HANOVER, Pa. - When residents think of south-central Pennsylvania, they seldom recall the rolling hills of the alpaca farms, the splashing ponds full of Koi fish, or the gentle padding of fainting goats.
But nontraditional farms like these, which have set up shop in Adams and York Counties in the past decade, are thriving.
Sure, the counties still have their bucolic scenes of sprawling corn fields, apple orchards and plenty of cattle and horses. But several residents are using the land, rich with an agricultural heritage, for some unique farming ventures.
John Fornaro believes there may be only a dozen koi fish breeders in the United States, but York County happens to be home to the one he boasts is the best.
Fornaro operates Hanover Koi Farms along Moulstown Road in Heidelberg Township, where he keeps anywhere from tens of thousands to a million koi in each of his five mud ponds, depending on the time of the year, he said.
Fish in a multitude of sizes and colors swarm toward the surface when they see him coming to the edge of the ponds, he said.
"There's a lot more going on in those little brains than people believe," Fornaro said. "They see me and they know I'm the food guy, so they get really excited."
Koi, which hail from Japan, can fetch a lot of money depending on the breed and the willingness of the buyer, Fornaro said.
"I have people come from all over the country, as well as walk-in sales," Fornaro said of his operation. "People fly in on private jets."
His biggest sale was $50,000, he said, adding that in many ways, the koi industry reflects the pedigree dog world.
"It has the upper echelon of snobby people where they pay $10,000 for a purebred," he said. "But then most people that buy them get them because they are pretty. There's also a lot of people in between who advance up through the hobby."
Fornaro is himself one of those that advanced into the koi world after purchasing a few baby koi for 50 cents from a fish farm in 1998.
After having a heart attack at age 39, he gave up his job as an electrical contractor and opened the farm in 2000.
Though Fornaro believes the "koi cult" in the United States is beginning to die, he has created a steady customer base for himself by becoming well versed in the different breeds and ailments that can afflict each one.
"I'm probably known internationally more than locally," he said. "I've been in the phone books and have a website, but most people don't find me until they have a problem with their fish."
Carrie Eastman never meant to raise fainting goats, but she fell into it anyway, she said.
Myotonic goats, which are also known as fainting or Tennessee goats, are perhaps best known for their tendency to stiffen their legs and fall over when excited or scared. But Eastman initially found out about the breed in 2008 when looking for animals that would nibble the weeds on her horse farm.
Now, she operates Oak Hill Fainting Goat Farm in Huntington Township, Adams County, and she has even penned a book titled, "The Energetic Goat."
Though the breed originated in southern regions of the United States with warmer climates, Eastman's fainting goats have proven adaptable to the climates of Adams County, she said.
Outside of supervising the kidding season when the goats give birth, the toughest part of Eastman's day in caring for her herd of 23 involves chasing ducks out of the drinking trough, she said.
So why do they faint?
Well actually, the goats never lose consciousness; instead, they experience an adrenaline rush that causes their muscles to temporarily seize up, Eastman said.
The condition that causes this tipping effect is called Myotonia Congenita, a genetic condition that can afflict humans as well. While some goats with good balance will simply exhibit a freezing in place effect, others may fall over in place, Eastman said.
"Sometimes you'll get a cascade effect where a kid will tip over and get up and tip again and again," she said.
The condition, though silly to watch, is part of the reason the myotonic goats have such large muscles, making them extremely efficient for meat production, she said.
"It feels a little weird to talk about how yummy they are because I keep them as pets," Eastman said. "But it's important that we don't lose sight of that because they have so much value as a low-impact, high-yielding source of meat."
About 20 percent of Eastman's goats are sold to small homesteads looking for breeding purposes to eventually be raised for meat, milk and fiber.
The other 80 percent are sold to people looking to keep them as pets, which the goats are perfect for because of their quiet, docile nature and small size, she said.
Allen Stoner hardly ever gets the question, "How much are the alpaca's eggs worth?" anymore.
That's how he knows the Peruvian alpaca industry has begun to take root in south-central Pennsylvania.
Stoner started Big Rock Alpaca Farm in Reading Township with his wife, Kelly, about 12 years ago when alpacas were almost unheard of in the area.
Now, the wool-producing cousin of the camel is popping up all over the place, he said.
The couple made the decision to purchase an alpaca in 2003 because they were fairly easy to take care of and safe to keep around their two boys, who were young at the time, Stoner said.
Now, they have a herd of 14, slightly above average in size, that they keep for the variations of wool in tones of white to black.
"A lot of people are getting more interested in cloth and fabric that hasn't been dyed," Stoner said. "It's starting to get more attention, especially form people who have allergies to dyes."
Alpacas also have an environmental edge over other kinds of livestock.
"They don't have a hard hoof like a horse or a cow, so they don't tear up the terrain," he said. "They nibble the grass, unlike sheep that tear it up by the roots. You hear about alpacas being like ornamental lawn mowers."
Still, it's tough to find a veterinarian for an alpaca, and the sensitive animals need to be owned in multiples because of their need to live in a herd.
"They can actually die from loneliness," Stoner said. "If you came and said, 'I want to buy one,' I wouldn't sell you one unless I knew you had more."
Another challenge is the climate. Alpacas, which are native to a cold climate, sometimes struggle in the summer months, Stoner said.
Still, Stoner said it's an easy fix to keep them cool.
The family simply sheers the herd and sends the fine Adams County alpaca wool to be processed into a good pair of socks for those Pennsylvania winters.