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Kids, both human and otherwise, meet over muffins

Plimoth Plantation's Breakfast with the Animals program takes families behind the scenes at wake-up time

Jake Dagesse carries a goat at Plimoth Plantation with help from Arianna Wolff (right), a volunteer for the program. Jake Dagesse carries a goat at Plimoth Plantation with help from Arianna Wolff (right), a volunteer for the program. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2008
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PLYMOUTH - Hold the bacon and eggs; this is strictly a whole-grain breakfast kind of crowd.

At Plimoth Plantation, visitors are getting an early morning, behind-the-scenes peek at the rare-breed animals that live in the 1627 heritage village.

Before the day's tourists arrive, they get to feed the young Arapawa goats and Wiltshire sheep, and free the red Dorking hens - and an arrogant rooster called Chaunticleer - from their coop. In a sprawling pasture that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, they can brush down the Kerry and Milking Devon cows.

Once the chores are done, families head to one of the thatched-roof village houses to make some butter for their breakfast muffins.

One recent Saturday, 5-year-old buddies Mark Swindle and Jake Dagesse, both of Middleborough, attended "Breakfast with the Animals" with their mothers.

"Jake was thrilled to come," said Suzanne Dagesse. "We've been talking about this for about a month."

Once the goats had been fed their hay and grain, Jake volunteered to hold a young goat named Poppers, who was born in January, along with her sister, Winter, and brother, Daniel. "I was a little nervous when I held the goat, but I was brave," Jake said.

His pal Mark showed some bravery himself when he was given a firm nudge in the chest by Daniel, who was a little feisty that morning due to the windy weather conditions. The little goat earned a "time-out" in the barn for that maneuver, but Mark shook the incident off and rejoined the fun.

Jon Larason and Shelley Otis, two plantation interpreters (Peter and Martha Brown) lead the breakfast sessions dressed in their modern garb. That makes it easier to discuss how 17th century Pilgrims managed their animals compared to what people do today, Larason said.

"Back then, the animals fed themselves," he said. "It wasn't until much later that animals were fenced in."

Most animals wandered at will in the village and the nearby woods. In the morning, "they would be coming in the door."

Larason and Otis also discussed why certain breeds were selected for the Colonial-style village.

Some, like the cows, would have been common in England back in the 1600s. Others, like the Arapawa goats, were chosen partially because of their appearance.

"We keep the goats because they look like the goats in pictures and descriptions from that period," Larason said.

The breed is also in need of protection - another of the plantation's priorities when making selections. These goats, brought to Arapawa Island off New Zealand by sailors, are quickly disappearing, Larason said.

The pig, in fact, was the most plentiful animal in 17th century New England, but Plimoth Plantation chose not to have them. "They are too dangerous," Larason explained. "They will bite you."

On that blustery Saturday, 10-year-old Heather Gaughan of Scituate, a veteran 4-H club member, was given the task of leading Rose, a 2,000-pound Kerry cow, out to pasture.

The wind had made the cows much more restless than usual. Otis said the animals would not be allowed to wander at will through the village that day. "Part of our job is to know their moods," she said.

Still, the cows, trained to respond to a string of commands, are far more intelligent than today's more common Holsteins, the plantation staff members said.

Even younger children, like 3-year-old Ethan Parker of Plymouth and his 7-month-old sister, Madison, can enjoy the breakfast program. Ethan kept up with the older children through every step of the chores.

"He did so well," said his mother, Morgan. "He woke up this morning yelling 'I'm so excited.' "

New this year, the Breakfast with the Animals program began in June. It will continue on most Fridays and Saturdays until Nov. 22. Early sign-up is suggested, since the group is limited to 15 people. During the summer, most sessions sold out.

The cost is $14 for adult members and $7 for children; $20 for adult nonmembers and $10 for their children.

For more information, see www.plimoth.org.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com

Omission: The caption accompanying a photograph that ran with a Nov. 6 article about Plimoth Plantation's Breakfast With the Rare Breed Animals program did not identify Arianna Wolff, a volunteer for the program.

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