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Cuteness overload — wrapped in a history lesson — at Strawberry Banke Museum's Baby Animals event

Special to the Union Leader

April 18. 2018 12:46PM
Visitors of all ages catch glimpses of some of the animals on view at a previous “Baby Animals: Heritage Breeds at the Banke” event on the grounds of the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth. 

Bunnies, newly hatched chicks and baby piglets are just a few of the many barnyard animals expected to elicit giggles from all ages at the third annual “Baby Animals: Heritage Breeds at the Banke” event on the grounds of the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The annual event will open Saturday and run through April 19 at the Portsmouth historical site.

The show, which coincides with school vacation week in New Hampshire, showcases heritage breeds of livestock that became popular during the centuries as settlers from the U.K., Ireland, Europe, Africa and South America began agrarian communities in America.

Peter Cook, a breeder and the curator of the show, said the collection of rare breeds is in itself noteworthy.

“The most fascinating aspect is locating extremely rare breeds with less than 1,000 in the world population, and partnering with the breeders to bring them to Strawbery Banke,” Cook said.

“These are baby animals with an added twist,” said Stephanie Seacord, director of marketing at Strawbery Banke. “There’s the added opportunity to learn about heritage breeds. If not for the breeders in New England, they wouldn’t exist anymore.”

More than a dozen different breeds of farm animals including turkeys, pigs, bunnies, goats and lambs will be under a heated tent on the grounds of the museum along with breeders from across New England. Included in the menagerie will be Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and Mulefoot pigs; Nigerian dwarf goats; and San Clemente, Soay, Clun Forest, Jacob and Gulf Coast native sheep breeds.

“We are bringing in chicks and all kinds of baby animals that haven’t even been born yet, so I’ll know closer to the show what will arrive,” Cook said about the number and type of animals on site.

Seacord said it’s difficult to say which animals are the most popular.

“What animals get the most attention? Whatever is moving,” she said.

Still, both Seacord and Cook admit the baby piglets are usually show stoppers.

“Oh, they put on the piglet rodeo,” Cook said. “The babies like to run in circles around each other.”

The event is more than just cuteness and unlimited photo opportunities; it’s a chance to learn. The breeders answer visitors’ questions, explaining developmental needs of the babies, various aspects of husbandry and why people have chosen to preserve these sometimes-endangered domestic animals for future generations.

“The most surprising aspect is the instant learning that takes place with parents and children,” Cook said. “It’s so rewarding to see them discover facts about our heritage breeds that are continuing on and recovering from near extinction.

Some of the sites participating in “Baby Animals” are Hampshire College Farm Center of Amherst, Mass.; Dogpatch Farm of Washington, Maine; Heart Stone Farm of Milton; Hermit Thrush Hill of Fonda, N.Y.; Riverbank Farm of Salisbury; Marsh Mallo Farm of Fort Plain, N.Y.; Tiny Hill Farm of Milton Mills; Kerfluffle Fiber Farm of Lebanon, Maine; and Diamond B Farm of New Durham.

While visitors will be tempted, it is not permitted to touch the little creatures.

“For the safety of the animals, it is impossible to have petting going on,” said Seacord. “Each breed comes from a different farm, and germs traveling from one animal to another can be dangerous.”

Children, however, will have an opportunity to get up and close to some of the animals. A limited amount of tickets ($35 per child) to a children’s breakfast allows some to meet the animals and their breeders in a smaller setting before the exhibit opens. Youngsters will learn more about milking and feeding the animals as well as learn about fiber and spinning.

Similarly, adults can buy tickets ($30 per person) to attend an early-evening wine and beer event on Thursday, April 26, and Friday, April 27, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Education Animals History Portsmouth Photo Feature

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