Baby Animals at Hancock Shaker Village
odd Burdick picked up a lamb and put her into my arms. She looked out over my elbow, wool short and curled against her skin, and I cupped a hand under her back legs to support her. Her feet felt as small as the ball of my thumb and not yet fully hardened.
She (or maybe he) and her distracted mother visited the village in the spring at the annual return of the monthlong festival, Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm. When I met her, we were standing in the ell off the Round Stone Barn.
When we walked in, the air lightened. Jersey calves looked up questioningly. Burdick and Mangiardi hopped in and out of pens, easy and cheerful and always careful.
A teenaged boy listened bemusedly to the chick warbling on his baseball cap, and a mother of two wondered just how tiring it is to feed 16 piglets at once, if you're the sow.
You can visit other farms, Mangiardi said, but here you can get to know the animals. They're set up for it. He runs two farms besides this one, and he knows what he's talking about: many farmers are friendly and passionate about teaching people what farms really are, but they have long days and farmyards full of tractors, and they're not equipped to deal with 16,000-odd visitors in a month.
Here, Burdick and Mangiardi have a lot of practice at introducing people to piglets and ducklings.Having a lamb handed to you as easily as a loaf of bread is a gift. You're holding a real, living lamb, and you're aware how fragile it is, and now it's familiar. My grandparents have a farm, and I've met lambs and kid-goats up close; I'm lucky. But I've never had someone casually set a chick on the palm of my hand, a downy Rhode Island Red baby just getting its first wing feathers, spreading its toes between my fingers.
"The thing about this show," Mangiardi said, "is everyone's always smiling."