Peckish goats enjoy plenty of Christmas tree munchies at Vanderlaand Barnyard Zoo

Goats enjoy fresh Christmas trees at Vanderlaand the Barnyard Zoo in North Dundas. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Goats! Who can explain their behaviour! They seem to munch contentedly on just about anything, including prickly discarded Christmas tree branches.

For a while there, Tony and Ruth Vanderlaan were worried there might be a shortage of post-season natural trees making it out to their Vanderlaand Barnyard Zoo west of Winchester Springs to satisfy the quirky appetites of their resident goats. Not to worry!

The main source of 250 trees last year was a chain retailer who delivered 125 unsold firs in one load; Tony figured rightly that Christmas trees would sell out in the COVID-19 era with shut-ins sticking close to home. However, responding to an outpouring of publicity, families rose to the occasion and have been dropping off trees in droves at the end of the Vanderlaan lane.

“So far, I’ve only found three trees still bound up indicating they weren’t sold off a lot,” Tony told a Sunday visitor to the mini zoo. The attraction may be closed for the season, but care and maintenance — and costs — continue non-stop of assorted goats, sheep, pot-bellied pigs, mule, an emu, and a flock of fowl, which all together, form a big summer draw.

While the business is getting by, Tony said C-19 robbed it of about 80 per cent of normal receipts from taking the zoo on the road to various events cancelled in 2020; also lost were five seasonal jobs for area young people who helped out with the chores.

Tony builds handy items out of stripped down trees such as archways and snow fencing. Van Dusen photo, Nation Valley News

The Christmas trees aren’t a replacement diet for goats but serve as a welcomed treat, like dessert; they also eat some of the smaller branches and much of the bark.

It’s a thing! Goats across North America are diving into discarded trees, drawing nutrients from the needles which also serve as a natural de-wormer. On Sunday, several were munching happily on trees Tony drew from a pile growing along the lane, with a steady stream of cars dropping more at the gate.

Not everybody knows about the productive way to recycle used Christmas trees. As Paul Latreille stated on social media: “Next year, I know where my tree is going!” When he learned that Tony constructs snow fencing out of stripped down trunks and branches, along with some supports, Latreille added: “Farmers are terrific environmentalists!”

Noting that the trees are “very recyclable”, the Vanderlaans urge consumers to take them to a farm, almost any farm, where they’ll be well used. Tony and Ruth even apply them decoratively, creating archways and lawn furniture on the property.


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