Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lowcountry Part 3

Auldbrass and Marsh Tackies

On Friday we had to be at Auldbrass Plantation at 11, so we had some time in the morning to stretch our legs before spending most of the day in the car. We decided to walk around the Beaufort waterfront. We wondered down some side-streets and saw beautiful old southern homes, covered in Spanish moss, echoing the sounds of history.

After leaving Beaufort we headed to Yemassee to Auldbrass. Auldbrass is a Frank Lloyd Wright plantation owned by Hollywood director Joel Silver who produced Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, the Matrix, and more. It's the only southern plantation designed by Wright. The reason for our visit was that Frank Lloyd Wright actually designed stables to fit the Marsh Tacky horse native to South Carolina. There are large stables on the property and then smaller stables for the Tackies since they are smaller horses. It's a testament of the history of the breed in this area.

We got to view and photograph the stables which were indeed a lot smaller than the stables for the Friesians. We also got to see the owner’s Friesians and Texas Longhorn cattle. He had several other animals on the property including Zebras, Hippos, and Pigmy Hippos. In our trek around the property, we saw a gorgeous Cypress Swamp. It looked like something out of a movie.

After leaving Auldebrass, we headed to Ridgeland to visit an old-time Marsh Tacky breeder. D.P. Lowther's family has had Tackies for years and years and he continues to raise them. He has the largest herd in the country and has helped keep the breed alive. We went to his property and he showed us around. There were probably over 100 horses, all in different fields and pastures. There were all sorts of colors, types, geldings, stallions, etc. After looking at the horses we visited with D.P. and his wife, Ms. Dan while they talked politics and Marsh Tackies. D.P. is a living legend when it comes to the Tackies and he’s well respected for his knowledge and breeding of the horses. The visit allowed Jeannette to get some information for the Marsh Tacky Studbook as well as learn and glean more information about the Tackies. D.P. also shared a story about the “old Wood cattle” that used to be common in the area. Most likely these were Pineywoods cattle. After leaving the Lowther place, we headed to Hilton Head for the next leg of our journey.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lowcountry Adventures: Part 2

Day 2: Charleston, Good Food, Goats, and More

After saying our goodbyes to the Lockwoods, we headed to Charleston. There is a chef in downtown Charleston working with Guinea Hog meat. Guinea Hogs are critically endangered and we are just now getting to a point where there is a large enough population where we can market them as a food source. The chef's name is Craig Deihl and he is the Executive Chef at Cypress Restaurant about 4 blocks from the Old Exchange in downtown Charleston. He's not your average chef, in fact, he's been nominated for a James Beard award which is like the Oscars of the chef world (more about Oscars later).
We had a few hours to kill before our meeting with the chef, so Jeannette and I toured the Exchange Building. The current building was built in 1781, but for many years it was the site of other important buildings in the early colony. In the basement of the Exchange, you can see the old walls that used to surround the city. The dungeon area was used as a prison for pirates, Revolutionary War prisoners, and more. We tried to catch a glimpse of the old images in the building to determine if any historic or rare livestock breeds were depicted.
At noon, we went to Cypress to meet with Chef Deihl. The restaurant isn't open for lunch, but he agreed to meet us, give us a tour, and cook us some samples of Guinea Hog meat. Since he's one of the first to cook with this meat, our goal was to learn his thoughts on the Guinea Hog meat. ALBC is trying to understand how these products handle in order to help market them. Chef Deihl is really excited about the project and he was delighted to share some of his treats. We enjoyed Guinea Hog liver patte, Guinea ham, shoulder, tender loin, and belly. It was all quite impressive!

While we were trying samples of the meat, Chef Deihl’s next Guinea hog carcasses arrived at the restaurant. It was interesting to see the process come full-circle. I’ve seen the live animals, seen the carcasses, and now tasted the delicious meat they provide. This type of experience provides a much deeper appreciation for the complexities that producers and chefs face when working with rare breeds – but the result is very rewarding!

