Agriculture AT CONNER PRAIRIE

At Conner Prairie, we are passionate about agriculture and determined to keep the history of our land and historic breeds alive by showcasing how they contribute to our community, state, nation and the world. Follow us as we capture the journey and history of agriculture at Conner Prairie, from the Lenape tribe and William Conner to Eli Lilly and who we are today.

Conner Prairie Land History: 1800's - TODAY

1837

William Conner moves to Noblesville.

Did You Know the "prairie" where Conner Prairie is located is not a prairie? It was a floodplain which would flood each year. This prevented things like large trees from growing. This made it valuable land for growing crops because it did not have to be cleared at a time when most of the state was covered in thick forests.

1855

The Conner Prairie property was first given to William Conner's son, William H. Conner, after his death. 

1874

The land is sold to John D. Evans, ending the Conner family's ownership of the land.

1902

There are four subsequent land owners who largely turn the farmland over to tenant farmers. One of these families is the Atkins family, who built what would later become Shen Ho Shi. 

1934

Recognizing the historical value and educational potential of the land, as well as it's value as farmland, Eli Lilly II purchases the land. He settled and began operation as a show farm, featuring award-winning, purebred livestock.

Did You Know? A show farm is a livestock farm for purebred animals that compete in agricultural shows, like the ones that still happen today at county and state fairs. They are animals that are the best representatives of their breed in terms of body shape and other features.

1935

Lilly purchases the Owens Farm across the White River. Upon purchase, this dairy farm became part of Conner Prairie Farms. Landing holdings after that purchase included 800 acres.

1940's

1941-1942 was a turning point, with a shift from show farm to an attempt at profits. During the war, people on the homefront were encouraged to be frugal have a mindset focused on productivity and conservation of resources. Many families planted victory gardens and began to grow their own food. This led Lilly to begin to feel that his show farm was, in his words, "unpatriotic" because it was using up resources for something frivolous. 

During WW2, with farm manager Tillman Bubenzer taking the lead, Lilly shifted his focus to farming cross-bred cattle and hogs. By cross-breeding animals, you get animals that are hardier (more resistant to disease and heat or cold) and more productive (produce more milk or meat in less time and with less feed). 

In addition, if the farm continued to cost money rather than turn a profit or break even, it would fall into the "hobby farm" category and be taxed at a much higher rate.

A greater emphasis on growing crops for animal feed also occurred during this time.

1963-1964

Lilly makes a "sudden" (according to Bubenzer) decision to get out of the farming business.

Conner Prairie Farms, including the Conner House and associated buildings acquired by Lilly is turned over to Earlham. Conner Prairie Farms continues to operate as a working farm with Bubenzer at the helm at this time.

1974

Conner Prairie Pioneer Village opens to the public. At the opening, there were six buildings. Dr. Campbell's Home opened in the following year.

1984

A village named "Prairietown" opens featuring The Golden Eagle Inn.

ANIMAL ENCOUNTERS

An Opportunity to See Indiana Farm Animals First Hand

Visit Animal Encounters and get up close and interact with your favorite Indiana farm animals! Learn about animal husbandry, life cycles, and silly and surprising animal behaviors. Speak one-on-one with the specialists who care for animals year-round on our grounds. Make sure you ask about our rare historical breeds of livestock and the important role Conner Prairie plays in preserving these animals.

HERITAGE BREEDS

Heritage Breeds Week

May 15-21, 2022

Come celebrate Heritage Breeds Week with us! Participate in exciting activities, watch fascinating demonstrations, learn about Conner Prairie's efforts to preserve heritage breeds, and discover what makes these rare animals so special.

Heritage Breeds Week

Meet and Greet with animals all across the grounds. Learn about how livestock has changed throughout the years from farmers of the past and farmers today.

Enhance your experience through our make and takes!
Learn to make wool dryer balls on Sunday, May 15 and Saturday, May 21. This make and take is $5.

Learn about the values of rabbit compost, make soil tea bags, and plant a seed in a compostable pot to take home on Saturday, May 21 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. pre-registration is required 

Throughout the week:

Join us at Animal Encounters choose which heritage breed you want for Mayor.

Join us in the loom house to see wool transform all the way from the sheep to a finished scarf!

Turn every stone and join us in a scavenger hunt that celebrates the importance of our heritage breeds!

