WILLSBORO — Deandre Richardson paused, squinted at the horse, looked at the brush before turning his attention to the stable attendant:
“Is there supposed to be this much hair? This is a lot of hair.”
Richardson, 16, had just had his first experience with a horse and he thought it was neat.
“I like this farm a lot, especially because I get to experience animals hands on.”
He found himself in the stable at the Ben Wever Farm on Friday, April 25 with his classmates from the Life Sciences Secondary School in Manhattan, an environment in which some North Country domestic creatures are as exotic as, say, the hiss of subway doors to kids from Willsboro.
The diversified livestock farm is what’s billed as a conception-to-consumer facility by Linda Gillilland, the farm’s co-owner and Friday’s erstwhile tour guide.
“It’s the whole great circle of life.”
The trip comes as part of a sweep through the region facilitated by a group called College for Every Student (CFES), the Essex-based non-profit that seeks to foster greater opportunities for students who run the risk of falling between the cracks.
During the two-hour tour, Gillilland gave the kids a crash course in five general areas of husbandry — horses, ducks and chickens, sheep, dogs and cows — that kept the crew captivated and engaged.
“Kids generally know when they’re expected to ask questions,” said program director Michelle Bialeck. “But these kids are genuinely excited and interested.”
Among their inquiries:
“Why are eggs all different colors and sizes?”
Answer: Eggs vary by breed, said Gillilland.
“Who knows what a farrier is?”
That’s a professional tasked with equine foot care.
“Why are the lambs running around in a circle,” asked another, referring to the maelstrom that erupted when the dozen-strong group meandered over to their pen for a closer look.
It’s an evolutionary thing, said Gillilland. They’re waiting for the weakest to fall.
“Do these guys ever go inside?” asked another, referring to the pair of ivory-colored canines, a pair of non-lethal livestock guardian dogs who were keeping a watchful eye on their charges.
They don’t, said Gillilland. They’re main objective is to protect their flock.
She opened the gate, brought a terrified-looking kid into the pen and they immediately turned docile, like oversized white puffballs.
“They will do anything they can to protect the sheep but they’re still human friendly,” said Gillilland. “When you’re on this side of the fence, they’re completely pleasant.”
“I WANT TO BE A VET”
Not all factoids were sunny.
As a cluster of brown cows blankly stared at the group, all of whom were constantly snapping photos and posting them on Instagram, Gillilland concluded a short lecture on ruminants by telling the wide-eyed bunch that the creatures were going to end up in a chest freezer, ground up and sold for $5 per proud to local carnivores.
“It’s not all big brown eyes and sunshine,” said Gillilland. “We are a working farm that provides meat.”
“Education is one thing people can’t take away from you,” she later said. “Nothing is a waste — it’s just how you tie it up in a nice neat package. One day, you’ll wake up and know what you want to do.”
“I want to be a vet,” said Richardson while cradling Pansy, a tame lamb that followed the group around. “I’ve always loved animals.”
Richardson said the experience was different from his life in Manhattan but enjoyed the experience.
The Willsboro contingent headed to New York on Sunday.
On their itinerary: The obligatory Today Show stop, a visit to the Life Sciences Academy, an NYU tour and a workshop at the Harlem World Famous Apollo Theater.
“I’m very interested in NYU,” said Mikaela Salem, a tenth-grader at Willsboro. “I really liked the combination of academics and the arts.”
“It has really been great, seeing how other people live, seeing so many people in one school,” said John Oliver after visiting Life Sciences Academy on Monday, April 28.
“I’d love for my track to be the East River.”