A new, reinvigorated Wild Goose Ranch
When Emily Handy was growing up on North Anguilla Road in Stonington, there were always animals around. She and her family, the Miners, cared for sick rabbits and squirrels. A pot-bellied pig lived in the house.
"We took a lot of pride in caring for the animals. It's always been my passion," she said.
So in 2005 when she and her husband Tim moved into the house on the same property where her grandparents once lived, it was only a matter of time before there were animals.
In 2008, she decided she wanted to raise chickens. People began asking her for fresh eggs so she and Tim soon built another coop.
"And it took off from there," she said. "I grew up living with animals so to do this is a dream come true."
Soon there were roosters, quail, geese, rabbits and ducks, which she sells for meat and the eggs. She also has five bee hives and sells honey. She sells jams and jellies and has an organic garden on the property. Next year, she plans to raise and sell fresh turkeys.
The animals at Wild Goose Ranch live in large immaculately maintained coops and enclosures that are painted white with red trim. The rabbits even have window boxes outside their enclosures.
The chickens, ducks and geese roam the property and a large central enclosure. They even enjoy a nearby pond.
They eat an all-natural diet and many of them have names, such as Ritz, Saltine, Julia and Godfried, which Emily rattles off as she walks among the chickens, geese and ducks. One of the rabbits, a plump bunny named Stewie, appears in productions of "Alice in Wonderland." A sign out front reads Wild Goose Ranch.
Handy, 30, said the farm is also a way to honor her grandfather Latham Miner, who ran a sawmill on the property.
"He passed on his love of birds, ducks and geese to me," she said.
When Tim Handy was digging out the root cellar in their house, he uncovered a sign board which read Wild Goose Ranch, LH Miner & Sons.
She had never heard the name before so she asked her father who told her it was the name of the farm that her grandfather once ran on the property.
"That was so cool. We preserved the sign and repainted it and hung it up on the porch," she said pointing to an old photo of her grandparents that shows the sign hanging on the porch.
In addition to caring for the animals like pets, Emily also butchers them herself.
"I kill them in the most humane way possible," she said. "If you're a meat-eater then you have to take responsibility for the way an animal lives and dies."
Emily said one of the most difficult things she's had to do since running the farm was the recent amputation she did of the leg of a chicken when it got caught in a statue on the property.
Last week, the recovered chicken was in a bedroom of her home, wheeling around in a cart Emily's mother had made for it.
The town cited Emily last month for violating zoning regulations because the town prohibits the breeding and raising "of foxes, minks, pigs, rodents, rabbits and other fur bearing animals."
The town said her raising of meat rabbits violated that ban and that she must stop selling meat rabbits and remove the portion of the sign advertising them from the sign along North Anguilla Road. If she did not, she faced fines of $150 a day.
Emily, who admits she was upset with the town's action, decided not to appeal the order to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
"I didn't want to make a thing about it," she said.
She still has Stewie and the other rabbits on the property.
Handy said people offer her animals all the time and she once traded a piece of plywood for two ducks.
She sells eggs by the honor system. Customers walk up to the refrigerator on her porch, take eggs out and leave money - $3 per dozen for chicken eggs and $4 for duck eggs. She also sells goose eggs and donates what she does not sell to the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.
"There's been so many people good to us that I want to be good to other people," she said.
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