A pair of lambs frolic almost on cue in the enclosure, Maple the potbellied pig comes out to say hi, and a team of male peacocks strut around like they own the place.
Then there’s the goats.
Easily the most popular residents of the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, these social, wire-haired animals are happy to see a new visitor.
“Not having people coming in, I know the animals miss the people. They love the attention,” said Lynda Koenders, the farm’s co-owner/operator.
It’s been more than 13 months since the petting zoo was open to the public. Under public health restrictions, the regular flow of families who love the baby goat stampede and getting up close and personal with other residents here is absent. Those who do come by to check out the animals from a distance are behind a tall fence, more physically distanced than last year, thanks to the donation of provincial and Canadian flags by The Flag Shop in Victoria.
Not only have families and other visitors been unable to enjoy hands-on time with the animals, donations are down, which Sylvia Brinckman, president of the non-profit Beacon Hill Farm Society, said makes things tough.
“Hay is still the same price, grain is still the same price, wages are still the same,” said Brinckman, who drops in every day for some “goat love.”
The farm opened for just six days in March 2020, around the time COVID-19 was beginning to raise eyebrows.
With not a lot of room for people for move between the pens, they made the decision to close. If and when they reopen, Koenders said, it’ll likely be with one-way paths, a maximum number of people, mandatory mask and hand sanitizer use and different rules for the petting area.
“The goats will be here, but you won’t be able to go in with them,” she said. “Because we are so hands on here, we just cannot clean the goats and clean other things in between people coming in.”
Government grants for payroll have helped with the cost of tending to the animals with a skeleton staff. Their large and willing volunteer base – unavailable due to restrictions – helps with labour in normal circumstances, but with certain costs fixed, Brinckman said, it’s donations that make the farm go.
An ongoing GoFundMe campaign called Goat Fund Us has done well, bringing in close to $100,000 to date.
The newest donation option for supporters is sponsorship programs, which can be gifted for Mother’s Day and come with a special certificate and photo of the sponsored animals. For more information on donations, visit beaconhillchildrensfarm.ca.