You can travel the Antique Trail, eat an award winning donut or go say hello to a zebra.
A zebra? Yep. And a camel and a few kangaroos and…where is all this you ask? In historic Woodbury, CT – a town where people come from all over the area to shop for antique furniture or jewelry and where hardly anyone would think about visiting a wallaby or a young 84 pound tortoise.
But they do. At Highwire Deer and Animal Farm at 68 Park Road, about a minute off Route 6.
I spent a few hours the other afternoon with the farm’s co-owner, John Hardesty. The other owner, Carol Bacon, was over at their store on Main St. – Village Wicker and Lampshades.
John, an affable animal lover, told me that originally he had sixty deer on the farm that he raised for meat but that became too difficult as he had to take the deer out of state for slaughter. Eventually, he “picked up a couple of cranes and a wallaby” for pets and people started stopping by. On the encouragement of an exotic animal breeder, John decided to open up to the public in 2005.
After adding more animals and being open for five years, he and Carol bought a place in Virginia where they were going to move all their pets. The farm closed for five years while they concentrated on fixing up the place in Virginia, running their retail store and caring for the menagerie. Because of the housing market, John and Carol decided to stay in Connecticut and sell off Virginia. This summer is the first time their brood has received visitors in a while.
The zebra, named Sassafras – “Sassy” for short – came from a Kentucky breeder when she was only 21 days old. John picked her up and drove the 16 hour trip non-stop back. Although she has been bottle-raised by humans, John says she still has a “wild snap”. She can be brushed and will only allow you to touch her under her terms. He let me into the pen with her so I could get some photos and found her to be very responsive to John’s gentle requests as she posed.
At the kangaroo house, John called for Spike, the male, to come out. He seemed happy to see John and was obviously sleeping inside on a bed of shavings. John entered the pen, held Spike’s arms and brushed the shavings off of Spike’s back so he could pose for a picture.
John got the female kangaroo at two years old with two babies – one in the pouch and one waiting to be born. He told me the gestation period is about 32 days. The newborn kangaroo, the “joey”, about the size of a lima bean with barely developed forelimbs only (this development period is similar to a human at seven weeks) will climb to the pouch and attach to a teat. The mother can hold a baby inside her and freeze the development of the baby for as long as two years. In the wild, this may be necessary during a drought and in captivity, a mother can nurse a newborn living in her pouch and the older joey by producing two different types of milk simultaneously while a third waits to be born.
Come and meet Wendell the camel, a wallaby, a peccary or javelina pig (the only wild pig native to North America – all the other wild ones come from escaped imports), 25 chickens, two silver pheasants, a female white peacock, an East African Crowned Crane who nipped at my fingers several times while I attempted a close-up, a prairie dog, fallow deer from Germany, emus, coatimundi – raccoon like little guys from South America and more. There are two baby goats and their mother roaming free that love to be hand fed from the food available there to visitors.
Sadly, the Java Macaque monkey had to be put to sleep at age 13 due to severe diabetes
The farm is spotless and kept up beautifully. They spend a couple of hours in the morning and at night cleaning and feeding and they have taken on a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteer from the local Vo-Ag Center to help with the duties.
“The little ones seem to like it here the best,” John says. “They seem more excited about the pygmy goats than the $5000 zebra.”
The $6 admission fee goes toward the food and vet bills which amount to over $10 thousand a year.
The farm is open Thursday to Sunday 11:00 to 4:00 from June – August and weekends in September. Schools and groups are welcome. Just give John or Carol a call at the farm at (203) 263-4522 for large reservations.