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Wonder Fall Farm offers fun for the whole, animal-loving family

October 20, 2010
FRANCONIA- What the heck is a fainting goat? The question is branded across t-shirts sold in the gift shop at the Wonder Fall Farm gift in Franconia, famous for their Myotonic goats, or fainting goats as they are more commonly known.

"It's the first question we're always asked," said owner Marla Blankenship. She and her husband, Tom, moved to New Hampshire from California in the dead of winter seven years ago. The Blankenships had always had animals, such as dogs and ferrets, but the Franconia farmhouse offered a much bigger opportunity.

"It seemed stupid to have a barn and all this fencing and not have any animals," said Marla. So, the Blankenships bought some animals, starting with the farm's most famous occupants, the fainting goats.

For anyone who has ever startled a Myotonic goat, it is not difficult to figure out where they get their nicknames. When startled, fainting goats' muscles freeze, often causing them to fall to the ground.

"This is the only land race breed of goat native to the United States," said Marla, explaining that the fainting goat was quite popular with sheep farmers who would keep them with their herds of sheep. When predators attacked, the goats would fall to the ground, or freeze up, making an easier and more attractive target than the fleeing sheep.

At Wonder Fall Farm, the fainting goats have their own protectors, Birdie and Bordeaux, mother and daughter llamas with soft fur and big teeth. Last week, Bordeaux fought off an unknown animal looking for an evening snack in the pen.

"For the first time in all these years, our guardian llama did her job," said Marla.

Birdie was rescued from a farm in Lancaster three years ago. She had barbed wire around her neck, something the Blankenships did not even realize until she clanged up against a metal fence. Birdie was also pregnant, another fact of which the Blankenships were unaware. Weeks later, their llama population grew from one to two, adding to their ever-burgeoning family of misfit animals.

"Everything on the farm, except for the goats, is a rescued animal," said Marla. This includes the guinea hens, chickens, and cats that are nestled in barn corners or the eaves of low-hanging roofs.

"We are the affordable tourist attraction for people who can handle animals," said Marla. Wonder Fall Farm offers free tours of their grounds, though they do not make the goats faint for visitors. Still, there is always a chance for a sighting as the goats are interacting with the world around them.

"They could be playing out there and faint," laughed Marla, who is able to point out the frequent fainter of the group.

The herd's numbers dwindled significantly since the week before, explains Marla, when 11 of their goats were picked up and transported all over the country to the farms they were sold. There are only 15 goats now.

The farm is always getting new goats, through breeding and buying, and always selling. The farm is gearing up to breed the goats in the coming week. The kids will most likely be born in late April, after a five-month gestation period, said Marla.

"We were the original registered breeders in the state, so it was hard to get people to understand what a fainting goat was," said Marla, but the Blankenships seem to be doing a good job with a steady flow of visitors throughout the year. Marla credits the Mittersill Alpine Resort with much of their success. Also located in Franconia, the inn includes literature in their guests' rooms on fun things to do in the area. The Wonder Fall Farm is one of the attractions listed.

How do the Blankenships manage to offer free tours while supporting themselves and a gaggle of barnyard animals?

"This little room is the reason I can keep the goats," explained Marla, motioning around the gift shop. The small room is filled with a variety of farm-made beauty products and art inspired by the farm. Cranberry hand lotion is the favorite, said Marla, but it is only one of the soaps, shampoos, lip balms, itch relievers, and body sprays available in the gift shop. Marla also makes an all-natural deodorant.

Marla also sells homemade hats and scarves, as well as hand-painted oil candles and picture frames, and other quirky artwork.

Marla said she has been back to California a couple times since the move to the East Coast, and has no desire to move back. She has found a home.

Wonder Fall Farm is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. every other day of the week, weather permitting, or by appointment. For more information about the farm or the fainting goats, visit the website at www.wonderfallfarm.com. To watch a video of a fainting goat, visit the Littleton Courier's Facebook page.

Martin Lord Osman
Littleton Chmber
Varney Smith
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