Born in the spotlight, Lennie the goat gets lots of loving from guests at Eugster’s Farm.
Joe Eugster looks right at home standing in a straw-lined pen, holding a tiny Toggenburg goat named Lennie. On the other side of the gate, a pair of kids (the human kind) have climbed up the rungs, putting themselves eye-to-eye with the equally curious baby.
“The mothers cooperated this year,” says Eugster, giving Lennie a scratch behind the ears as the tiny goat nibbles on a reporter’s notebook. “This one was born last weekend, right in front of everyone.”
For a creature just a few days old, Lennie has already had quite an exciting life. He’s one of the star attractions at Eugster’s Farm Market and Petting Farm, located about 25 minutes south of Madison in rural Stoughton. A former dairy farm, the property has been in Eugster’s family for decades and has transitioned from milking to growing row crops and produce to hospitality and entertainment — and business is booming.
“This is our third year, and it’s like a slam-dunk,” co-owner Carol Eugster says of the petting farm venture. “And it’s nothing we weren’t doing on the farm anyways.”
The husband-and-wife team have kept goats and sheep on the farm for years, and friends were always asking to come see the babies during the springtime lambing and kidding season, Carol says. She’s a business-minded “bean counter,” and Joe is an old-school farmer with a charming flair for the creative, so they thought they’d give a new business model a try. Now, three years later, the farm is home to dozens of animals, employs nearly 50 people and draws hundreds of visitors to lambing and kidding days held the first four weekends of April.
“A lot of people don’t understand why this is so popular,” Carol says. “This would never have taken off when I was a kid, but families don’t have access to farms these days.”
Around 11 a.m. on April 9, the farm is already bustling with visitors — a vast grass and gravel parking area at the back of the property easily holds more than 100 cars. Parents and children are everywhere, with many youngsters being pulled along in classic red wagons provided by the farm (one of Joe’s whimsical-yet-functional touches).
Inside the goat kidding barn — a lovely, vintage wooden structure — guests congregate in a hay-bale pen, where Eugster’s employees are overseeing the best attraction of all — the chance to cuddle and play with the baby animals. Children and adults alike can barely contain their delight over the impossibly cute goats, which come in two varieties: Toggenburgs from Switzerland and Nigerian dwarf goats from West Africa.
“This one is my favorite,” says Eugster’s employee Maren Gryttenholm, scooping up a toffee-colored Nigerian dwarf goat named Julianne. “She just melts right into your arms.”
Gryttenholm, a freshman at UW-Madison, has worked at Eugster’s since she was a high school student in Stoughton. It’s a popular after-school job for kids in the area, particularly in the fall during the harvest season. Gryttenholm loves the baby animals (“Who doesn’t?” she asks) and relishes the chance to educate visiting children about life on the farm. A biology major, her interest in animal husbandry stems from her time working at Eugster’s. “Carol and I talk genetics all the time,” she says.
At the end of the season, most of the baby goats end up at other “farmettes” as pets or grazers. They try to find homes for the sheep, too, but sometimes they do end up as mutton. Demand is high for Eugster’s animals. “There’s a waiting list for our goats and sheep,” Carol says.
The trends for farmers in Wisconsin are not favorable for small family farms like Eugster’s. Across the state, the overall number of farms is declining, while the size and scale of the farms is increasing. Both Joe and Carol Eugster attribute their farm’s success to their family’s ability to adapt and diversify. And they hope to pass the business on to their children, something that doesn’t always happen with family farms these days. But a passion for the industry runs deep — some might even say it was meant to be. At a recent high school reunion, Joe was presented with a special award for fulfilling a prediction that he made back when he was a teenager.
“I put down that I’d be working in the farm entertainment business,” he says. “So I guess you could say that I’m living the dream.”
Goat gestation: 150 days
Baby animals spotted at Eugster’s: Goats, lambs, kittens, piglets, ducklings, chicks, rabbits
Notable non-babies: Scottish Highland cattle, donkeys, llamas, mini horse
Next lambing and kidding days: April 14-15, April 22-23