A Visit To Coonamessett Farm

It's Like "Animal Farm," Minus The Sinister Stuff!

Even though we're technically a Bourne column, we go off-campus now and then to other towns in search of fame, adventure, fortune, and pizza. Today is one of those deals, as we snuck across the border into Falmouth. They stole our Scallop Festival, so I'll get some back for the B by covering Falmouth's favorite critter collection.

Coonamessett Farm can be found at 277 Hatchville Road in East Falmouth. Farming has never been easy in Massachusetts, and especially so when working the sandy spit of Cape Cod. Still, some people are making it rain on the scarecrow these days.

Farmers tend to be insular, grumpy, get-out-of-my-field sorts, and it is a joy to go somewhere that they actually are happy to have you out poking around and so forth. We paid out $8 a head, and were free to roam the grounds.

CF has some unusual animals walking around. I think that part of their business might be raising unusual animals. I'm pretty sure that's an alpaca, which is sort of a South American camel that had a DNA fight with a llama. To my knowledge, there are not 40 specially trained Ecuadorian Mountain Llamas (llami?) on the premises. 

Alpaca are not bred to be beasts of burden, and are instead raised for their fiber, which is similar to wool. You can also not only eat them, but you can have my place in line wherever they are handing out alpaca steaks. Alpaca fiber is warmer than wool, has no lanolin (which makes it hypoallergenic), and is fire resistant. The fiber is fine enough that only Incan royalty were allowed alpaca clothing back in the day. They prefer that you call it "fleece" or "fiber," as opposed to "wool" or "fur."

The animal is indigenous to the Andes, and is ridiculously hardy. A winter in New England is no big deal to an alpaca.

Bonus: They go to the bathroom, almost literally. Herds use a communal dung pile, which makes for literally less crappier grazing and slows the spread of internal parasites. Therefore, an Alpaca can be house-trained. If I were breaking into a house and found myself confronted by a shaggy camel... well, I honestly don't know what I would do second, but what I would do first is leave. If criminals had a college, I doubt that even advanced B&E studies would have a "suddenly confronted by a llama" component.

They also come right up close to you. Note that they only have lower front teeth, which helps them graze better somehow.

They're fairly friendly, and will walk right up you. I have zero training with alpacas, so I had no intention of patting him. I live my life in a manner where I try to look into the future at situations where I'm standing in an emergency room saying "an alpaca bit me," and then reverse-engineer a course of action that prevents me from being bitten by alpacas. This is less complicated than it sounds, and generally manifests itself into two guidelines:

1) Don't hang around alpacas.

2) If you do end up hanging around alpacas, don't touch them.

You want to avoid being bitten by an alpaca. I'd imagine that not many alpaca-related deaths occur, and you'd be sure to make the papers. Shoot, you might get into a Wikipedia entry, maybe even merit a page on your own.

We'll do a column on sharks as the summer nears, and that will have more in-depth discussion of how to not get eaten by one. You can do perfectly fine in New England, however, with just two alpaca rules.

The white alpacas live further from the central business district, in costlier barns.

Alpacas are like llamas in that they are not above spitting at you. They generally spit on each other, but they will gob on a deserving human now and then. I was not aware of this when I visited CF and was standing right in front of the sucker for a while, but I must have been whatever passes for cool in Alpacaworld. He let me pass without incident.

They eat about 1-2% of their body weight per day, mostly grass and hay. They can push 200 pounds, so that's a lot (60 pounds or so a month) of hay and grass. I go through about 10 grams of grass a month myself, but I'm not really that hardcore anymore.

If you go to CF, don't give an alpaca an acorn. They're toxic to alpacas.

Peru allowed alpaca to be exported in the 1980s, although you can't export them anymore. CF got theirs in 1989, I think.

Every alpaca born in America is blood-typed, so we only produce top-notch alpacas here. There may be an alpaca black market, but I am as of yet unaware of it.

An alpaca can cost anywhere from $500 for a male gelding to $500,000 for a champion. The average price is about $3-4,000 per alpaca. Those who know about alpaca marketing say that the high-end alpacas will never make their money back, and that they are bought simply for speculative reasons. I'd like to be married to whoever has $500K to throw around on llama speculation, but that's probably also a speculative market.

They also have other critters running around. These goats went to great lengths to avoid standing still for my camera. They were trying to get my goat, but I got my goat (picture) eventually.

People have been keeping goats since the Neolithic era, and I know I'm not the first human to kvetch about how stubborn they are. Goats are good both dead (food) and alive (fiber, milk, entertainment), and the goats at CF are fairly well-conditioned enough to humans so that the shawty can pat them without worrying about a digital amputation.

If I took all of these undoubtedly high-end goats and went to Afghanistan, I would have a dowry that would merit the best husband or wife in the village. You could probably even get that National Geographic cover girl, maybe even the Jack of Spades in Al Qaeda.