After nearly going extinct during the Civil War, Tunis Sheep are once again regaining their popularity! Conner Prairie’s registered flock of sheep plays an important role in the future of this breed – every year some of our lambs are sold to other farms as breeding stock. These farms may be looking to increase the genetic diversity of their flock or may be newly established farms that are interested in adding these unique sheep to their herds. In both cases, we’re excited to see this breed flourish!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with sheep and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Sheep Shearing at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Come watch as our sheep get shorn for the summer.

2:00 p.m. – Make and Take Wool Balls at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn how to make an eco-friendly, money saving alternative to dryer sheets, and make a real wool dryer ball to take home. This make and take is $5.

Since being added to the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation priority list in 2005, American Rabbits have been on the path to recovery. While rabbits may not be what comes to mind when the word “livestock” is mentioned, these animals play an important role in agriculture both historically and in the present day. Conner Prairie is working to promote awareness of these rabbits. You can do your part by learning about them when you visit the Animal Encounters experience!

 

Join us on our social media as we learn about what makes our American Rabbits so special! 

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Because most of our heritage animals can’t compete with modern commercial breeds in terms of production, one of the challenges we face with rare breed preservation is finding niche markets for these animals to fill. Conner Prairie is working toward creating such a market for our Ossabaw hogs by working with local chefs for special programming such as our Very Long Table partnership with 9th Street Bistro in Noblesville. By showcasing the uniqueness and value of these hogs, we aim to create a market that paves the way for more farmers to join in the preservation efforts!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Hogs and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Swine Science at the 1863 Civil War Journey come and learn what makes pigs so amazing!

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

Generally speaking, Conner Prairie’s chicken flock is very historically accurate in the fact that most of our chickens are not one specific breed but a combination of several that are allowed to intermingle with each other. This being said, we do have a few individuals that represent rare breeds including Polish, Cochin, Crevecouer, and Wyandotte. Wyandotte chickens are a preservation success story, having recently graduated from the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation priority list!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Poultry and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Egg Science at the Featherston Barn. Meet newly hatched chicks as you learn about egg science.

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

Conner Prairie is home to one of the largest breeding herds of Arapawa goats in the US with over 30 goats living here. Because there are 600 or fewer of these goats in the world, our herd represents a significant portion of the genetic pool for this breed. Our staff goes above and beyond for this breed’s preservation with one of our agricultural staff members serving as the president for the board of the Arapawa Goat Breeders Association! You can learn more and help support our mission to preserve this rare breed by visiting these goats in our Animal Encounters experience!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with goats and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Soap Making at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn about how goat milk soap is made.

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

English Longhorn cattle are extremely rare in the US – fewer than 100 live here! Because of this, Conner Prairie does very important work with genetic preservation of the breed. We’ve had the opportunity to import embryos and new genetic diversity directly from England where these cattle first originated, thereby building the only registered herd here in North America with the hope that the work we’re doing now can build a foundation for this breed to thrive once again!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Cattle and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Oxen Demonstration at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. 

3:00 p.m. –Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny! Come and watch our Randall Lineback Oxen in action!

Behind every animal interaction that happens here at Conner Prairie is hundreds of years of history. Each heritage breed that calls this place home has made its own unique journey through time to be here, and we are honored to be able to help preserve this piece of history for the future. If you want to learn more about the work we do with rare breed preservation or to get involved, come visit us at Conner Prairie.

 

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Make and Take Wool Balls at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn how to make an eco-friendly, money saving alternative to dryer sheets, and make a real wool dryer ball to take home. This make and take is $5.

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Nature Amphitheatre at Treetop Outpost. Come listen to fun farm animal-related stories read by author and Ag Staff member Chele Denney!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get up close and personal with our heritage breeds animals. 

11:30 a.m. – Taste the Past at the Golden Eagle in Priarietown. Come and sample sausage made from Conner Prairie's own Ossabaw Island hogs.

1:00 p.m. – Hay Cutting and oxen demonstration at the  Curtis Pasture in Prairietown. Come and help our Ag staff cut hay and watch our oxen in action.

