Come Jan. 1, most people begin putting away their holiday decorations and tossing out their drooping Christmas trees.
But many may not realize that by donating their tree to a local farm, they can and give it a second life.
Goats, sheep and alpaca herds apparently love pine trees as a tasty treat.
“It gives your tree another life,” JJ Grace, owner of Grace’s Family Farm, said.
Grace’s livestock farm raises about 100 cattle, 200 chickens, 50 goats and 30 sheep, primarily for meat. JJ has been operating the farm in McConnellsburg with his father, Jeff, for nearly 30 years.
This year, the tree donations “exploded,” thanks to social media.
“We’ve been doing it for three years,” he said. “This is the second year we’ve made trips to go and get the trees. Before it used to be that people would just drop off the trees, but since we’ve had goats, we send out a message on Facebook. This year has been crazy though.”
The Facebook post Grace mentioned had been viewed over 20,000 times and shared nearly 80.
“We just expected some of our loyal customers from the farmer’s markets to donate,” he said.
Usually, the farm receives five or six trees. This year, they’ve already gotten close to two dozen. The Grace family held pick-ups in Waynesboro, McConnellsburg and even Martinsburg, West Virginia this year.
“My big thing is we don’t need all of them,” he said. “We’re not going to Chambersburg, but if you’ve got a local farm in Chambersburg that has goats, see if they would want to take it.”
Grace did want to inform his neighbors interested in donating that trees must be in their natural state for it to be a safe snack for the animals.
“You don’t want to have tinsel or sprays on it,” he said. “You want to keep it as natural as possible. We don’t want any sick goats or sheep.”
As soon as Grace tossed the trees in the goat and sheep enclosures, it was obvious how enthusiastic the animals were about the treat. It takes them only an hour to devour it.
In addition to the fact that the animals love it, pine trees have also shown promise as a natural dewormer for farm animals, according to Grace.
“You’ll get that big nice big fluffy Christmas tree and then it’s a toothpick once they’re done with it,” he said.
The Grace Farm isn’t the only operation with herds hungry for disposable holiday decor.
Linda Taggart of Windy Oaks Farm in Mercersburg also put out a call on Facebook for tree treats to satisfy her herd of alpacas and Shetland sheep. She raises them primarily for wool, a devotee to the fiber arts – knitting and even spinning her own product.
Taggart, too, was shocked by a generous response.
“This year, it was really awesome,” she said. “I got several people offering trees, but before I got most of them, a guy from town who works at a Lowe’s in Winchester said he had 25 trees leftover. He said, ‘that way I don’t have to throw them away and they go to a good cause.'”
Throwing the trees into the herd enclosure offers a change of pace for the animals, Taggart said.
“It’s mostly just a treat,” she said. “I didn’t know the alpacas would love it, but the Shetlands are actually more browsers – like goats – than just grazers that only eat grass. It gives them a little bit of entertainment value as well as nutritional supplements. My boys like to head but the trees, which is sort of funny.”
Because the Windy Oaks herd is a bit smaller than the Grace farm – Two rams, four wethers, nine ewes, ten alpacas and a llama – it takes them a bit longer to nibble the trees down.
In about a week’s time, a tree is transformed into a toothpick, according to Taggart.
“It’s not their main source of food – they’re not gonna strip it in one day,” she said. “But they eat everything down to the bark.”
The trees donated to Windy Oaks could even have a third use, Taggart said.
“Instead of putting fencing to make individual paddocks in here, I’m going to try and do hedgerows, which is where I’ll have living hedges basically to make the fences,” she said. “I’ll use [chewed-down trees] as a framework and put plants inside them so that they have a little protection coming up.”
For both of the farmers, their animals are aspects of the farm they thoroughly enjoy. Offering the herds a January spruce snack is a delayed holiday gift of sorts and their way to locally recycle decor that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
“They just love it,” Taggart said.
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