Christine Byrne - Experience Trades Facilitator
While most of the outdoor experience areas at Conner Prairie are winding down for the season, the Animal Encounters
area is already gearing up for next spring. The final three months of the calendar year are a very busy time for the agriculture staff. In addition to stocking up on a winter’s supply of hay, it is also time for routine animal husbandry duties such as hoof trimming and general health inspections. Each animal will be evaluated and a decision will be made about its future on the grounds. Just like every other working farm, some will be kept to breed and others will be sold.
In most modern breeding programs, a farmer has a plan for what traits he is trying to selectively breed for. He might hope to increase wool or meat production or strive to meet the breed conformation standard for showing. Conner Prairie’s rare breed program is a little different. Because we are working to preserve a historic breed we are not attempting to create a new and improved version of the animal, but increase the number of animals while carefully preserving the desired genetics. Also, given that our animals are visited by thousands of guests every day, our selection criteria put a higher score on temperament. In other words, we have the luxury of also selecting for cute and cuddly.
Once the decisions are made, the animals are separated into breeding groups, and then the dating game begins. In order to have spring lambs, kids or calves born throughout the season, the livestock manager must pay close attention to each animal’s gestation period. The gestation period is the length of time a mother is pregnant. So, for instance, a sheep’s average gestation period is 147 days. If we want the lamb to be born around April 15th the breeding would need to take place 147 days earlier on November 19th. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. The one thing that can be planned when working with animals is that something unplanned will happen. You never know, she might not be in heat or decide she has a headache that day. As you can imagine, it can become a bit of a juggling act. However, I have no doubt by the time the daffodils are blooming next spring, the mothers will all be settled and there will be plenty of cute and cuddly newborns in the Animal Encounters barn for everyone to enjoy in 2013.
Posted: 10/29/2012 9:45:07 AM
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A big draw for our guests, especially in Prairietown, is when our team of oxen comes out to play. Red and Blue have been around for six years now and I’d say they’ve definitely earned their keep around here. What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that Red and Blue weren’t born as oxen. That is actually a title that they have to work for by learning the different calls and commands and working together to pull carts, plows, and wagons. It takes them about 3 to 4 years to accomplish all that! It’s kind of like going to a University and earning a degree, Red and Blue went to “Ox”-ford (I know, that was terrible, I couldn’t help myself!).
But just because they are fully trained now doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels! We still have to work the team, even though there are no guests around to visit us right now. Just like anything, if you want to stay good at it, you have to practice. The same goes for oxen. It’s not only good for Red and Blue, but it’s good for us Ag Staffers to get out and spend some quality time with them. Half of driving oxen is having a respectable relationship between the driver and the team. If Red and Blue don’t know me and trust me, then how can I expect them to listen to me when I want them to do something? Every time we take our oxen out to work, we are building on that trust and that relationship.
Our task for this winter though, has not only been to work with Red and Blue, but we have a newer team that we have been working with for about a year and a half now. Their names are Louis and Clark. Now I know what you’re thinking, why would you start training a new team when you already have a perfectly good one on hand? Good question! Just like farmers and drovers of the past, we have to look to the future.
Red and Blue won’t always be six years old. They will eventually become too old to pull and work the same way that they do now, so by the time that happens Louis and Clark will be six years old themselves! That way, as long as you are planning ahead, you will always have a team of oxen in their prime.
Since coming to Conner Prairie and learning how to work with the oxen, I can certainly see why people are drawn to them. Aside from the fact that I find Red and Blue to be completely adorable and hilarious, seeing oxen work in yoke is a big visual connection to our past for many of our guests. Oxen played a significant role in our country’s history. In Indiana in 1836 they outnumbered horses 4 to 1! They hauled our goods, helped clear our roads, and plowed our fields. So the next time you come to visit Conner Prairie, be sure to say hello to our oxen, not just because of Red’s cute crooked nose, but because of work they do in helping to preserve our past.
Posted: 2/10/2012 10:13:46 AM
Ellen Van Zanten
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Ellen Van Zanten - Experience Specialist
Hello to all of you out there in internet-land! My name is Ellen Van Zanten and I work for Conner Prairie with the Agricultural and Livestock department. Thinking about what to write for this first blog, I realized that there really isn’t a lot going on out here in the wintertime. This is the time of year we focus on training, coming up with ideas for new programs, and catching up on the chores that are difficult to get done during the regular season. So instead of making you read about all of that, I figured I’d walk you through a day for the Agricultural Staff in pictures.