1:30 p.m. – Make and Take Rabbit Compost at the 1863 Civil War Journey. Learn about the values of rabbit compost, make soil tea bags, and plant a seed in a compostable pot to take home. Pre-registration is required 

3:30 pm. – Make and Take Rabbit Compost at the 1863 Civil War Journey. Learn about the values of rabbit compost, make soil tea bags, and plant a seed in a compostable pot to take home. Pre-registration is required 

After nearly going extinct during the Civil War, Tunis Sheep are once again regaining their popularity! Conner Prairie’s registered flock of sheep plays an important role in the future of this breed – every year some of our lambs are sold to other farms as breeding stock. These farms may be looking to increase the genetic diversity of their flock or may be newly established farms that are interested in adding these unique sheep to their herds. In both cases, we’re excited to see this breed flourish!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with sheep and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Sheep Shearing at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Come watch as our sheep get shorn for the summer.

2:00 p.m. – Make and Take Wool Balls at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn how to make an eco-friendly, money saving alternative to dryer sheets, and make a real wool dryer ball to take home. This make and take is $5.

Since being added to the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation priority list in 2005, American Rabbits have been on the path to recovery. While rabbits may not be what comes to mind when the word “livestock” is mentioned, these animals play an important role in agriculture both historically and in the present day. Conner Prairie is working to promote awareness of these rabbits. You can do your part by learning about them when you visit the Animal Encounters experience!

 

Join us on our social media as we learn about what makes our American Rabbits so special! 

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Because most of our heritage animals can’t compete with modern commercial breeds in terms of production, one of the challenges we face with rare breed preservation is finding niche markets for these animals to fill. Conner Prairie is working toward creating such a market for our Ossabaw hogs by working with local chefs for special programming such as our Very Long Table partnership with 9th Street Bistro in Noblesville. By showcasing the uniqueness and value of these hogs, we aim to create a market that paves the way for more farmers to join in the preservation efforts!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Hogs and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Swine Science at the 1863 Civil War Journey come and learn what makes pigs so amazing!

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

Generally speaking, Conner Prairie’s chicken flock is very historically accurate in the fact that most of our chickens are not one specific breed but a combination of several that are allowed to intermingle with each other. This being said, we do have a few individuals that represent rare breeds including Polish, Cochin, Crevecouer, and Wyandotte. Wyandotte chickens are a preservation success story, having recently graduated from the Livestock Conservancy’s conservation priority list!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Poultry and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Egg Science at the Featherston Barn. Meet newly hatched chicks as you learn about egg science.

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

Conner Prairie is home to one of the largest breeding herds of Arapawa goats in the US with over 30 goats living here. Because there are 600 or fewer of these goats in the world, our herd represents a significant portion of the genetic pool for this breed. Our staff goes above and beyond for this breed’s preservation with one of our agricultural staff members serving as the president for the board of the Arapawa Goat Breeders Association! You can learn more and help support our mission to preserve this rare breed by visiting these goats in our Animal Encounters experience!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with goats and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Soap Making at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn about how goat milk soap is made.

3:00 p.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

English Longhorn cattle are extremely rare in the US – fewer than 100 live here! Because of this, Conner Prairie does very important work with genetic preservation of the breed. We’ve had the opportunity to import embryos and new genetic diversity directly from England where these cattle first originated, thereby building the only registered herd here in North America with the hope that the work we’re doing now can build a foundation for this breed to thrive once again!

 

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get close and personal with Cattle and learn about the amazing heritage breed.

1:00 p.m. – Oxen Demonstration at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. 

3:00 p.m. –Story time at the Featherston Barn. Come and listen to fun farm related stories read by author and AG staff member Chele Denny! Come and watch our Randall Lineback Oxen in action!

Behind every animal interaction that happens here at Conner Prairie is hundreds of years of history. Each heritage breed that calls this place home has made its own unique journey through time to be here, and we are honored to be able to help preserve this piece of history for the future. If you want to learn more about the work we do with rare breed preservation or to get involved, come visit us at Conner Prairie.

 

10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Make and Take Wool Balls at the Golden Eagle in Prairietown. Learn how to make an eco-friendly, money saving alternative to dryer sheets, and make a real wool dryer ball to take home. This make and take is $5.

10:30 a.m. – Story time at the Nature Amphitheatre at Treetop Outpost. Come listen to fun farm animal-related stories read by author and Ag Staff member Chele Denney!

