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.