First Love is Second Nature

Abrams Farm is a labor of love
Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:00pm

Something you might not expect to see when you visit Block Island is a pair of Bactrian camels, a pair of kangaroos, a Zedonk or a troop of Lemurs.

Exotic animals on Block Island?

Yes, there sure are — and you can find them at Abrams Farm.

Justin Abrams and family, owners of the Hotel Manisses and the 1661 Inn, run the ever-growing farm on Spring Street. In the early 1970’s Justin started with a few goats and a horse and over the years he started lovingly tending to all sorts of breeds — both domestic and exotic — but is now ready to hand over the reigns to his grandson, Seth Draper, who has been helping his grandfather on the farm since he was a small child.

The farm is always a popular place for locals and visitors to enjoy year-round. I have spent endless hours there when my boys were very small, feeding the llamas, ducks and our all-time favorite McDuff (a Scottish Highland Cattle, who has since passed.)

A Tale of Two Camels

I met with Seth and Justin one morning after hearing that the two camels that took up residence on Spring Street last year — Rusty and Lucky — had just returned from being away all winter.

Rusty and Lucky are just over one year old and enjoy a diet of grains, soy and greens. Over the winter, while they were still young and small enough, the pair traveled back to the farm they were born on in Tennessee (via horse trailer) to be neutered and to be trained in daily domestic “manners.”

Nayla and Kalila were the two camels at the farm in the early 2000’s  — they were dromedary camels — which are less adaptive to the weather conditions on Block Island, particularly in the winter.

Bactrian camels, such as Rusty and Lucky, are exceptionally adept at withstanding wide variations in temperature – ranging from freezing cold to blistering heat. So the two are more suited for New England winters than the two camels before them.

They also have feet that are better for cold slippery (icey) ground surfaces, with more of a “grip” than their dromedary relatives. The Bactrian camel has a stocky, broader build and has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary — and it is by far the rarer.

Now they are home on the island and Seth proudly tells me “they are here now to enjoy life and to be enjoyed by others.”

The camels will winter in and out of the heated barn — along with a troop of Lemurs (Mom, dad and baby) 2 Kangaroos named Joey and Petunia, a pair of Crown Crains and 2 tortoises — all of whom need extra warmth in the cold weather.

Some New Arrivals

Seth introduced me to the two newest members of the farm — two-week-old Emus. The male and a female will stay in the barn until they grow a little bit bigger. So cute!

The farm is also home to a Zebu, 2 Scottish Highland Cattle, a Yak, a Zedonk (there are only 200 in the world!), a mini Sicilian Donkey, 3 4-horned Jacob’s Sheep (breed goes back over 7,000 years), fainting goats, 3 llamas, 5 Alpaca, 2 rabbits, 2 black swans, and several ducks, geese and visiting seasonal birds.

But don’t think that this will be all — Seth has big plans.

Plans for an Aviary

He is in the middle of building an enclosed aviary that will span 75x75 feet with water falls, fountains from beautiful sculptures and an array of exotic birds — planning to be finished this summer. His landscape business takes up most of his time, so he will be working on this project when he can.

Once he is finished with that, he has plans for more expansion with a new barn to house a Serval (a medium-sized African wild cat) and possibly some Ruffed Lemurs.

“My plan is to turn this area into a nicely manicured estate-like farm, with manicured grounds and exotic animals,” Seth says with a huge dreamy smile on his face.

Hard Work is Worth it

And, while pointing at the large garden area that grows year after year, providing veggies, greens and garnishes for the Manisses and The 1661 Inn for decades, he adds “With these gardens we can grow food and veggies and have a self-sustainable hotel, farm and Inn.”

Where does he get his love for the hard work it takes to run a farm?

Seth says he has never known anything different.

“Growing up on the farm with the animals, the tractors, it all became second nature to me — without it I would not feel complete. My grandfather and the farm is what kept me on Block Island, and now I want to continue and  someday have my own kids, or nieces and nephews, enjoy it like I do.”

Abrams Farm is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Make a point to stop by for a visit!