Bar C Ranch On Tour
By Annie Young
Farms are teeming with life. It’s partly why people are drawn to them. People love the idea of places where life is sprouting up, growing and crowing all around us. Bar C Ranch is overflowing with a huge diversity of life. I challenge anyone to find a farm with more variety of animals in the county. At last count, they have 74 different animals. They all have names, they all have strong characters, and they are all part of the family.
When I pulled up to Bar C Ranch my baby girl and I are greeted by happy, free range chickens. Chickens were the first animals besides cats and dogs that Jennifer, co-owner of Bar C Ranch, had growing up in suburban Northern Virginia. After she earned a degree in animal science from Virginia Tech, Wil and Jennifer dreamed of having their own traveling zoo while working together in California. As they traveled and cared for the animals, they fell in love with the lifestyle. They started small with a dog, a turkey, and some goats. The Catons moved to Clarke County in 2000. Working other jobs, they slowly built up their ranch with an eclectic menagerie of well loved animals. When the housing bubble burst, Wil took the chance to jump in full time with Jennifer. They haven’t looked back.
After the chickens greet us, a baby pot belly pig named Nacho ambles over and wants a little back scratch. Two friendly dogs give us a nod as we knock on the door. Then Morgan, Wil and Jennifer’s daughter, greets us with a huge smile. Nacho leads the way into the house. He’s learning how to use a litter box and everyone is patient as he works on gaining that skill. Jennifer lights up the room with her smile and we feel as at home as Nacho.
The Caton’s son Brody and the dogs decide to stay in the cool of the house while Jennifer, Morgan, Nacho, my baby and I head out to see the animals. We all enter the paddock with an array of animals. Little baby bottle-fed goats and sheep skitter around. A donkey mama and her adorable baby cuddle together in the corner. Cavies, a South American mammal, have their own area to roam around. But most striking and attention-seeking is the baby camel, Gabe. His long eyelashes and soft fluff of fur are immediately endearing. At nine months this baby stands six feet tall. He gets confused and tries to play with the goats. Gabe eyes up Nacho, who is still leading the way. When I gently push Gabe away from chewing on our baby carrier straps, he whines like my own baby. I do a double take to see if it is really the camel that made that baby whine. We go over to see the porcupine that has a bit of an attitude, as you might expect a porcupine to have. Jennifer strokes his long quills affectionately. All the animals have been handled, socialized and respected.
Next we visit the tortoises and reptiles. They are lovingly called the “creepy crawlies.” Morgan picks up a Tokay gecko as some girls might cuddle their kitten. She named him Sweet Pea. The tortoises amble over to check us out. Even they seem to have an open, friendly expression. Jennifer tries to demonstrate how they protect themselves by covering their faces with their scaly arms if they are intimidated. But they are not the slightest bit nervous around her, and only move their relaxed arms a bit.
Some families struggle with packing to go on vacation with a few family members. The Catons are preparing to go on the road for several weeks together and they are taking almost everyone. Imagine a modern day Noah’s Ark as they pack the trailers with over 60 animals in kennels and tanks. The family will all go together and stay in the front part of the trailer set up like a camper. They’ll head up to Pennsylvania to various township and county fairs and festivals at the end of the summer.
Most importantly, when you visit their traveling zoo, you learn so much about the animals. Although Bar C Ranch is not open to visitors, you can see them locally at the upcoming Loudon County Fair. Not only do the Catons care for their animals’ individual needs, but they are very knowledgeable about each animal. They value sharing this information with visitors so that people have a chance to connect and care for the animals and the world we share.