Stay with Goats at Big Picture Farm

Stay in Style, Goat-Adjacent, at Townshend’s Big Picture Farm

By Margaret Grayson
Story originally published in Seven Days on 03|23|2021.

Goat kidding season begins in earnest in April, when those tiny, unruly creatures — all ears and knees and hooves — emerge into the world determined to sow as much joyful chaos as possible. On Big Picture Farm in Townshend, where many of the 45 goats can be expecting at the same time, the babies come first as a trickle, and then as a flood.

“The week after their due date is normally when we have one of those crazy days where there’s a billion babies,” said Louisa Conrad, who runs the farm with her husband, Lucas Farrell. They make goat’s-milk cheese, chocolates and caramels and offer luxurious farm stays in three different buildings.

The couple originally moved to Townshend to work as caretakers for the farm’s previous owners, Ann and Bob Works, who operated a sheep’s-milk cheese business. Conrad and Farrell — an artist and a poet, respectively, who’d both attended Middlebury College — had previously apprenticed at Salisbury’s Blue Ledge Farm to learn the ins and outs of milking and cheesemaking. Since 2010, they’ve bought the 100-acre Townshend property in pieces, finally becoming full owners a few years ago. Now Conrad and Farrell live there with their two daughters, the goats, chickens and a couple of extremely fluffy livestock guard dogs.

Available for rent on the property are a sprawling farmhouse; the two-bedroom Colt Barn; and the Solar Cabin, a brand-new tiny house. Originally built in 1790 and since renovated, the farmhouse can sleep up to 16 people in spacious rooms with loads of light. It features beds built by a local timber framer, cozy window seats and other nooks and crannies, and quirky bathrooms — including one that contains a perfectly circular Japanese soaking tub.

The Solar Cabin, a well-designed miniature space with a loft bedroom, is situated down the hill from the other houses. It’s right next to a large solar panel installation, hence the name. Depending on the season, the Solar Cabin and Colt Barn may be used for staff and not available for rental.

Guests are welcome to explore the farm’s acreage and spend time with “the ladies,” as Conrad calls the goats. “They’re so wonderful, and there’s not a lot of chances to really go in with goats in a noninstitutional setting,” she said. “Part of our mission is to spread the word on good animal husbandry.”

The goats are a mixture of Alpine, Nubian and Saanan breeds. They love a good chin scratch. Many of them are pregnant, but Conrad and Farrell keep their retired goats around, too. “Just because they’re big and fat does not mean they’re pregnant,” Conrad said with a laugh. At the end of kidding season, they’ll keep five or six babies and sell the rest.

The family also raises chickens and maintains a garden, an orchard and berry bushes on what Conrad said is a “homestead scale.” Every year, they raise three pigs to butcher. Guests are welcome to request eggs and pork for their stay.

Buying Big Picture Farm in three different real estate transactions allowed the couple to take on only what they could afford and manage at the time. Conrad calls the roundabout route to full ownership “really unique.”

“Land transfer is such a tricky thing, especially right now in the United States with so many old farmers,” she said. “So we were really lucky that [the previous owners] were willing to work with us and help us.”

Conrad said that, while they used to rely on distributing their cheese, chocolates and caramels to more than 1,000 stores across the country, online sales are now a thriving part of their business.

If Conrad ever has any doubts about farm life, seeing her daughters interacting with the animals wipes them away. “This is definitely the best way for them to be growing up,” she said.

Bringing in guests, beyond providing income, lets her share that feeling with other families.

“The last few people in the farmhouse had three kids … I would come in in the morning, and one of their girls was up in the hayloft, like, cuddling with a kitten,” Conrad said. “It’s nice to see people really be able to be independent and enjoy the farm.”


Seven Days Staytripper Series

Created by Seven Days, the “Staytripper: The Road Map for Rediscovering Vermont” series presents curated excursions statewide. The series was originally published from 2020-2022 and highlights Vermont restaurants, retailers, attractions, and outdoor adventures to spotlight all corners of the state.