Pictured: Scottish Highland cattle on Montgomery Sky Farm in Leicester. The farm, which rescues and rehabilitates animals in need and also breeds the Scottish Highland cows, just opened to the public for private tours in fall 2020. (Photo courtesy of Montgomery Sky Farm)
LEICESTER, N.C. (WLOS) — In 2017, Fran and Taylor Montgomery happened upon a 100+ year old house and dairy farm in Leicester that needed a lot of love, sweat and tears to bring the property back to life.
And that's just what they did.
“Taylor was looking for a house after he sold his Weaverville home. He was out driving around looking for places one day and passed the farm,” Fran recalled. “He stopped in and talked to the owner of the farm, who happened to be there, and he put an offer on it immediately and we bought it.”
“It was almost like it was meant to be.”
Unique family farm shares love of "fluffy" cows, rehabilitated farm animals with public
It took three years of rehabilitating the farmland and what was considered by locals to be “the condemned house” – and building a new, bigger barn after the original barn burned down – but they were able to realize their dream of owning a farm.
"I've always been a city girl, but I've always wanted a farm. I love farm life, and it's always been a dream of mine to live in a rural area, so we discovered Leicester, fell and love and never looked back," Fran said.
After the original barn burned down, Fran said although that was heartbreaking, she and Taylor took it as an opportunity. They decided to build a bigger barn and, ultimately, decided to have their wedding there in October 2019.
“We were not going to open to the public; it was just going to be our special place,” she said.
Then came the unforeseen decision to open Montgomery Sky Farm to the public in the fall of 2020.
Opening during a pandemic
Opening during a year of a pandemic? It wasn’t in the plan originally, but the pandemic was exactly why the Montgomerys decided to do it.
“We had not intended to open to the public, but my neighbor’s kids started coming over during the pandemic when they needed to get outside, and they fell in love with it," Fran said. "The kids came to life, and then to watch the animals get socialized with children, to see the animals enjoy the children... it was a no-brainer. The first Sunday I opened up tours to the public, it sold out within 10 minutes.”
During a year when so many were shuttered in their homes, especially in the seasons of spring, summer and fall when WNC natives and tourists are accustomed to coming and going, Montgomery Sky Farm offered a safe outdoor activity that was not only refreshing for families but educational.
"We opened during COVID to allow families the opportunity to get them and their kids outdoors. They were private sessions, outdoors and social distanced, with us in masks," Fran said. "It makes for a great socially distanced and outdoor activity."
Not your typical farm
To date, 63 animals take up residence on the farm, and the couple also has a growing operation of produce. Much of the produce is grown for Urban Wren restaurant and winery in Greenville, S.C., where Taylor is the executive chef.
But the farm isn't just any typical farm.
"We're not the typical farmers," Taylor told News 13. "We're animal lovers."
The Montgomerys rescue and rehabilitate farm animals that need it, particularly species that are abandoned. Some even get dumped by people right in their driveway.
“We have chickens from slaughter homes, goats meant for slaughter -- one with a broken elbow that took three surgeries to correct -- horses we rescued from kill pens,” Fran said. “We get our greatest satisfaction from seeing those animals get to truly be ‘animals’ and come to life.”
This rehabilitation effort is at the heartbeat of their passion for animals. And the Montgomerys handle all day-to-day operations on their own, with no outside help.
"I was a vet tech for 15 years and have taken my passion to rehabilitating and taking in abandoned farm animals," Montgomery said. "We love giving them the best life possible and allowing the public to interact and love on them."
They also raise and breed Scottish Highland cattle – otherwise known as "fluffy" cows – through a nationwide effort to preserve the breed's integrity.
The Scottish Highland breed, which dates back to the sixth century in Scotland, is known for its friendly disposition and long, fluffy hair.
"We just felt, we love our place and get so much joy from the animals, we wanted to share it. Who doesn't want to hug a fluffy cow?" Montgomery said.
Montgomery Sky Farm’s 63 animals of all shapes and sizes include 10 registered Scottish Highland cattle, a haflinger horse, two miniature horses, four miniature Nigerian fainting goats, one Nubian goat who “thinks she is a dog,” 40 chickens and five dogs.
That includes several babies as well – a 6-month-old miniature horse, 3-month-old and 8-month-old cows and a 2-month-old Nubian goat, “Sprout,” who was abandoned at just 4 days old and much prefers the company of the farm dogs to the goats.
As of April 23, three of the cows were still pregnant but due to give birth any day.
“The first time a chicken, that was previously confined at a slaughter house, sees the outdoors and gets to scratch the earth; or getting to see a baby mini horse that was in a dog crate at a kill pen, get to run in a field,” Fran said. “You can see them exude their joy and gratitude so much so, that we get goosebumps every time. This is why we do what we do."
See the farm in person
The dairy farm, now 111 years old, was initially one of the founding dairies in Leicester.
It’s still a work in progress, as projects are ongoing to continue to renovate and beautify its natural beauty and functionality.
"We have had a huge response from the community, with our focal point being getting families to get outdoors safely during COVID and learn about farming," Montgomery said.
In addition to private farm visits, Montgomery Sky Farm also offers space for small, selective weddings, private events and birthday parties. Contact them at [email protected] for pricing information.
All of those offerings are just one more way they can keep the farm's mission going, with the focus on the rescue and rehabilitation of animals in need as well as breeding the Scottish Highlands.
“Our primary focus has always been to maintain a symbiotic relationship with our animals and the land, and we look forward to expanding our growing in 2021,” Fran said.
"At the end of the day, our mission stands, 'The sky is limitless.'"
Although the calendar fills up quickly when select dates for tours are opened up, the best way to schedule a private tour of the farm is by emailing [email protected] or messaging the farm’s Facebook page.
Want to give a donation to support the farm’s mission? Visit its Amazon Wishlist page HERE.
The farm also sells merchandise, which can be found HERE.