The Barns

Meet The Animals And Their Humans

Jack & Diane

Not your every day love story, Jack and Diane came to the farm in 2018. A viral online news story spread like wildfire, detailing the romance of a male donkey and a female emu. Abandoned at a farm in the Carolinas, the pair was taken in by Carolina Waterfowl Rescue. They tried placing Jack with their other donkeys and Diane with the sanctuary’s other emu. No dice. The couple paced like mad and cried out for each other. They only calmed down once they were reunited.

I started getting texts from friends back in North Carolina. “You gotta see this story!” But Jeffrey had beaten me to the punch. As a sucker for true love, he’d contacted the Non-profit and offered up Mischief Farm as Jack&Diane’s permanent home.

So now they cuddle, they eat together, they play and dance with each other, and they sing to one another. (If you’ve never heard a duet of emu throat “drumming” and donkey braying, you’re missing out.) Diane is bossy and steals all the apples. And Jack is shy, but will get rowdy is anyone comes near his lady.

Gus and George are eagerly expecting them to have little Donk-u or Em-key babies.


The Alpaca were the very first residents of Mischief Farm. The previous owner couldn’t take them along to her new home, and so asked us if we would be interested in taking them on. “Sure!” we said. “We can handle that!” I poured over every book that Amazon had on the subject of Alpaca ownership. I knew how feed em. When to shave em. How to handle them. How to give shots.

But what the books do NOT tell you is how to account for your alpaca’s very specific personality. The boys we inherited were as different as they come. Wally Llama looks after the alpaca. A head taller than the others with salt and pepper hair that resembles JDM’s, he’s regal and disinterested in any drama. Snowball is my sad, sweet boy. He’s a Sure alpaca, so his pure white hair hangs in long droopy locks, making him always look wet and small compared to his Huacaya brothers. He is a sissy, and we love him for it. Silver Coin is a fluffy polka dotted fellow. He’s the hype man for his best friend Zeus. He’s loud and quick to spit if he thinks his buddy needs defending. (He is also known to tackle the dogs if they are dumb enough to venture into their pasture.)  But be sure, Zeus can handle himself. The only un-gelded male of the group, the midnight black Zeus is the smallest – but most fierce – of the camelids. He’s the first to the fence for food. The first to run up and examine every new stranger. And most certainly the first to go nuts when the girl alpaca moved to the farm.

The lady alpaca are like debutantes. Bigger than their male counterparts, they sashayed over to our from from a nearby establishment that was looking to downsize. They all names on their pedigree paperwork, but Gus and I were doing a marathon of “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea” when they arrived, so they got new names. The grandma of the bunch, a redhead with one white patch on her back, is Marilla. Naturally. One of her feisty daughters, another red head with a white mask, is Anne Shirley. Her sister, a pale fawn colored fluff ball with lots of moxie is Rachel Lynde. And the grand baby of the group – a pure black beauty – is Diana Berry.


The ducks were a surprise. Jeff had been at Ed Hackett’s feed store and seen a sickly baby duck with what appeared to be a broken neck. It’s head hung down at an unnatural angle by it’s side. Ed told Jeff the duckling probably wouldn’t make it. So of course Jeffrey bought a huge metal tub, and wood shavings and water and food containers and the next thing I know, there is an entire duck habitat in my living room. Insisting that this poor duckling live out it’s last days in comfort, Jeff had even purchased another duckling to give our poor little dude company during his hospice.

Gus and I examined the duck. He had an odd tuft of thick black feathers on his head, which made it look like a wild shock of hair. “He looks like ParaNorman,” Gus said. So he was dubbed Norman. We were attached now. He couldn’t die! I started googling “broken baby duck neck” “weak neck duckling”. And then finally, bingo! Turns out, it was a vitamin E deficiency! Jeffrey ran to the Rite Aid and grabbed gel caps to squeeze into Norman’s water.

Pretty soon our courageous little guy was up and running, head held high.

Ducks, as we found out, have HUGE personalities. They run in a pack. They terrify the cows. And they can kill mice who have the audacity to try and steal their food.

They are my favorites.


Rainbow Eggs??? Imagine our surprise during those first few weeks at the farm when we realized the chickens we inherited laid rainbow colored eggs. Brown and white and red and blue and green. The previous owner had tried to take her lovely chickens along with her, but an aggressive raccoon in her area had other ideas. So they came back to the farm, to our delight. A month after moving in, Gus had his 4th birthday. And so off to Hackett’s Feed Store we went, so Gus could pick out his birthday birds.

Russell Wilson, and Dickie Sherman and Hawk and Scissor Beak, and Donald (Duck) and Red all came to live inside with us. They molted everywhere. They pooped all over our basement. But they also sat on our shoulders and visited Gus’s preschool and became our funny little pets. We’ve had multiple additions and losses to the flock. But that first batch of feathered babies will always be near and dear.

Highland Cows

Jeff had seen a picture of a Highland cow, in all it’s shaggy haired glory, on the cover of Best Made magazine. “We need these!!!” he announced.

Google is the best thing that ever happened to wanna-be farmers. So after a quick search of the interweb, I found an ad on Craigslist for a family that was looking to get rid of their two Highland girls.

I called. “Their names are Alice, and Hillary,” I was told. It had to be a sign! Days later, silver haired Alice showed up, hugely pregnant. She was perfectly ornery. Little red headed Hillary was the exact opposite. Sweet and gentle, she kept her horns to herself and let us all scratch her massive back. Jeff didn’t like the confusion of the Hilarie/Hillary combo. And so Gus – who was in FULL “Hamilton” mode – renamed her Peggy. We fed them apples to win their favor all throughout the Winter. And then in late April, just in time for Jeff’s 50th birthday, Alice had her baby boy.

Predictably, Gus named him Alexander.


Happy Father’s Day! Jeff had been off working for months. And we wanted to surprise him with something he REALLY wanted for Father’s Day.

I reached out to a buddy who also had a farm. “Uncle Charlie! Where can I find mini donkeys??”

After a game of phone tag, a trailer full of three donkeys was headed our way. Pregnant Mama, her best friend Ally, and the tiny polka dotted yearling Princess all showed up exactly as Jeff was arriving from the airport. They were like puppies, so eager for ear scratches and cuddles.

And then just a couple days later, Mama gave birth. The baby boy donkey that showed up imprinted on Jeff right away. And they are massively in love. Named after our dear friend Bill, little Paxton continues to be a farm favorite.

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Hilarie & Jeffrey

Spoiler alert! We are not life-long farmers.
We are dreamers.
We are triers.
We are animal lovers.
We are real believers in the idea that if you want something bad enough, you will figure out how to do it.

On our very first date, we asked one another “What do you want for the future?’ We both answered “to live and raise a family on a farm.” The joy we have found in this lifestyle of hard work and chores and mountains of manure is something we wish for everyone. If you’re visiting us here at the virtual farm, our hope is that you too will declare what you want for your own future and take the risks necessary to see it happen.

Check out how we arrived at our dream farm, and all the imperfect, messy steps we took to claim it as our own in Hilarie’s book, due out from HarperOne in Spring 2020. Link coming soon!

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