It’s first thing on a Thursday morning at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm.
The sun is peeking through the trees, the ground is damp from the rainfall the previous night and the air is thick with the smell of sawdust and hay. A rooster crows continuously in the background.
Suddenly, dozens of white, black and brown goats come stampeding through the farm, twisting their way around the fences.
They’re on a mission: going from the main farm to the petting area some metres away. So begins the day for the goats at the children’s farm.
Twice a day — first thing after the farm opens and near closing — the goats stampede through the farm into their pens.
For Lynda and Dennis Koenders, the last 30 years of their lives have revolved around the goats and the dozens of other animals at the petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park.
“It’s the joy of working with the animals, seeing the kids’ faces. Everybody goes out with a smile on their face. There are very few grumpy people. If they’re grumpy when they come in, they’re happy when they go out,” said Lynda. “It’s a happy place to work.”
The Koenders family initially opened a petting zoo in Coombs (approximately 10 kilometres west of Parksville), but after a few years of slow business, they eventually decided to bring their pets to Victoria.
On June 12, 1985, the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm was born.
The next two years proved difficult for the family of five, surviving with very little money (the farm runs solely on donations) and spending seven days a week caring for the animals. Lynda admitted she was ready to throw in the towel, but Dennis wouldn’t hear it.
“I’m a dreamer. I could see the potential of it and so I just didn’t want to give up and quit. When you give up, you lose,” Dennis said. “If your will is strong enough, it will work.”
Over the next few years, the family persevered and grew the farm to include alpacas, roosters, guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits, peacocks, donkeys, miniature horses, turkeys, ducks and pigs.
This year, the farm is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the Koenders love the farm just as much as when it first opened.
Their love for the farm and its animals is infectious and has spread to its employees, many of whom come in on their days off as well.
“I like the animals. They’re all like my little pets,” said Claudia Laube, who has worked there for the past five years. “Being in the city, especially kids, but even people of all ages don’t grow up around animals, especially farm animals. It’s a big piece of education here for the kids and for the adults it’s therapy.”
Now, the farm sees roughly 150,000 visitors annually, 70 per cent of whom are locals.
Siblings Cate and Cole Pontefract first started coming to the petting zoo four years ago when they moved to Victoria.
“We get to pet the goats and it’s fun seeing all the animals,” said 10-year-old Cole, noting they come three to four times a year.
“You get to see animals that you don’t see in nature,” added eight-year-old Cate.