Sometimes you just need to get out of the house and spend some time with cows. So we hit the road and headed to Litchfield County and Arethusa Farm. The historic Connecticut dairy farm is open for tours from the end of March through October. I admit it: we can't get enough of farm visits. From checking out the baby animals and berry picking to corn mazes and Christmas tree farms, it feels great to enjoy fresh country air.
Touch the Cows
Farm manager Matt Senecal and his band of trusty cowhands greeted us in Arethusa's milking barn on South Plains Road. The Saturday "open tour" isn't a traditional "tour." Arethusa Farm is a sprawling operation with many outbuildings; however, the "tour" is a self-guided wander around the main milking barn. Everyone can say hello to the farm's friendly breeds of cows.
The kids loved the informality of the visit. They stood patiently listening to Matt tell us about the different breeds, how much milk they produce,and what's in their feed mix. The kids were then off in every direction, getting licked and scratching muzzles.
What's the first thing you notice about a cow when you are standing next to one? A cow is BIG. The largest cow at Arethusa is a Holstein that weighs about 2,000 pounds.
The next thing you will notice? The loud sound of water splashing intermittently. Well, that's not water, friends. That's pee. And, boy oh boy, do cows pee! Believe me: seeing animals do what they do-do is a highlight of any farm trip for kids. No farm animal excretes waste like cows.
That said, the barn is amazingly clean. Absent is the nose-plugging manure scent I remember from visiting my uncle's dairy as a kid. Senecal says they process most of the cow's manure off site, which keeps the odor down.
The kids ran back and forth to the cowhands with important questions like:
Why are all these cows "ladies"?
Why does she have a different name on her ear tag then on her sign?
Why are some of the cows alone in their own pens?
Where are all the baby cows? Can we see the babies?
Do they ever get to go outside?
Can we touch the cows?
I'll let you discover for yourselves the deeper mysteries of Arethusa cows. Except to say: YES. You can touch them! The cows in the barn may be big, but they are docile and enjoy the visit. And the cows all get a good bath before the farm tours.
Arethusa Farm's Saturday Tours are from 12:30 p.m to 2:30 p.m. in the main milking barn.
556 South Plains Road Litchfield 860-361-6600
A Sidetrip to Arethusa Dairy for Ice Cream
Since the tour hours coincided with lunch time, we planned on snacking before we arrived to leave room for some delicious ice cream!
To sample the Arethusa dairy products, we headed down the road to the town of Bantam and visited the Arethusa Farm Dairy Store. This is not-your-gummy-bear-Baskin-Robbins ice cream. As you enter the shop, the smell of homemade waffle cones entices your senses. Traditional flavors like Chocolate Ice Cream have an intense, gourmet bent. The kids' devoured the Sweet Cream and the Mint Chocolate Chip. Flavors like pistachio, maple walnut, and butter pecan show off Arethusa's penchant for natural flavors.
The ice cream is the main event here, but we also sampled some of the cheese -- at least my husband and I did! The dairy also sells milk, yogurt, butter and half-and-half, which Senecal says has changed the way he drinks coffee forever.
If you plan to eat in the area, do your research ahead of time. Bantam and Litchfield area restaurants are a bit pricey for a family like ours. We did find two places that suited our budget. We recommend you visit our favorite, for breakfast and lunch (closes at 2 p.m.), Patty's Restaurant. For all-day food service, there's Wood's Pit BBQ & Mexican, where you can find both enchiladas and pulled pork sandwiches on the menu. And Bantam Pizza is affordable and usually satisfies everyone in the family. Arethusa Farm also offers a coffee shop across from the dairy, Arethusa a mano, but check out the hours before you go and be warned that the prices are a bit higher than you'd expect.
822 Bantam Rd. Bantam 860-567-5722
Photos courtesy of Elizabeth G. Howard