"Goat therapy": how a solution from Kherson region helps children with autism
Green tourism, therapy, cheese, and milk: how to combine all these things under one roof by one's own forces.
In pet therapy, a treatment through communication with animals, experts call "pet psychologists" "emotional support animals." They differ from professional helpers, such as guide dogs, in that they virtually require no special training; a fairly friendly attitude towards people and the emotional connection between the animal and the patient are enough. Dogs, cats, and horses usually play the responsible role of "Esculapians." But in Muzykivka, a village near Kherson, ordinary goats became doctors. Here, at the mini-farm "Goat Amalthea," they not only make delicious cheeses but also conduct healing "goat therapy" sessions.
According to Greek mythology, Amalthea is a divine goat that fed Zeus with her milk when he was still an infant. It's the name the founder of the unusual farm, Tetiana Stramnova, chose for her first goat, and the whole family business then received its name in her honor.
"I'm exchanging the brood of chicks for something else"
Tetiana Stramnova is a migrant from Donbas. With the beginning of the war in the East, she moved to the Kherson region with her husband and two children. For several years they wandered around rented apartments and only in 2017 the family was lucky enough to buy a house in Muzykivka on credit. Here they decided to resume the work they had been doing before, a quail farm. The choice was dictated not only by the acquired skills. Back in Donetsk, after the birth of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), the woman left the profession of designer and engaged in poultry farming, but suddenly the business brought not only material benefits, parents noticed that communication with birds helps children develop better.
Unfortunately, the business didn't grow in the new place due to huge competition. In desperation, the woman made an announcement: I'm exchanging a brood of quail chicks for something else. The exchange took place, and instead of quails, the first goat appeared on the family farm, also with a kid.
The forced retraining came as a surprise to Roman, Tetiana's husband, but the woman couldn't help but be satisfied with her acquisition; she says she fell in love with goats at first sight. And useful goat's milk wasn't superfluous for children. So there was nowhere to go, they had to build a barn for new residents at an accelerated pace. Tetiana assured her husband that she would limit herself to this pair, but a year later the herd increased to 10, and there was so much milk that the question of its processing arose.
Excess milk led to the idea of making cheese. They started with cheese, but the process was so fascinating that they wanted to go further and do something more complicated. Grants helped their little dream of buying a homemade cheese factory come true. Now "Goat Amalthea" is a farm that produces more than 10 types of cheese, as well as a tourist location for everyone.
So far, the farm doesn't bring much money, but there's enough work for all family members. Since her husband also has a main job, he works as a builder, children came to Tetiana's aid: the eldest daughter learned to milk, which she's extremely proud of, and her son learned to comb and feed goats.
Milk, cheese, and… helping children
"Meanwhile, in a specialized school in Kherson," the woman shared, "teachers and psychologists began to note that because of constant contact with animals, my children are more contactable, more developed. And many mothers said that children growing up in the village have more chances to become independent in the future. It will be more difficult for the city kids to find at least any work. It's how the idea of excursion development trips to the farm for children with autism arose, because, during contact with animals, children better memorize educational material (arithmetic, motility, tactile sensations), learn how to behave and care for animals."
The first visit of ASD students and their parents to the Goat Amalthea contact farm took place in late July. Children and adults tasted the cheeses and got acquainted with the residents of the farm. Everyone was anxious, but, according to the owner of the enterprise, the keepers of the farm and their wards managed to give positive emotions to the guests, both children and parents.
And where there's harmony, peace, and love for the work, miracles certainly happen. Ms. Tetiana tells the story of a young visitor who was very scared of a kitten at the beginning of the tour; fear of animals is often found in children with autism. But then, watching the kids from afar, the boy took courage, came closer, began to feed and stroke them. As a result, he was barely persuaded to leave the goat shed, there was no trace of hysteria, contact with the animals was observed! The boy's mother and the owner of the farm were very surprised by the unexpected behavior: "The boy's mother was shocked because the child didn't approach the animals closer than a meter," Tetiana Stramnova couldn't hold back her tears. "At that moment, I realized: if one child could overcome their fear thanks to my goats, it's not in vain."
Green tourism and therapy, 2 in 1
Goats are interesting to watch even during a regular walk. For example, did you know that goats need to have their "ataman" and deputy? And goats can distinguish people's moods, and prefer to communicate with a smiling person than with a gloomy one. And if you're upset about something, they'll always try to comfort and cheer you up. You can safely let children to the goats. They're well aware that the baby communicates with them, and behave carefully.
Of course, the slow-paced life of a goat farm is very unusual for city dwellers. Everything is different here and there isn't so much entertainment or social contact. But it's the highlight of green tourism. Communication with animals alone fills everyone with natural happiness. For no particular reason, you just feel good, and you return to the city in a state of harmony. It's called "goat therapy."
Currently, there are 23 goats on the Goat Amalthea farm, including 5 goats, 8 milk goats, and 8 kids, and the rest are "marriageable girls." This year, Tetiana has arranged the territory, developed a methodology for teaching children with autism, and, with the beginning of the new school year, is preparing to host more excursion groups. The first experience clearly showed that acquaintance with animals, tasting of cheese and goat's milk bring children with ASD not only good emotions but also visible progress. Shortly, they want to expand (as support, the local authorities have allocated 2 hectares of land to the farm) and purchase refrigeration equipment for cheese maturation; for this, Ms. Tetiana is participating in a grant competition from the Red Cross.
Scientists have yet to prove the medical benefits of communicating with tame goats and kids, but the fact remains: none of the visitors to the "Goat Amalthea" has left this place in a bad mood. Anyone can come to the farm in Muzykivka to hug the farm animals and see with their own eyes how the craft delicacies are made. On the farm, you can rent territory for events, hold a photoshoot in a country style, book a tour of the farm, and tasting branded cheeses. All these services are free for children with ASD and their parents.
However, Tetiana Stramnova considers not only the unity of humans with nature the main development vector of her farm: "Our mission is the socialization of children with autism." First, it will be caring for animals, then children will be able to master the wisdom of cheese making and later earn a living. The woman wants her farm to be a support for ASD children, help them find vocations, and help raise the younger generation of farmers she plans to employ in the future.
You can support the "Contact Farm To Help Children With Autism" project by ordering craft products from the social enterprise. Parcels with cheeses are sent to any region of Ukraine. Just write to the page of the "Goat Amalthea" farm on Facebook.