After lunch we headed to Walterboro to meet with a woman affectionately known as “the goat lady.” This woman has had wild goats on her property since 1985. She lives in a marshy area and the goats survive on the island with little to no input from humans. ALBC believes the goats are traditional, brush goats from the area which would likely mean they are Spanish goats or are of Spanish descent. Phenotypically, they sure looked like Spanish goats! We photographed and documented the goats for further investigation. These isolated pockets of breeds could prove to be a valuable genetic resource that could help add increased genetic diversity to the current Spanish goat population.
After our visit with the goats, we headed to Beaufort. Beaufort proved to be a good stopping point since the following day involved several investigations near the Beaufort area. Along the way, we stopped at Hunting Island State Park. It's a maritime forest of ancient palmetto trees. It looks almost tropical. In fact, the Vietnam scenes from Forest Gump were filmed here. After finding a place to stay, we turned in for the night and prepared for another long day of field investigation and documentation on our way to our final destination.

More to come in the next post.....

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Little Lowcountry History

Last month, Jeannette and Jennifer headed to South Carolina for a whirlwind tour that accomplished many conservation and marketing objectives. They met with many conservation breeders, members, and organizations in effort to promote many of ALBC programs and projects. The next series of blog entries will focus on this field work.

We left on Wednesday morning for our tour of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. On our way down, we met ALBC member and conservation breeder Gra Moore to drop off Java and Buckeye eggs. Gra has the facilities to hatch many eggs, and he’s helping with the Buckeye and Java recovery projects.

After dropping off hatching eggs, our first stop was the home of Rabbit Lockwood and Debbie Chard which is North of Charleston, in Huger, SC. Rabbit owns Marsh Tacky horses and is a harbor pilot in Charleston harbor. At 70 years-young, he knows a lot of history about the Lowcountry. We drove many miles through the swamp and through the Francis Marion National Forest, before we arrived at the inconspicuous gate for the home. Driving up the driveway, we could see open fields and huge, century-old live oak trees cloaked in Spanish moss. Up on the hill was the house of Longwood Plantation. It was beautiful.

When we arrived, Rabbit offered to give us a tour of the place - so we hopped on the golf cart to ride around the property. At over 350 acres, walking the property would have been a challenge. He had 2 labs and a little Maltese that joined us for our jaunt around the property. As we were riding through the woods, Rabbit shared some of the history of the property. It was first established by Saint Julienne de Malichare (sp?), a French Huguenot who moved to the area sometime in the 1600s. As we were riding through the woods, we happened upon a chapel. The chapel was built on the property because the British declared that they wouldn't recognize any marriages not performed in an Anglican Church - so the French Hugenots just built an Anglican church so their marriages would be legal. The chapel was rebuilt/bricked in the 1700's and you could see dates carved into the bricks. In fact, there was a free mason symbol etched into one of the bricks along with a 1700 date. The property sits along a tributary of the Cooper River and right at the edge of the chapel was where they'd dock the boats to come to church. Today, they open the chapel up twice a year for a service and they have a picnic in the meadow afterwards. It was amazing to see such an old piece of history.

Just when we thought we couldn't find any more historical gems, we rode through the woods some more and arrived at Middleburg Plantation, one of the oldest wooden plantation homes on the eastern seaboard that is still standing. The plantation home has a "live oak drive" with some of the largest trees I've ever seen. The Spanish moss is draped from them. It's a scene out of a movie. This property was occupied by both the Union troops and Confederate troops during the Civil War. On the glass panes in the windows, you could see where Union "General Potter" had etched his name into the glass of the house.

Next to the plantation house was the original commissary building. It was in rougher condition but still standing. On one side of the building there was a holding area, where they'd keep slaves when they were first brought to the plantation. We rode around back of the house and saw the remains of the old rice plantation. There were the rusted remains of where a water wheel once was to mill the rice. In later years they had a steam engine to turn the wheel. They had built a huge brick furnace structure where they'd start the fire. There were pipes that transferred the heat. All these pieces were still there, but in poor condition.

We continued to ride around the property where we made our way to the Marsh Tackies. We took many photos for the Marsh Tacky studbook. We saw some chickens on the property that are referred to as “Hell Hole Swamp chickens.” It is rumored that these chickens were fighting chickens that lived wild in areas of the Hell Hole Swamp. Something has figured out how to kill and eat these birds, so there are very few if any left. Rabbit still has two roosters. ALBC is investigating this lead to determine if these birds are still around in other pockets and if they may be of genetic importance.

After dinner and documenting local history and animals, we turned in for the night. Next stop, Charleston….