Montgomery farm gives a home to animals in need

August 1, 2012

On Monday, Anne Shroeder could barely stand.

She spent the weekend showing off her animal rescue farm for the Montgomery County Farm Tour. When she finally had a chance to sit, she saw an e-mail from a visitor.

His daughter was so touched by her visit that she emptied her piggy bank to donate to the farm.

Star Gazing Farm was one of the 15 farms to open its doors during the tour, and it gained 20 new sponsors, who donated money to specific animals.

“It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” said Schroeder, a self-described “city girl” from Providence, R.I.

The operation, and hierarchy, of Star Gazing Farm in Boyds is complex.

Horses dominate the steers; the steers dominate the sheep; the pig and sheep dominate each other; and the dogs dominate everyone.

And then there is Shroeder to lead the pack.

“I’m thinking of making a diagram to explain it,” said Shroeder, who owns the animal rescue farm.

Star Gazing Farm has been operating as a nonprofit group for the past 10 years, taking in abused, abandoned and sick animals. Owned and operated by Shroeder, with the help of volunteers, the farm hosts more than 40 animals, including llamas, ducks, geese, chickens, a donkey, rabbits and a cat.

On the morning of July 24, Shroeder began her chores by pushing open the pen where ducks, geese and chickens live. Three baby pools needed to be refilled with water so the ducks could bathe and drink. She dropped a hose in one of the pools and tried to corral Elizabeth, a white duck, to administer drops for her eye infection.

Shroeder is middle-aged with long brown hair. Her T-shirt is worn, and she wears what she calls her air-conditioned pants, which sport a small hole in the leg.

She checked on John, another duck, named for her father. John was bitten by a snapping turtle and was taken in by Shroeder. The incident injured his legs, and he has just begun to hobble.

“A lot of people drop their domestic ducks in parks thinking they can survive. They are cute when they are little, but they grow up fast and poop a lot,” Shroeder said.

The four-acre farm operates on a budget of about $45,000, and most of the daily work is done by Shroeder.

“We get along on a shoestring budget,” she said. Shroeder sometimes gives up necessities to help the farm; for example, her farm truck is a 1988 Dodge pickup.

Star Gazing Farm has been saving up money to build a new barn, but it still is about $3,000 short. To pay the bills, the farm relies on donations.

Others donate their time as well.

Volunteers are an integral part of keeping Star Gazing alive. Anyone 11 or older is welcome to volunteer; Shroeder’s roster has about 70 people — most from Montgomery County. But a core group of 15 does most of the work.

“They lug bales of hay. It’s hard and it’s sweaty, but they learn a lot,” she said.

Jake Pittleman, 16, of Derwood, who has been volunteering for five years, does everything from cleaning the barn to giving the animals medicine.

“At first, I went to get (required county schools’) community service hours, but once I learned the animals’ names I couldn’t leave,” he said.

Shroeder also boards rabbits to help supplement the income. And she shears the sheep and llamas creating hundreds of pounds of wool, plus about 200 pounds donated from other farms. The wool is cleaned and dyed and turned into a variety of items.

But her main concern always is the animals.

“I check on every animal daily,” she said, as she was met by Mr. Newman, a black-and-white goat with long horns who has a habit of hopping into visitors’ cars.

Susan Epes of Montgomery Village, an adult volunteer, has fallen victim to Mr. Newman’s carjackings numerous times.

“He opens the door with his mouth and gets in there. The first or second time I came, he got in with another goat,” she said.

Newman is everyone’s favorite.

“He’s incredibly smart and incredibly bad,” Shroeder said.

“People just find me,” Shroeder explained for each animal comes to live at her farm. Animal Control will bring her an abandoned animal. One horse was given to her by a Vietnam veteran who could no longer care for it.

When she’s not caring for the farm, Shroeder is a freelance Web developer. She graduated from Yale University in New Haven, Conn., in 1984, majoring in linguistics, and later worked for the Saudi Arabian Embassy.

Finally, in the late morning, with her chores finished, Shroeder can have a moment alone. The aftermath of a rooster break-in was evident in the kitchen. A feather lays on the hardwood floor — and Shroeder’s back at work cleaning up.

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