If you have ever wanted to shmurgle a goat, this Port Hope, Ontario farm can make it happen.
Ask Debbie Nightingale why goats are a big deal and she’ll tell you that they are magical.
“Anyone who has spent time with a goat will tell you that they have their own special magic,” says Nightingale, co-owner of Haute Goat Farm in Port Hope, Ontario. “If you are feeling down, all you need to do is shmurgle a baby goat and you feel so much better. It sounds silly, but it’s true.”
Goat shmurgling, also known as cuddling, snuggling, kissing and hugging a goat, has been both her passion and business for decades.
It all began with a thriving Campbellford, Ontario- based business selling a hand, foot and cuticle moisturizer made from the raw goat milk from the Nigerian Dwarf goats that lived on her farm. Then, in 2015, Nightingale and her partner Shain Jeffe moved to Port Hope, bringing their animals with them, which in addition to the goats, like LuLu Belle, Saffron, Doodle and Feta just to name a few, included Lucy the donkey, chickens and two sleek Icelandic horses. They found that when they told people about their collection of animals, there was a lot of interest in visiting the farm and especially in meeting the goats.
“We began inviting people and they came,” she says. “And then more people came and still, more people. It was a bit of a surprise that spending time with goats would be a thing, but it turns out that it was.”
Nightingale says that it didn’t take long for her and Jeffe to realize they weren’t the only ones who adored goats. This provided the inspiration for Haute Goat Farm, a place that offers unique farm experiences that include goat shmurgling, goat yoga, spending healing time with horses as well the opportunity to groom and walk with alpacas.
With more than 32,000 visitors annually, some coming from as far as Korea and Abu Dhabi, Nightingale and Jeffe expanded the farm, which also offers corporate team-building events, last May to include a store that sells everything goat, from goat cheese and various creams, lip balms and bath bombs made with goat milk to cute stuffed goats. The alpacas are also represented with wool socks, dryer balls and insoles, all made from alpaca wool.
“A lot of what you can get here is sourced from our farm,” says Nightingale, adding that people like the fact that they not only know where what they are buying comes from, but also that their money is going to support a business that runs sustainably and with a commitment to making sure that the animals are cared for and loved.
The expansion also included the addition of The Screaming Goat Café, run by chefs Rob Hogg and Alicia Ricci. Lined with long picnic tables that capture a sense of being in the country, the café features an open grill that allows guests to see (and smell) their meals as they come together deliciously. While visitors will find it difficult to choose just one thing from the menu, Nightingale says that the La Mancha grilled cheese, made with the farm’s own fresh goat cheese, is a huge favourite.
“People come back just for our grilled cheese,” she says. “And yes, it is pretty amazing.”
While Nightingale notes how all-consuming running a farm can be, she says that each season brings volunteers, as many as eight in the summer and two or more in the winter to help with the day-to-day chores, like feeding the animals. Some stay for a short time, while others who come and never leave, like Christine xxxxx and Laurel xxxxxxx who have been helping out for decades.
“We love it here,” says Christine. “When we first came to the farm, we weren’t sure what we could help with. I don’t think Debbie was sure either. But we easily found little jobs. And that was four years ago.”
Nightingale is in love too.
“It’s a lot of work, but this farm brings so much joy and happiness to people,” she says. “It’s pretty great seeing people connect with the animals and experience the country and I love that we are the ones bringing that to them.”
To book a shmurgling adventure or experience a one-of-a-kind grilled cheese, visit hautegoat.com.
Lisa Machado is a former financial journalist who, after being diagnosed with a rare leukemia in 2008, now writes and speaks about what it means to live with cancer. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Canadian CML Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.