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A sure sign of spring? Baby Animals at Hancock Shaker Village

63rd season is focused on exploring the villages's 'Shaker Roots'


Get up close with the newborns at Hancock Shaker Village. These piglets and their mother, were recently hanging out in the dairy ell of the Round Stone Barn.

PITTSFIELD — "Everybody loves the pigs. They're adorable."

"But I tell everybody, we're all cute when we're small," says Bill Mangiardi, Hancock Shaker Village's director of farm and facilities, during a stop in the Dairy Ell, were the newest litter of piglets is racing around their mother. A week old, they've already doubled in size, he says. 

Mangiardi, more commonly known as "Farmer Billy" has been helping to bring the Village's newest residents — calves, piglets, lambs and kids — into the world since mid-March. the youngest arrivals on this spring afternoon, April 7, are a pair of lambs, born at 10:30 a.m.

"It was right after our senior staff meeting," said Director Nathaniel Silver, who was on hand to witness the births. "One needed help because it was the wrong way around. As soon as that one was born, Billy said, 'I think there's going to be another.' He walked away for a minute and suddenly, the second lamb was just there. It didn't need help. It was just lying there on the hay and the mother was taking care of it." 

The newborns rest under a heat lamp in a closed off pen with their mother, who is urging them to nurse, as two week-old lambs — one white and one black — slip between nearby pens despite their mother's bleating calls to come back. 

While most of the births go smoothly, there are a few instances when Mangiardi has had to intervene. This year, he resuscitated a lamb that wasn't breathing after leaving the birth canal. 

"I had to give him a little CPR and clean the airways out and give him a little couple of puffs of air. He came around," he said. The lamb, the first of three, wasn't the only one having trouble. The third lamb was breach and had to be helped out as well. 

"We're in the mix of it," Mangiardi said, as he pointed to sheep, goats and a sow who were all in various stages of maternity. He expects that most of, if not all, of the expecting mothers will have given birth by the time Baby Animals opens. 

At Hancock Shaker Village, the new arrivals signal not only the start of spring, but also announce a new season of programming is about to begin.

Baby Animals, now in its 21st year, kicks off Hancock Shaker Village’s 63rd season on April 15. Baby Animals runs daily, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through May 7.

Mangiardi was happy to report that he's seen more black Merino sheep be born this year than usual.  

"That's kind of unusual," he said. "It's the natural color of the merino's coming back now. But back in the early days, the 1700s, they culled them all off, because if you had white sheep you could dye your wool any color you wanted. If you had black wool, you were stuck with the black."

But the black sheep always survived, he said, because the Shakers always saved one black sheep for every 300 white sheep as a way to identify how many sheep were in a flock.

"If you had one black sheep, there were 300 sheep in the flock; two black ones meant 600 sheep, three meant 900 sheep," Mangiardi said.

Baby Animals began in 2002, as a collaboration of Hancock Shaker Village and New England Heritage Breeds Conservancy. The event, Baby Animals: New Life on the Farm, was held in the 1910 barn with the aim of highlighting heritage animal breeds while allowing children to get up close with farm animals. Held every year since, save for 2004, Baby Animals has become a beloved annual event.

As in past years, visitors will be able to once again get up close and personal with some of the animals during their visits. There also will be plenty of baby chicks on hand, as they arrive after being hatched in classrooms around Berkshires, through a collaborative hatchery program. And still more will be incubated and hatched at the Village throughout the three week program. 

Want an exclusive experience? The Village's "Behind the Scenes Tours" return this year, with hands-on experience and wagon hayride that happens every day at 10 a.m., a hour prior to opening. Special tickets are required.

For those who love watching the flock get tidied up, the annual Sheep Shearing Weekend will take place April 22 and 23.

In addition to Baby Animals, the Village will kick off the rest of its seasonal programming which, this year, is focused on exploring its Shaker roots, by highlighting their commitment to the perfection of form and function in daily life, the global reach of iconic Shaker designs, and the artists they inspire today.


A lamb looks out of its pen at Hancock Shaker Village. 

Also opening on April 15 are "Stillness and Light" a show of 16 black-and-white photographs captured one autumn morning in 2017 by John Mancia, and "Handled With Care: The Function of Form in Shaker Craft," an exhibition, in collaboration with the New Britain Museum of American Art, that celebrates baskets to boxes — everyday items elevated by the Shakers' devotion to beauty, order and proportion. In addition, two of Barbara Prey's watercolors, "Red Cloak Blue Bucket" and "Wood Work," produced during her 2018-19 residency, will accompany the exhibit, extending the exploration of light and architecture highlighted by Mancia. 

"We wanted to open the exhibitions at the same time, so our visitors could see everything when they come, but we're kind of soft opening the exhibitions, which we'll celebrate more towards the end of May," Silver said. 

The Village also is celebrating the restoration of The Tannery. The restoration, done with $100,000 raised through donations at last year's summer gala, Silver said, has repaired water damage on the lower edge of the building; put an accessible floor down in the lower levels, covering the uneven stone, non-original floor that kept many visitors from visiting the blacksmith shop and added replaced a ramp on the upper level. 

"We have a challenging site from an accessibility point of view, but one of our long-term goals is to increase accessibility across our site," Silver said. "In addition to that restoration work, we also took the opportunity to reinstall the whole tannery."


A fresh litter of piglets feeds at Hancock Shaker Village.

The tannery, he explained, became the Village's woodworking shop, where today, volunteers and interpreters can be seen working on oval boxes and other pieces of furniture.  

