Life of the Party
Goats are the star attractions at children’s birthday parties.
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Mary Bowen started taking a LaMancha goat named Nadia to the farmers market in the Sunderland, Maryland, to draw attention to her booth where she sold goat meat, cheese, ice cream, and raw milk from her farm, Prosperity Acres.
Nadia was a hit.
While children nuzzled the docile goat, parents asked Bowen if she rented Nadia (or any of the other goats in her herd of LaMancha, Alpine, Boer, or Kiko goats she raised at Prosperity Acres) for birthday parties. The repeated requests sparked an idea.
“We started with one birthday party to see how it would go and it was so much fun to watch the kids interact with each other and the goats,” Bowen recalls. “That one birthday party turned into, ‘We should do this more often,’ and it grew from there.”
Bowen started offering birthday parties in 2014. The one-hour events include storytime (featuring the book Bowen wrote, Nadia the Wonder Goat), craft activities and, of course, lots of time to interact with the goats. Bowen will even dress the goats up in costumes — complete with party hats — to go along with party themes like pirates or princesses.
“We try to match the theme,” she says. “It gives the kids the feeling that the goat is really part of the party.”
Bowen has been surprised at the popularity of the events and, even more so, by the excitement of the children to meet her goats.
“My daughter, Jacqueline, was Miss Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau and she thought it was silly at first but city kids don’t spend much time around livestock and she thought the parties would be a good way to educate them about goats,” Bowen recalls. “The kids get so excited; having a goat at their birthday party makes them the cool kid on the block.”
For the best experience, Mary likes to keep the parties small. She limits crowds to 10 children and takes a long two kids. The ratio ensures that all of the children have a chance to interact with the goats. The bottle babies from her dairy herd are her top picks for parties.
“Our bottle babies have such an attachment to humans,” she says. “They are the ones that want to sit with you, be held in your arms, fall asleep in your lap, and that’s what children want at parties — friendly, snuggly goats.”
Parents can book parties at Prosperity Acres. Bowen sets up a small area on the five-acre farm; hosts bring their own cakes and party favors and spend an hour in the bucolic setting but most parents prefer hosting parties in their homes, so Bowen loads goats in the trailer and travels offsite. The fee for a one-hour party for 10 children is $350.
The parties tend to attract children of preschool and elementary school age. Each party starts with Bowen explaining how to safely interact with the goats: No yanking on their ears or pulling their tails, chasing goats, or attempting to ride them is permitted. Children who would like to hold the goats are shown the proper way to get a good snuggle.
While someone from Prosperity Acres always monitors the interactions, Bowen also insists that parents remain nearby to watch their children and ensure appropriate behavior. Both hosts and partygoers must sign waivers. The goal is to protect the farm, of course, and Bowen also wants to make sure that the hosts, who often have little experience with farm animals, understand that the goats might chew their hair or poop on their properties; onsite, she erects temporary fencing to make sure that the goats do not have access to the landscaping. So far, the parties have gone off without a hitch.
At one of her most memorable birthday parties, a mom that panicked about poop at the beginning of the event was so delighted at how her otherwise shy son interacted with the goats that she told Bowen that she’d completely forgotten about the poop.
“Goats allow kids to be themselves and have genuine interactions,” she says. “We want kids to have fun but we also want to educate kids and parents that goats are valuable and can do good in the world.”
Marketing has been the biggest challenge. The Prosperity Acres Facebook page and website includes information about the parties and details are starting to spread via word-of-mouth. Regular “Mommy and Me” days on the farm, when Bowen invites parents and children to help milk goats, participate in crafts, and try goat yoga, also serve as marketing for the birthday parties. In 2020, Bowen hopes to host up to five parties per month.
Birthday parties do help generate revenue for the farm but Bowen hopes the events also foster an important connection between children and animals. After meeting a goat for the first time, one two-year-old told the goat, “I love you goat. Thank you.” Witnessing the interaction made a lasting impression on Bowen.
“Goats are so special,” she says. “The parties let us bring the community together to learn about the goats and develop an appreciation for their place in the world.”
Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.