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Goats gobble up unwanted Christmas trees at Meadowstone Farm

The kids at Meadowstone Farm jostle for a spot around a goat’s delicacy—a discarded fir tree from The Rocks Estate. Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. (click for larger version)
March 03, 2010
BETHLEHEM—When the kids at Meadowstone Farm see the farm's owner, Tim Wennrich, approaching with a Christmas tree, they come running. The spiky needles and pitchy bark are, after all, a tasty treat.

These kids, you see, are goats.

"Goats eat whatever they can get their mouths on," said farm manager Sam Brown.

This winter, that includes about 80 trees that have been cleared from the front field at The Rocks Estate, the tree farm just a couple of miles up the road that also serves as the North Country Conservation & Education Center for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

With 52,000 Christmas trees laid out in tidy rows throughout The Rocks, there are bound to be a few firs that don't make the cut. A combination of rocky soil and a slew of wet growing seasons left several trees unfit to be Christmas trees this year, said Rocks Manager Nigel Manley.

So the trees have been cut down and trucked over to Meadowstone Farm for the goats—eight does, one buck, and seven kids.

"It seems like an ideal situation that helps both farms with their work," said Manley.

Normally the cut trees would be carted into the woods on the 1,400-acre Rocks Estate or burned in the field. But feeding them to the goats seemed more useful to Manley.

"There's nothing wrong with hauling [the trees] into the woods. That's part of recycling," he said. "But if we can feed them to something first, that's even better."

The remaining stumps from the un-Christmas trees in The Rocks' front field will be pulled from the ground and a cover crop put in for a year before the field is planted in saplings again.

For Manley, sharing the unwanted trees with the neighborhood goats is a savings in time and labor. And while the trees don't translate to any cost savings in feed for Wennrich, he said the goats appreciate the gift, especially during winter, when their diet consists mainly of hay.

The goats, it seems, find the trees scrumptious—it takes the kids only about a day to whittle a fir down to its bare branches.

"It's remarkable what they do to a tree," Brown said. "They clean them off completely of bark and needles."

For Wennrich, whose farming philosophy is rooted in following the natural cycles of all things living, using the trees to supplement his goats' winter diet just make sense.

"Goats, in general, are browsers," he said. "They do well with a variety of food."

Wennrich has owned the farm on Brook Road for about seven years. He started out growing organic produce and has gradually added other crops—berries, eggs, chicken, pork and goat cheese—which are sold at Meadowstone's farm stand and at farmers' markets throughout the region.

Beyond providing milk to make the feta and soft chevre, the goats add considerable personality to the farm, Wennrich said.

Throughout the year, Wennrich will sometimes collect discarded Christmas trees, leaves, and other yard scraps from the transfer station in Littleton to feed to his goats, and landscapers occasionally drop off unwanted flora as well.

It's all partly about feeding the goats, and partly about making good use of something deemed at first unusable.

"This is a real green recycling story. It's taking one product from one farm that can't be used and taking it to another," said Manley. "It helps you consider, if you have something you're getting rid of, where else it might be used."

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