SPRINGFIELD — Joyful Acres Farm consists of 40 acres. Its impact extends far beyond its boundaries, however.
Fences simply can’t hold the attitude of gratitude for God and His creatures that exists within the farm’s inhabitants, a devout family of eight Christians that strives to be self-sufficient.
“We love it,” said Anne Phillips, the family matriarch. “I grew up on Long Island in New York so, to me, this is a vacation everyday. My parents took us on vacations camping in Vermont and this is kind of like living that lifestyle except we have a house instead of a tent.”
Anne and her husband, Stephen, a Gulfstream employee, started Joyful Acres Farm in 2009 on a five-acre piece of property near Guyton. They carried the name with them when they moved to their current spot just north of Springfield on Ga. Hwy 21 three years ago.
The family’s substantial animal collection includes goats, rabbits, chickens, guineas and bees. They also have a trio of dogs — Rosie, Red and Judge — and a white miniature horse named Cloud.
All are showered with love and great care. All except the birds and bees have names.
“We believe the animals are God’s creations and we need to respect them and care for them as such,” Anne said.
The goats, dogs and horse are brushed frequently.
“A lot of people say that they like that about us — that we take care of the animals and make sure they are friendly,” Anne said.
“Unfortunately, that kind of attitude has gotten lost in these really big farms,” said 26-year-old Morgan Phillips, the family’s eldest daughter and bookkeeper. “There is just a lack of care for the animals. Something that we’ve tried to do, since we are smaller, is pay attention to each animal because they do produce better and live longer when they are cared for.”
Goats have a special place in the Joyful Farms pecking order. It has two breeds — Nigerian Dwarf and Saanen.
“The reason why we got goats is because I wanted everyone to eat healthy,” Anne said. “The Bible talks about taking care of our bodies and so forth, and I knew that goat milk was really healthy. Once we got the goat milk, we started making cheese, soap and that kind of thing.
“Initially, we were making just enough for ourselves. As we had a surplus, we started selling the extras.”
The family makes and sells Bee Joyful Naturals goat milk soaps. They come in multiple scents, including pumpkin spice and evergreen.
The Phillipses’ product line also includes Bee Joyful Naturals lip balm, plus honey, baby goats, baby rabbits, keets and eggs. They don’t sell cheese or produce from their garden.
The family didn’t have inherent knowledge about farm life. Remember the mother’s Long Island upbringing?
“We didn’t even know how to milk a goat,” Anne said with a laugh.
“We didn’t even know what goat milk tasted like,” added 23-year-old Isaac, the oldest Phillips son.
A friend taught the family how to milk a goat. The children learned about how to care for them and other animals, including chickens, guineas and rabbits, while being homeschooled. They gleaned so much information that they have all become amateur veterinarians.
“We did a lot of research in books and online,” Morgan said.
The children are knowledgeable about animal nutrition, deworming, hoof trimming, disbudding, castration and more.
Morgan, 26, maintains a blog (joyfulacresfarm.blogspot.com) about purchasing animals and how to care for them.
“In the beginning, selling goats was our number one thing,” she said.
Morgan said goats are herd animals, meaning they need companions. She recommended eschewing males as pets because, despite being friendly, they emit an unappealing odor during rutting season.
“With our farm now, we try to help other people get started, (raising goats)” Anne said. “Morgan is real good at that.”
Bees are the farm’s most recent addition. They were added about five years ago and are handled primarily by Isaac.
“Isaac has always loved insects so he’s never been afraid of them,” Anne said. “An extra sense of adventure has been added by having bees.”
Isaac, who works from home for a web developer, has experienced several types of bees. Their current ones are of the Italian variety.
The Phillipses currently have three hives but they are aiming to eventually keep five to 10.
“Like all the other animals, we did a lot of studying and tried to be well grounded before we got into bees,” he said.
They visited the Savannah Beach Club at Oatland Island before getting into honey production.
“It was something that Dad was interested in so we ended up getting bees for his birthday present one year,” Isaac said. “He didn’t end up liking them as much as we thought and Luke and I pretty much ended up taking care of them.”
Isaac said one bee typically produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during its brief lifetime.
“That’s why we value each bee,” Anne said. “You lick the spoon, too, because you never know how hard the bee worked for that.”
Luke, who also works from home and is the second-oldest Phillips son at 19, is the family’s rabbit expert.
“They have been my favorite animal since I was real young,” he said. “We got the rabbits almost the same time we got the goats so it’s been about 10 years that I’ve been breeding them. They help (produce) manure that we can use on the farm, plus they bring extra interest to the farm.”
Erin, 17, is working to add another attraction by making the farm a mustang sanctuary.
“There are wild horses in the west that get taken out every year. I’m going to rescue the ones that get taken out, train them and offer them for adoption,” she said, adding that she expects her first arrivals this year.
Joyful Acres is frequently visited by school groups and nursing home residents. It hosts birthday parties, too.
Participants get to pet Cloud and cuddle baby goats.
“As a matter of fact, we had seven or eight baby goats when the residents of Lakeview Manor were here,” Anne said. “Several of the residents took one, sang to it and rocked it.”
The field trips frequently feature another treat.
“We actually have a ministry,” Anne said. “All the children play a variety of instruments and sing.”
The Phillips children enjoy performing at the farm regularly and take their act, which features beautiful harmony, on the road occasionally. They have played locally at Effingham Care & Rehabilitation Center and Lakeview Manor Retirement Home. They have also performed in Pooler and Statesboro.
Luke said his family, including adopted younger brothers Joseph and Benjamin, delights in the fruits of their farm labor, too.
“It’s so much fun to see the joy that people have when they come get rabbits or goats or something,” he said.