ROCK FALLS – Andrea Hensgen, owner of Horseplay Farm, loves her animals. She gives her goats names like Poppet, Snuggles, Waddles and Cuddles.
At her farm on West Thome Road, she raises, sells and breeds not only goats but also horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys, English shepherds, and the occasional mule.
On July 14, a likely well-intentioned couple, without checking with her first, dumped several bags full of bread over the fence for the goats to eat. After some other well-meaning children had been by and also hand-fed them bread. After Hensgen already had fed them for the day.
So, three feedings within 2 hours. That’s very bad for goats.
“It’s like giving candy to kids,” she said. “They eat until they get sick.”
By the time Hensgen realized what had happened, nine goats from her herd of 30 were down and seriously ill; a handful of others were in minor distress.
Despite her efforts to save them, two died the next day, bloated from poisons that developed in the gastrointestinal tracts from overeating.
Snuggles was the first to go, followed by Newt. Trouble and Poppet died a day later.
The good news: The five others – Strudel, Cuddles, Butter, Waddles and Biscuit – have recovered, she said.
Her message: “Please don’t assume you have the right to feed animals that aren’t your own. A farm is not a petting zoo.”
Despite her “no trespassing” signs, Hensgen had to start padlocking her gate, because people – strangers – would just walk in to her yard and feed her animals.
“They just don’t get the concept,” she said. “I don’t go into your yard and feed your dog.”
Now she’ll also post “don’t feed” signs.
Horseplay is a working farm, and despite her goats’ cute and cuddly names, Hensgen is not overly sentimental about the animals.
“They are farm animals; the males go for meat,” she said. “But they have good lives. I love them while they’re with me, and I take as good a care of them as I can. They are known to me by name; they are individuals.”
In fact, the ones that got the sickest were the friendliest ones, the ones most likely to come up to a stranger who offers food, she said.
Hensgen has had a few days to cool down, and although the heartache remains, she’s not angry anymore. No lawsuit is in the works. No harsh words for anyone involved.
“Obviously, I’m going hysterical as goats are dropping all around me, but nobody meant any harm. I know that much,” she said Wednesday, a week after her the last two died.
And despite it all, she’s not opposed to visitors. “I’m always happy to show folks around.”
All she asks is that you check in with her first.
Besides, it’s not just the animals that can be endangered by a random encounter. Goats butt. Horses kick. Geese are ornery. Ever get bit by one? It hurts.
Stop by a farm and “the odds of you getting hurt are there,” Hensgen said. “Even the best dog, the best horse, they get scared.”
She just hopes people will hear her story and learn a lesson: “Do not feed other people’s animals without their permission, each and every time.”