As you know, goats in the wild usually save up their goat money and buy a Fisher-Price playset.

I had a neighbor who rented/borrowed a goat and used it to clear his property of poison ivy. He let it roam his yard, tethered to a fence post. It ended up being a lose/lose proposition, as it ignored the poison ivy and ate all of his erosion-fighting beach grass. Then, his neighbors snobbed out on having a goat running around, the police were called, and it turns out that you have to have some permit to keep goats in your yard. In the end, Billy Goat was no match for Johnny Law.

Goats are related to sheep, but are far more intelligent. They usually manage to escape any pen they are kept in, often just to stick it to the owners. They are a friendly sort of curious, and investigate almost everything- your camera, a human hand, and so forth- by chewing on it.

Unlike sheep, they usually graze alone. However, if the pickings are slim, they will congregate.

Goats are actually intelligent enough to fashion and utilize blue versions of the KABOOM bomb. The goats who aren't working on bombmaking eat first, but the goat with the bomb eats the Most. 

I did consider the possibility that these were the goats from that Men Who Whisper Stuff To Goats movie enough that I tried to convince the really shaggy one to kill Castro. If a goat ends up killing Fidel, know that I called that shot in May, 2014.

CF is also a regular farm, with fruits and vegetables growing. We were there a few weeks ago, so, much like the goats pen, not everything was grown yet.

I also was there as a really tall kid rather than as a serious reporter, so I didn't make someone show me around and point at stuff. This is OK if the farm has signs on everything, telling you what it is. It isn't OK if your reporter went to CF on May 9th and is writing the article from memory on May 29th. It's only going to screw up the article when we get to the grouses, and when I can't identify the yet-to-grow crops pictured below.

I think they're carrots or something, I'm honestly not sure.

You can go to CF entirely to harvest vegetables, and enough people do so that they sell memberships. You aren't going to get vegetables more fresh than when you pull them out of the ground yourself in Falmouth. I don't think they let you harvest your own alpaca meat, especially if you are doing so on a whim.

Here's a list of what they have to harvest right now. They are somewhat well-known locally for their lettuce, which is a veggie that tends to get a bit soggy if you import it from California. If your salad was still growing 2 hours before you ate it, you know that's going to be some crisp lettuce,

I realize this is a lot of chatter for a picture of an empty field, but I had pretty much played out my store of Alpaca material.

Look! A windmill!

Not only can you harvest your own vegetables, but you can harvest (or whatever they call it with chickens.... the only chicken verbs that are coming to mind right now are "pluck," "fry," and "hatch, none of which are correct) eggs right out of the hens.

That's right, they have this little back door to the coop, and the hens lay their eggs there. There is a certain fascination or horror to knowing that your omelette was inside the hen very recently, and those feelings are compounded if you can say "I actually know this omelette's mother" about the breakfast you are serving. 

They ask you to not take more than 6, but you could probably lift a dozen if you were patient enough and had some Luther Vandross on the radio to sort of set the mood in the chicken coop.

Any time I eat breakfast, I am constantly reminded of the football coach who used to tell his players that "in a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed." At Coonamessett Farm, one comes to understand that the chicken is more than involved.

Sorry about that, Henny... but them's was some right fine scrambled eggs we had the next morning. 

Henny's children were absorbed into a higher species, which is how I hope to go out when my time comes. Everybody is somebody else's McMuffin at some point, kids.

Chicken also features heavily in their lunch and dinner menus and events offered by CF, but it is not exclusive. If you've ever wanted some curried goat to go with your Rasta Pasta, you can do a lot worse than hitting up the next Jamaican Buffet and Grill. They have a very hearty vegetarian menu for people who don't want to eat something they were petting recently, and, yes, I did try to phrase that differently several times.

My sources tell me that a dinner of fresh farm vegetables cancels out like three visits to the Taco Bell.

This guy was giving me a fowl look.

Chickens were not the only thing on the menu for bird lovers at Coonamessett Farm. They also had a coop full of fowl.

Chickens get their own coop, but the other birds kind of got grouped together in one coop that was perilously close to the kitchen from the bird point of view. They had about 10 different kinds in there, and only a few of them were photogenic enough to pose for me.

I actually have no idea what kind of birds some of these are, as they were too stubborn to stand in front of the little signs that say what kind of bird they are.

This dude should probably have his own breakfast cereal.

 

The farm will open for the 2014 season on Friday, May 2nd.

Hours are 9 am to 5 pm, 7 days/week.

Coonamessett Farm is a twenty-acre farming and research enterprise located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, USA. The operation is organized in three Divisions: Agricultural Production, Research, and Consulting. Coonamessett Farm has been serving public- and private-sector clients locally and globally since 1989.

Coonamessett Farm is dedicated to the responsible stewardship and maintenance of the biodiversity of our planet. Our purpose is the development and transfer of appropriate technology in support of farming and fishing communities that are environmentally sound and compatible with a sustainable future.

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