Dalby Farm in Scituate
WHO: Boston Globe reporter James H. Burnett III, wife Jill, son Max, 2,
and mother-in-law Carole
WHAT: Dalby Farm, rare animal breed educational farm
It's no secret that kids can't get enough of animals, especially farm animals. Apparently there's something more intriguing about moos, clucks, and quacks, than barks and purrs.
But even farm animals can get boring in their sameness, or so says my 2-year-old son, Max, who decided last week that chickens and cows and ducks just weren't cutting it for him anymore.
Enter Dalby Farm in Scituate, a place full of farm animals, but also a place not likely to bore even the most cynical toddler, because the residents of Dalby Farm are rare. Not all the chickens look like chickens. There's something different about those long-snouted hogs. The sheep are self-shedding and don't need to be sheared. And the chinchilla rabbits only look like "normal" rabbits if "normal" means absurdly big.
"We are a rare breed farm only," says Cheryl Bowen-DiTommaso, who owns Dalby Farm with her husband, Joel DiTommaso. "But we always, always tell people not to confuse this with a petting zoo. This is a functioning farm, but it's function is education — to teach people about our rare breeds and how some of them are or have been on endangered lists."
Dalby, which launched in 1861 as a poultry farm, has been in the DiTommaso family all that time, but it wasn't until Bowen-DiTommaso read a Globe article in the late 1980s about rare animal farming as a means to protect endangered breeds that she thought the farm could be remade into a haven for rare animals. In 2000, the DiTommasos decided to make it happen and two years later got their first rare animals through Plimouth Plantation's rare breed program.
So how do they educate visitors? For starters, they give guided group tours for a nominal fee, pre-K story hours during the summer, crafts lessons for children, hands-on experience classes broken down by children's ages, occasional "open" tours, in which the public can see the farm without being part of a larger tour group, and even family picnic days.
Among the rare animals at Dalby Farm are Satuit, a black and white mottled Arapawa Island goat from New Zealand, and two Ossabaw Island hogs, who bear natural Mohawk "hairdos" running from head to rump, and are so gentle they often approach guests seeking to be petted.
"These hogs have unusually long snouts for digging, and the come from a coastal island in Georgia, where Spanish explorers first placed them for breeding in the 16th century," Bowen-DiTommaso says.
Max, a big fan of Mother Goose stories, fell for Dalby's Sebastopol goose, a bird with origins in Central Europe, that appeared to be nearly as tall as and heavier than my boy.
If I had a favorite, it was the Transylvanian Naked Neck chicken (above) or the "turken." The "turken" is all chicken, but looks like a cross between a turkey and a chicken, and therefore is keeping my Thanksgiving dream alive that the "turducken" might be real and roaming the woodlands with Big Foot.
Dalby Farm, 59 Grove St., Scituate; free parking. Group tours available seven days a week for a $75 minimum per group. For information on other program fees, days, hours, and duration, call 781-545-4952 or by e-mail at dalbyfarm
@comcast.net, or visit www.dalbyfarm.com.