoga, but she wanted goat interaction that was accessible for everybody.
“And you can’t really find your Zen if a goat does their business right next to your face,” Breindel says.
Unfortunately, Breindel hasn’t solved the “business” puzzle, but she prides herself on the wide range of people that participate in the cuddling sessions.
A breath of fresh air
Newly married couple Bethany and John Bradenton arrive first for today’s 4:30 p.m. session, both giddy with excitement for a break from their stale date night routine.
Music guides them past a sprawling oak tree that could tell a thousand stories to the entrance of a small white barn. Four chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, seemingly untouched by the dust that swirls through the barn, reminding Bethany of the decorations at her wedding.
1870 Farm used to host weddings, but now focuses mainly on children’s programming, like birthday parties and summer camps, with an emphasis on up-close animal interactions. Just two turns off U.S. Highway 15-501, a short drive down a road that seems to wind with the breeze and you’re transported back to a simpler time. The farm has come a long way since it was started in 1870, beginning as a commercial cattle farm. A couple from New York fell in love with its charm and turned it into an experience for town dwellers eager for a breath of fresh farm air.
The cuddle sessions help the baby goats cozy up to people and make them more comfortable in their jobs. 1870 Farm will usually host a few cuddle sessions per week, depending on demand.
Since it’s the only place in Chapel Hill to formally offer this sort of interaction, demand remains high no matter the weather.
Bethany’s dressed for the occasion, but John, as husbands do, seems to have forgotten. In gray slacks and a teal-and-blue-checkered button-down, he looks ready for Easter Sunday.
But when Breindel mentions that one of the goats likes to climb on people’s backs, John’s the first to drop to his knees.
It’s the oldest goat of the crew, Honey, ringing in at a solid 30 pounds — not including the cud in her belly from a full day of chomping in the sun — that takes the bait. She pokes at John’s shirt, unsure of its silky texture.
She toys with him. One hoof, then two. Back off. A back scratch. A few more pats. She’s enjoying this.
Bethany slides some hay onto John’s back, and it’s game over. Honey leaps onto John’s back, and Bethany’s right there to capture the photo.
Through his laughter, he jokes that Honey’s hooves give a better massage than his wife.
A unique experience
There’s no marketed benefit to goat cuddles; Breindel thinks everybody takes something different away from their time with the goats.
Alison Phellups brought her three kids to the farm as part of their spring break shenanigans.
Lizzie, the oldest, explains that her third favorite animal is now goats, right behind dolphins and giraffes, of course.
Her younger sister, Lucy, didn’t seem to take to the goats as easily. She attached herself to her mother’s leg like a barnacle, warily observing the creatures that stood as tall as her.
Mocha came first, brushing her velvety nose against the toddler’s shoulder. Lucy didn’t pull away. She opened her pursed lips and began to slowly smile. That smile evolved into a giggle, until eventually, she was squealing in delight following her new friend around the pen.
“Oh, we’ll definitely be back,” Phellups said. “You just can’t replicate this sort of experience for a child.”
Edited by Karyn Hladik-Brown