When we are open during the summertime, we are often asked by our guests what happens to the animals in the winter when Conner Prairie is closed. With very, very few exceptions, our animals stay with us year-round, which means they need to be fed year-round. A typical morning for us means feeding. We put in some face time with all the animals on the property. And let me tell you, when you spend that kind of time with an animal, you get to know their personalities after awhile, their likes and dislikes, etc. Sometimes, any given animal could just wake up on the wrong side of the haystack. It’s very easy, when you see the same animals everyday, to forget that they are not pets.
Here at Conner Prairie, the animals we have perform a job, whether it is providing milk, pork, wool, or eggs. All of those things are important just as much today as they were in 1836. That’s part of why I love my job so much, it’s a daily reminder of where our food comes from and now how about another picture, eh?
Posted: 1/10/2012 3:49:35 PM
Ellen Van Zanten
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Last month I blogged (is that really a verb?) about figuring out what you really like at cultural places you visit – not waiting for an “expert” to tell you what’s great. And, I asked readers to tell me what they really like at Conner Prairie.
I’m pleased that a few readers wrote in to express their thoughts. Now it’s my turn to say what I really like at Conner Prairie. Here goes.
• As someone who grew up around New York City, the only animal I knew well was George our standard poodle. Working here, I’ve been amazed by our farm animals. I never expected them to have personalities, no less communicate their needs so clearly. Our enormous oxen Red and Blue lift their chins to be scratched when someone approaches; I’m always happy to comply.
• Doctor Campbell and his mysterious and ghastly assortment of cures continues to surprise and amuse me. Someday I’m going to see if blood letting with leeches actually improves a headache.
• I like handcraft – always have, and am riveted by the spark of hammer on anvil in the blacksmith’s shop and the rhythm of the shuttle on the loom.
Toddlers are my favorite age because they express delight with every muscle. In the past month I’ve seen one tiny boy dash madly after a baby goat and another yell “train” with glee when the tram rounded the corner. Can you tell I’ve just become an empty nester and am ready to adopt grandchildren?
I could listen to Mike in the Lenape Village wind tales for hours, and I always tear up when former slave Albert Cheatham escapes from Morgan’s Raiders in 1863 Civil War Journey
• Finally, I am most at peace when I round the dusty path south of Prairietown and can view the White River snaking around the bend. I can just imagine canoes loaded with furs headed further north up to William Conner’s trading post.
How wonderful it is to stop and name the things I like best. Like counting blessings instead of worries.
Posted: 8/31/2011 11:30:24 AM
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Every year, with the onset of the open season, we get a chance to experience Conner Prairie through the eyes of our newest additions. From our guests’ youngest babies and toddlers to our recently born baby animals, each are exploring their new surroundings.
Families are bringing their littlest ones to experience the history and adventures here. I enjoy watching children engaged with their parents at the Discovery Station
or the Lenape Indian Camp. I see little hands figuring out how to pull apples from the apple tree and little legs stumbling to gain balance as they climb the steps at the Golden Eagle Inn.
I also enjoy watching the baby animals, mainly sheep and goats right now, getting steadier on their legs, running around, hiding behind their mothers and racing across the field. Most of their time is spent in the Animal Encounters
Barn with the watchful eyes of Conner Prairie staff and volunteers.
As a mother, I know that sometimes all mothers are hesitant to let others hold and play with their babies;
the same goes with animal mothers. They want to protect their little ones too. One of our newest mother goats has taught her kids to stay under the ramps and out of harms way.
As time passes, the kids will learn that the barn and the field are a safe place to explore. Their mother will become more comfortable with letting them wander a little farther and play with the other new animals.
So when you bring your children to Conner Prairie for the first time, I’m sure you’ll be a little hesitant to let them wander too far down the path or shudder when they walk straight to the biggest goat and pet her on the head. Certainly you should be alert to children putting their fingers in animals’ mouths or eyes but know that our staff is here to make sure that youngsters of all species are safe, and that everyone has a great experience. Our animals actually enjoy attention.
Now let me leave you with a few thoughts about Conner Prairie for all those new here, animals and human alike… Look both ways before crossing the road, there could be a whole school of kids (of either kind) coming at you! Explore and experience new things together, it’s always more fun if you have someone to share it with. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty, it washes right off! And finally, everything grows with sunshine, water, food and care.
Posted: 4/29/2011 10:43:13 AM
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