Touch baby animals at Shaker Village


Photo Gallery: Lambs at Hancock Shaker Village

Piglets and kid goats -- ducklings, turkeys and calves -- a visitor can hold a lamb or a suckling pig, or feel a chick's feet on top of her head.

Hancock Shaker Village will celebrate its seasonal opening on Saturday, April 12, with Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm, its annual three-week long celebration of newborn animals.

"This will be our 12th season and I've been here all but two," said Bill Mangiardi, director of farm and facilities, "Baby Ani mals has grown to be the signature event of Shaker Village. We went from a thousand visitors at the first Baby Animals to 17,000 last year."

These breeds of animals lived in the village when it was occupi ed by the Shakers, except for the goats, which, Mangiardi said, the Shakers considered to be pagan.

Today visitors enter the round stone barn, where each pen now holds a mother animal and her babies. The animals come from 4-H groups, other farms and Mangiardi, a farmer in his own right. He relies on 4-H members, volunteers and the staff to help people and animals meet each other.

"There's very few places I know of that kids can actually go in, see a mother and its baby, touch some of the animals, get to hold them, get to pet them, and in some instances get to feed them," Mangiardi said. "I get kids here who don't know one animal from another, especially the kids from the inner city."

He said he once had a group of children from New York City get off a bus at the village, where he was waiting with a calf on a rope. The excited children came running over to him, saying, "A pony, a pony!"

"It's funny, and we laugh, but they don't know the difference. They really don't," he said. "Years ago, everyone grew up with their parents or grandparents having a farm, so they were connected to the land. If I can bring that little bit of connection you plant that little seed and it stays with them for life. For the tours, we get repeat people. I'm getting to know the kids; I'm growing up with that family."

One of the repeat visitors is Kim Weeks of Bayport on Long Island, N.Y., who is bringing her granddaughter, Alexa Mur phy, 8, back for their second visit to Baby Animals.

"We went the last weekend in May," Weeks said in a phone interview. "This year, we're going the first weekend and staying two nights. We're hoping there will be even more baby animals. Alexa is so excited."

"My favorite animals are the lambs," Alexa said. "They're soft and really cute. I don't like them totally though. A lamb pooped on my favorite shirt."

She also liked seeing the chicks and making chair spindles on a lathe machine.

"We went on a hayride and they passed around baby animals. They passed around honey, too. It was yummy!" she said.

The first thing she plans to do when she gets to the Hancock Shaker Village is to go on hay ride again -- and to ride a pony.

Her advice for anyone attending Baby Aninals?

"You get to dress up like old-fashioned people. Last year, I dressed up as a prairie girl and I felt like I was back in the old times," she said. "Look for the old-fashioned puzzles. There's so much fun stuff."

Mangiardi will give hour-long behind the scenes tours (for an additional fee).

"We do the hayride and the farming forest trail," he said. "Todd Burdick, the village director of education, narrates the tour, points out highlights throughout the village and the farm trail, and the animals ... throughout the meadows and the pastures. I have a special area set aside for behind-the-scenes tours. I have different baby animals that are being fed and different things that the general public can't get to."

He remembers one tour vividly. During the tour, a cow was in labor and was having problems. Mangiardi determined the calf was in a breech position and had to untangle the baby's legs, in utero, in order for it to be born. What made it even more memorable was that he had to do it again within minutes -- the calf's twin was also breech.

Baby Animals brings many of the parents and grandparents back to something they once loved and enjoyed, Burdick said.

"A lot of the adults always say, ‘I grew up on a farm' or ‘My grandpa had a farm and I remember visiting him as a kid,'" he said. "Coming here brings them back to their roots, their heritage."

They want to pass on the experience to their kids, who never experienced grandpa's farm because it's now a condo, or a development or a mall, and the fields are no longer a farm.

"An important thing about Baby Animals is it connects the generations," he said. "It connects people now and here today, but it connects the generations to our agricultural heritage, which the Shakers were so good at. It brings them back to something they're missing, something they're yearning for and we can do that."

People attending Baby Ani mals also can get "unplugged for a day," Mangiardi said.

"We need to get back [to our roots] a little bit, we have too much of this [electronic stuff], too many computers. You can Google a calf, and a picture will come up and it will tell you all about a calf," he said -- "but it's totally different than sitting here and having a calf sucking on your finger." If you go ...

What: Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm

When: April 12 through May 4, daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Hancock Shaker Village, Routes 20 and 41, Pittsfield

Admission: Adults, 18; children under 12, free.

Behind-the-scenes tours: Daily at 1 p.m.; 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekends. $28 per person, includes general admission. Reservations required, (413) 443-0188, ext. 100.

Pony rides: Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. $5.

David Grover performances: Saturday, April 16, 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Sheep Shearing: April 26 and 27.

Information: (800) 817-1137 or


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