North of Port Hope, located amongst the hills of Northumberland County, adventurers are experiencing a rural encounter with nature that nourishes and delights.
Article & images by Valerie Macdonald
Debbie Nightingale and her life-and-business partner Shane have opened their Haute Goat Farm to visitors who want to explore goat yoga with Nigerian dwarf goats or take an Alpaca Trek with their two breeds of these loveable animals.
Those deciding to wander the trails that criss-cross their farm on the 5th Line can visit with Icelandic horses, or enjoy the company of their friendly trio of dogs as they cross country ski, snowshoe or walk, while enjoying the magnificent views.
This interaction with nature “settles you in some way,” Nightingale says.
“And people just naturally smile” when they are around the cute, diminutive members of their goat herd, especially when there are little babies, she and Shane agree.
The couple’s 200-acre farm also hosts classes in goat-cheese making, beekeeping and will soon offer unique cuisine. There is a retail outlet in the well-appointed farm house that focuses on natural goat products that range from luxurious soaps to soothing lotions. There is also a wide selection of goat cheese including soft and hard cheeses.
“Our goal is to become the destination for finding interesting, different and delicious goat cheeses,” Nightingale says.
The combination of indoor and outdoor activities at Haute Goat Farm is attracting not only visitors from London, Ontario to Kingston in the west (and beyond), but also interest from television stations, magazines and newspapers.
On Monday Feb. 5, the weather man from CTV news reported live weather reports there while snuggling up with the goats and alpacas, Nightingale said during an interview.
The farm house is surrounded by windows that look out to the barn, the paddocks and the hills beyond.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Marilyn Denis Show on CTV did a segment on Haute Goat focusing on goat yoga, she continued.
“CP 24 was here in the summer,” Nightingale added and the Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal toured the farm before that after Haute Goat received an Ontario Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.
Stories about their special farm which offers free access to the grounds while only charging for seminars and activities have also made it into the Toronto Star and Post Media publications.
In addition to making rural life attractive to urbanites in new ways, it’s no wonder the couple has garnered media attention. They know the business.
Nightingale ran a production company creating shows for HBO and Shane was a literary agent for film and TV, she says.
“Now my goats are the stars,” Nightingale laughs.
Goat yoga or what they have dubbed with the made-up word, “schmurgling” with their goats has been “unbelievably popular,” says Nightingale.
It started this past summer.
With the cry, “release the goats!” people follow the goats outside into a playground where the yoga exercising fun begins. Yoga mats are placed amongst the goat herd with the baby goats often climbing on top of people while they are doing yoga, and of course, laughing.
Surprisingly, this snuggling and exercising with the goats has continued into the winter, with the adult goats milling around and encouraging hugs as people put their yoga mats down in hay-strewn goat pens.
Of course, people will have to wait until spring for the baby goats to return.
“They are all hams,” Nightingale says.
“There are no two goats alike,” Shane agrees. “They make everyone happy.”
People can also learn new skills like goat milking and how to look after chickens. There are guided tours (starting the end of April with the arrival of the baby goats). The tours include a variety of experiences from interacting with the horses and exotic chickens to walking through an apothecary garden and shiitake mushroom lodge.
The couple always suggest that visitors bring their cameras to capture the views and the animals.
For an overnight stay, there are two rooms for visitors accommodating up to four with a farm breakfast included.
A new endeavour this year that is just getting going, is alpaca trekking. Two Port Hope volunteers, Christine Sutton and Laurel Anchor, are helping train the alpacas to walk in halters.
Sutton and Anchor decided to “insinuate themselves” into the farm’s activities about 1.5 years ago, says Sutton. Nightingale says the pair are very hands-on, knowledgeable and great “ambassadors” for the farm.
Inside the huge farm house kitchen, seminars on soap making are taking place during February. There are also special events at the farm throughout the year including goat races, alpaca shearing as well as an open house.
You can watch goats live at hautgoat.com/pages/live-goat-cam.
Plans are also underway to serve dinners with local chefs.
The farm is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. .
You can sign up for seminars or farm activities (www.hautegoat.com) but there is no charge to just come and walk around, use the trails and enjoy the views, the couple says.
They suggest that interaction with the animals is good for people including those with autism and cancer, or any one needing to de-stress.
“It’s our way of giving back,” Nightingale says.