To celebrate the restoration, the Village is featuring the drawings of Danish cabinet maker Ejner Handberg, an immigrant who settle in the Berkshires, visited the Shakers and recorded local Shaker designs that he published in a how-to manual for craftsmen. Handberg, Silver said, brought Shaker designs to Denmark and beyond, where Shaker designs inspired and still inspire craftsmen today.  

The season also includes the popular Back Porch Concert series. The Food for Thought dinner series, Shaker Suppers, Sunset Celebrations, a special Bright Ideas Craft Beer Dinner on June 16 and a Cider Maker’s Dinner on July 15.

For more information, visit hancockshakervillage.org.


The first litter of seven piglets arrived at Hancock Shaker Village in early March. A second litter was born two weeks ago.


Hancock Shaker Village

Where: 1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily, beginning April 16.

Admission: $20, adults; $18, seniors, AAA members, MTA cardholders and active/retired U.S. military; $8, ages 13 to 17; free for children 12 and under.

Tickets and more information: 413-443-0188, hancockshakervillage.org


When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 15 through May 7

What: Visit with the newest arrivals at Hancock Shaker Village. For daily activities, visit hancockshakervillage.org

Cost: Included with admission.


When: 10 to 11 a.m., April 15 through May 7

What: Hop aboard the hayride and get the dirt about the farm from the farmers. Learn little known facts and secrets about the Shaker farm, and pet baby goats, lambs and piglets. Tours are limited to 20 people and happen only once daily.

Cost: $50 per person. Fee includes HSV admission.


When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., April 22 and 23

What: This is the weekend the Village's sheep shed their winter wool, getting their annual haircuts. Talk to expert farmers as they shear the flock; smell and touch the lanolin, and learn about pasture-raised sheep.

Cost: Included with admission.

EXHIBITION: 'Handled with Care: The Function of Form in Shaker Craft'

On view: Beginning April 15

What: From baskets to boxes, the Shakers elevated the everyday objects around them with beauty, order, and proportion. This exhibition is in collaboration with the New Britain Museum of American Art.

Cost: Included with admission.

EXHIBITION: 'Stillness and Light by John Mancia'

On view: Beginning April 15

What: Comprised of 16 black and white photographs captured one autumn morning in 2017 by John Mancia, these photographs attest to the particular qualities of light across the Village.

Cost: Included with admission.


What: Enjoy a communal meal while learning more about the Shakers.

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., May 12

Cost: TBA


When: 10 a.m. to noon, June 3, July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Oct. 7

What: Learn basic blacksmithing skills at the Village’s coal-fired forge in a private lesson with instructor Rick Ryer.

Cost: $150 for a two-hour session. $135 for members. $15 materials fee.


What: Enjoy a communal meal while learning more about the Shakers.

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., June 9

Cost: TBA


What: Bright Ideas Brewing brings their locally brewed craft beers to pair with a farm-to-table meal.

When: 6 p.m. June 16

Cost: TBA


When: 7 p.m., July 7. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

What: Concert by Berkshire native and Grammy-nominated CJ Fields. Concerts are on the back porch – guests sit on the lawn, bring a blanket or lawn chair. If rain is forecast, the concert will move indoors.

Cost: $20, advance; $25, day of; free for 12 and under.


What: Enjoy a delicious dinner and hear American artist Barbara Prey speak about her work.

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., July 13

Cost: TBA


When: 6 p.m., July 15

What: Learn more about the Berkshire Cider Project's process, including how they make sparkling hard cider from heirloom apples gathered in the Village's historic orchard at an al fresco multi-course savory dinner featuring craft cider pairings.

Cost: TBA


What: Enjoy a delicious dinner and hear author, podcaster and "Trevor Project" editor Ryan Bernsten discuss his book "50 States of Mind."

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., July 27

Cost: TBA


When: 7 p.m., July 21. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

What: Austin Music Awards featured fold artist and fiddle player, Phoebe Hunt, performs music from her newly released album “Nothing Else Matters.” Concerts are on the back porch — guests sit on the lawn, bring a blanket or lawn chair. If rain is forecast, the concert will move indoors.

Cost: $20, advance; $25, day of; free for 12 and under.


When: 7 p.m., Aug. 18. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

What: Skilled in both guitar and double bass since childhood, Tony Lee Thomas dips into classic vocal techniques. Concerts are on the back porch – guests sit on the lawn, bring a blanket or lawn chair. If rain is forecast, the concert will move indoors.

Cost: $20, advance; $25, day of; free for 12 and under.


What: Join bestselling author, Ilyon Woo, for a dinner discussion about her newest book "Master Slave Husband."

When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., Aug. 24

Cost: TBA


When: 7 p.m., Sept. 1. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

What: Soulful singer-songwriter Jake Klar’s style dances between acoustic fold and alternative rock, occasionally featuring a hint of jazz.Concerts are on the back porch – guests sit on the lawn, bring a blanket or lawn chair. If rain is forecast, the concert will move indoors.

Cost: $20, advance; $25, day of; free for 12 and under.

For a full listing of events, dinners, concerts, workshops and more, visit hancockshakervillage.org.

Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached at jhuberdeau@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6229. On Twitter: @BE_DigitalJen

Features Editor

Jennifer Huberdeau is The Eagle's features editor. Prior to The Eagle, she worked at The North Adams Transcript. She is a 2021 Rabkin Award Winner, 2020 New England First Amendment Institute Fellow and a 2010 BCBS Health Care Fellow.

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