On a hike through the rolling hills of Willow Spring Farm in Ashton, it’s important to double-knot your shoelaces. “Sully is really good at untying shoes,” Morgan Hayes says. Sully’s not the only one. On a hike with Goat’n Around, the nine animals that accompany guests rarely stop eating brush or trying to nibble shoelaces and suckle coat hems.
Goat’n Around is the work of Hayes, 38, and her partner, Kelley Davis, 33. Though the goat hikes are offered at Willow Spring, Goat’n Around is itself a farm, and guests are welcome to visit that Silver Spring property and meet the gang. They’re mostly “Nigerian dwarf crosses of some kind,” Hayes says, with some tiny-eared LaManchas and angular Nubian heritage thrown in.
But Goat’n Around is also a multifaceted business that takes advantage of the couple’s many skills and the beauty of Montgomery County. For instance, you can go on a goat hike at the much larger Willow Spring Farm, about seven minutes from their home, which teams with Hayes and Davis for roughly 1-mile jaunts. The farm, which boasts a derelict but still stunning 18th-century barn, is owned by Carrie Ann and Jefferson Williams. Nine of Hayes and Davis’ 11 goats load very willingly into the Goat’n Around truck—the two nearly 200-pound Nubian males are too big—for the drive to Willow Spring Farm.
Jim and Diane Chandler’s family went on a goat hike last fall, and the Highland, Maryland, residents came away with great souvenirs of the day, including family pictures of about a dozen members of their extended clan on a trek with a herd of admirably socialized critters.
“The goats have so much personality,” says Jim Chandler, who heard about the farm through an ad on Nextdoor.
Hikers will quickly get to know each one. Goats Lorelai and Rory, a young mother and daughter just like the Gilmore Girls after whom they’re named, stick close to each other. “Marlee can be really sassy,” says Davis, who hangs back in order to account for each animal. Louie loves people and relishes the attention he gets for his black-and-white markings and ice-blue eyes.
Louie also is a star in front of Hayes’ camera. Photography is another of Goat’n Around’s services, and Hayes provided shots for the Chandlers. She’s been taking photos as a “side thing” for over a decade and has developed a knack for capturing special moments with humans and animals.
Hayes also totes along her Nikon for “goat grams,” a service in which “The Goat Lady,” as she identifies herself on her business card, brings her four-legged friends to clients. A one-hour visit costs $150 and includes two goats. For $50 more, a two-hour goat gram includes four of the animals along with downloadable photos.
“Goats and people have a very longstanding history of working together,” Hayes says. “Goats consider people their herd.” Because of the bond that’s been formed among Hayes, Davis and the goats, the owners don’t need to use harnesses or leashes to get the animals to behave, Hayes says: “They naturally want to stay together to avoid predators.”
You could say animals brought Hayes and Davis together. They met four years ago when both were working in animal control in Virginia; Davis is still a deputy animal control officer for the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. They moved to Maryland two years ago when Hayes got an animal control job in the area, which fell through. “I’d never been unemployed in my life,” she recalls. With two young human kids, she quickly went into business for herself with The Dog Squad, a dog hiking service that includes boarding, baths and photo sessions, as well as taking your pooch for a trek in the woods.
“I posted videos of just hiking with the goats on our property in Ashton,” Hayes remembers. People who saw her social media posts began checking to see if they could visit the farm, and “it became big,” she adds. “People and animals really need each other. Animals provide a stress relief, serotonin response for people. So we let people come to the farm and mingle with them.”
A segment on NBC4 Washington followed, and Hayes and Davis found Willow Spring Farm via a Facebook post in a farmers group. How did they know the goats would be amenable to hiking? Hayes recalls that when she and Davis lived in Suffolk, Virginia, and had only four goats, the family would tell the goats that they were going for a walk. The creatures would follow. “They love hanging out by the bonfire with us,” she says. “And they love being brushed. Everyone does pretty well together.” That includes Nellie the pig, who occasionally joins her goat friends on hikes.
Hayes estimates Goat’n Around has hosted more than 100 humans since its first public hike in October. They hike most weekends, and anyone can sign up for $40, or $20 for children; kids under age 2 go along for free. For a flat fee of $300, there is also the option to do a private group of 10 to 13, as the Chandler family did.
A hike ends with cookies baked and frosted by a local baker to resemble the individual goats. Whether the treat looks like Louie, Marlee or another of the animals, they are almost too cute to eat. It’s a sweet ending to a memorable day for guests.
“For something that was not planned, it’s become a very rewarding experience. We’re just thankful that we get to do this,” Hayes says. For their part, the goats are just looking forward to their next taste of a new shoelace.
This story appears in the March/April issue of Bethesda Magazine.