BROOKSVILLE — The scene from the spacious front porch at Rainbow Ranch is serene, looking out over a well-clipped pasture, three Pinzgauer beef heifers contentedly chewing their cud beneath a sprawling, shade-giving 300-year-old oak tree.
From the side, two sleekly brushed horses look on with inquiry. Behind them, a small herd of quiet-mannered goats, guarded by an Anatolian shepherd dog bigger then they, paces his rounds.
"It's so beautiful," said Ali Baylor, who owns the ranch with her husband, David Baylor. "It's the relaxation and feeling one with nature."
So, the Baylors are sharing it.
Add 20 or so youngsters to the scene, and the quiet erupts with the childish delight of experiencing farm animals — petting them, feeding them, feeling their nuzzles, experiencing an outdoors beyond town or suburbia.
Ali Baylor, 40, is a time-share teacher of biology in Pinellas County. David Baylor, 58, who grew up on a farm, is on disability retirement from teaching school after a brain tumor. They moved to the farm north of Brooksville a year ago from Pinellas.
Their aim is to create an outdoor classroom for children with disabilities and those in need of broadened experiences.
In three- to four-hour programs, the Baylors have so far hosted a group of autistic children and another in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"Most had never been to a farm before," Ali said.
Sammy, a paint horse, was led out and saddled. The kids petted him, their first-ever contact with horse hair, velvety muzzle and whinnies. They fed him carrots and apples. Then they climbed aboard for a hand-led ride.
Through a fence, the children fed molasses-flavored horse treats to the long-tongued heifers. Ali recalls hearing a girl call out, "Oh, they got spit all over my hand."
The goats were more compatible companions. A boy in the Big Brothers group took off chasing them while the girls in Big Sisters railed.
"It was five minutes of chasing, then five minutes of feeding," Ali Baylor said.
Each of the children had been given a packet of goat feed to proffer to the nibblers.
Biology comes into the program: inspection of animal skulls, of their teeth under a 3-D microscope to discern chewing marks to determine the animals' eating patterns.
The Baylors gauge their groups' interests and adjust as necessary. They offer backup activities such as stamping and bookmark-making, while many children want to return to the barn, smelling pleasantly of peanut hay, and reconnoiter with the goats.
The couple have their eye on adding white turkeys, pheasants, quail, miniature horses, and maybe the training of goats to pull a cart, Ali said.
They would like to schedule school field trips for children of any age, at a donation of $10 per youth, which would offset the costs of tours by children in need, at no charge.
Declared Ali Baylor: "It's so much nicer than Disney World."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]