NEW SWEDEN, Maine — A 99-acre farm in New Sweden has been using animals to aid in private therapy sessions since 2020. This summer, the barn doors will open to healing the public.
The farm is home to four Jersey cows, three Peking ducks, three cats, two miniature donkeys, two standard donkeys, two Nigerian dwarf goats, two fainting goats, two English mastiffs, one mule, one horse and several chickens.
All of the animals are used in therapy sessions and will be a part of the activities aimed at the public starting June 4, ranging from animal encounters and birthday parties to goat stretching and donkey mindfulness. Using animals in therapy is a growing trend, and there are a handful of farms in Maine that specialize in particular areas such as equine therapy for children with autism or people with emotional or mental health issues.
From left to right: A Better Day Counseling and Farms owners Kelly (left) and Bracal Kilian (right) prepare to open their farm in New Sweden to the public with the help of their donkey, Boss, on May 26; These curious cows on A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden on May 26 are said to aid in breathing exercises during spring and fall months. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times
A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden started off as an average therapy office in Caribou in 2019. A year later, owners Bracal and Kelly Kilian built an office on their farm to incorporate their animals into Bracal Kilian’s practice.
Bracal Kilian is a licensed clinical professional counselor from the outskirts of San Francisco. She met Kelly, a North Dakota native and underground miner, while staying in Alaska where the two eventually married before purchasing what used to be an old potato farm in New Sweden in 2018.
Kilian said her idea to start incorporating animals into her practice began when she was working for an agency that allowed her to bring her dog into therapy sessions.
“I had a client that would not talk to anyone,” Kilian said. “It was in Alaska, and she was from up north, and it’s a very different cultural piece, and she would just not talk. I was down in my office one day, and I saw this ball rolling outside my door. She was attempting to solicit engagement with the dog.”
Kilian leashed the dog and took the animal and her client for a walk and it changed the client completely.
“So I’ve always known I wanted to incorporate animals in some way and I had always wanted a farm, always wanted cows, that was my big thing,” she said.
From left to right: These curious cows on A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden on May 26 are said to aid in breathing exercises during spring and fall months; Amingo, named after the flamingo pattern in his fur, is one of the many friendly thousand pound animals at A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden on May 26. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times
After working at her office in Caribou for a while, Kilian added cows onto the property. At the time, one of her neighbors was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and would walk a path between the two properties twice a day to help Kilian feed the calves, she said.
“Later she talked about how that was the start of her healing journey,” Kilain said. “Then we got some donkeys, and we were out walking, and I was like ‘This is so powerful, this would change people’s lives.’ We kind of knew right away that we needed people here.”
Kilian said she and her husband put an office on the property, knowing that they wanted to incorporate all of the animals into her therapy sessions in some way.
After establishing themselves as a therapy farm for the last two years, Kilian said the new goal is to create a space where anyone can reconnect with nature.
Kilian, already familiar with goat yoga (a trend where people practice yoga while goats interact with them) and with a certification in stretching, said she decided to bring the idea for goat stretching to her farm.
Donkey mindfulness is another activity Kilian offers, where those attending will practice setting an intention and focusing their awareness on their feelings and thoughts in the present moment, all while hanging out with the donkeys in their pasture.
From left to right: Lemon (left) and her son Boss (right) are the two donkeys that will be leading the Donkey Mindfulness sessions at A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden; Amingo, named after the flamingo pattern in his fur, is one of the many friendly thousand pound animals at A Better Day Counseling and Farms in New Sweden on May 26; Bracal Kilian motions to a couple of the goats that will be aiding her in Goat Stretching sessions in New Sweden on May 26. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times
“Equines radiate mindfulness and are master teachers as they role model grounding, self-awareness and awareness in the moment,” Kilian said.
Other activities in the program include animal sponsorship in which patrons can earn extra one-on-one time with the animal of their choice by donating toward its care; animal encounters for those with limited mobility; and farm days where families can follow self-guided tours or join a Q&A session to learn more about the animals on the property.
The grand opening of the farm for the summer program will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, where patrons can choose to smooch a donkey at a kissing booth, walk with the animals on the farm, meet the owners or chow down on a free hot dog. Signups for summer activities will begin the same day.