When Norman Collier started renting a five-acre piece of land in Pickering, Ont., in the ’90s, the Humane Society asked him if he’d look after some of their rescues.
“They wanted to know if I’d take a goat or a pig or whatever they had to spare,” said Collier. “I said, ‘Certainly.'”
Collier says he continued taking in just about every species of farm animal, from ducks to cows to goats, and he decided to turn his property into a petting farm.
Twenty-five years later, his farm now houses hundreds of animals and that draw visitors from across the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.
Collier, now 75 years old, appropriately named it Wild Things Petting Farm, as there are no cages or pens on his property — he lets all of the animals, from the biggest cow to the tiniest chick, roam freely.
Nearly all of his animals are rescues, and each has its own backstory. He took in Mini the goat, for example, from the Humane Society after she lost parts of her ears to frostbite.
There is even a Canada goose on the farm, and he is the only one, as he ended up on the farm after a fateful mix-up at a Whitevale, Ont., fair earlier this year. Collier and some of his volunteers were at the event with some of the farm’s animals, and a couple of kids brought the bird — a gosling at the time — to them, thinking it belonged to Wild Things.
It didn’t, but Collier took him home anyway, and a volunteer says that the “ducks have raised him.”
“He’s a member of the duck family now,” said Karen Francis. “They all hang out together. We’re really hoping he stays with us.”
Collier charges each visitor to his farm $8, but all of what visitors pay goes toward the animals’ medical care and food as well as rent for the farmland.
He pockets none of the money, and he lives in a mobile home on the property, which he says is “the best house” he has ever had. Collier says aside from running the farm, he used to be an artist. He says he has lived in poverty all his life, putting his pets before himself.
“There’s lots of animals that need money,” he said. “I can’t see accumulating money.”
Many of the farm’s visitors, like Patricia Knapp as well as her sister, 13-year-old Katie, have become so attached to his initiative that they have joined the Wild Things team of volunteers.
Knapp, 10, regularly feeds the cows and tends to them as part of her farm duties. She says, “My favourite part is just getting to cuddle with the animals. It’s just so cute, and it’s really nice to see that you’re doing something to help them. It makes you feel really good.”
“It’s nice to do,” said Collier. “You need companions anyway. Animals are nice companions.”