11:00 a.m. – Creature Feature at the Campbell Barn in Prairietown. Join us as we get up close and personal with our heritage breeds animals. 

11:30 a.m. – Taste the Past at the Golden Eagle in Priarietown. Come and sample sausage made from Conner Prairie's own Ossabaw Island hogs.

1:00 p.m. – Hay Cutting and oxen demonstration at the  Curtis Pasture in Prairietown. Come and help our Ag staff cut hay and watch our oxen in action.

1:30 p.m. – Make and Take Rabbit Compost at the 1863 Civil War Journey. Learn about the values of rabbit compost, make soil tea bags, and plant a seed in a compostable pot to take home. Pre-registration is required 

3:30 pm. – Make and Take Rabbit Compost at the 1863 Civil War Journey. Learn about the values of rabbit compost, make soil tea bags, and plant a seed in a compostable pot to take home. Pre-registration is required 

Learn about Indiana's Historical Heritage Livestock

Arapawa Goats

Arapawa Island, off the coast of New Zealand, is home to this unique breed, which descended from goats introduced by English explorers in the 1700s.  Because they were left untouched for two hundred years, this heritage breed represents the style of goat originally brought to the U.S. by early English settlers. Today, there are roughly only 600 Arapawa Goats worldwide, making Conner Prairie’s conservation efforts with this rare breed even more important! 

English Longhorns

Developed in Northern England, English Longhorns were improved by Robert Bakewell, a revolutionary in the world of breed improvement, in the 1700s. While English Longhorn cattle were common during the time America was being settled, this breed eventually became rare worldwide, reaching extinction in North America until the 1990s.  Even now, there are still fewer than 100 English Longhorns in the United States, and Conner Prairie is working hard to increase the population. .

Tunis Sheep

One of the first true American breeds, Tunis sheep were kept by some of the original founding fathers, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. After nearly going extinct during the Civil War, Tunis sheep spread throughout the country and have steadily gained popularity because of their ability to thrive on pasture and in hotter climates.

Ossabaw Hogs

Ossabaw Island hogs descend from hogs brought by the Spanish in the 1500s to Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia, where they were left feral for hundreds of years. Adapted to the harsh life on the island, Ossabaws have the ability to store large amounts of fat that they can use for energy during times of famine. This substantial amount of lard gives their meat a very unique flavor, making them popular with chefs.

American Rabbits

Recognized as a heritage breed in 1917, these white and blue American Rabbits can weigh anywhere between 9-12 lbs. Because they have such large ears, remember to keep the noise level down, so as not to startle them. The rabbits will be in the Conner Barn pasture for viewing when they are not in the Animal Encounters experience. Rabbits need lots of breaks so feel free to come back and try again some other time if they are not in the barn! 

Read more about our Agriculture team's passion for animal and land preservation.

Learn more about FFA group visits.

Prairie Gardening

gardening
Conner Prairie Volunteers in the garden
Conner Prairie Garden
Conner Prairie interpreters in the garden
butterfly

Heirloom Gardens

Our Domestic Trades Experts have over 30 years of gardening experience. Conner Prairie features nine unique gardens across our grounds, including outside the Golden Eagle Inn, the Gregory home, the Campbell home and the Curtis home in Prairietown. You’ll also find gardens in the Civil War Journey area, in our Lenape area, around the Loom House and the Conner House. The gardens are designed to show the time period and peoples we represent in each space. As much as possible, we use the original, heirloom varieties of seeds that would have been available at the time. Where those seeds are not available, we find seeds that match that description as closely as possible as we continue the search for the original heirloom varieties.

Watch these videos to learn more about gardening at Conner Prairie.

Upcoming Ag Events

heirloom plants
Friday, May 6, 4-7 p.m. and Saturday, May 7, 10-4 p.m.
The Conner Prairie Heirloom Plant Sale is back! We’ll have a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, along with a selection of herbs and flowers. Mother’s Day weekend is the traditional frost-free date in central Indiana, making it a safe time to put out your more tender plants.
Our gardening experts will be available to help with your plant selections.
Tunis Sheep
May 15 - May 21
Come celebrate Heritage Breeds Week with us! Participate in exciting activities, watch fascinating demonstrations, learn about Conner Prairie's efforts to preserve heritage breeds, and discover what makes these rare animals so special.