Monday, September 28, 2009

Northeastern Exposure Part II: Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm

Part 2- Preserving History at Tilley Foster Farm
By Jeannette Beranger

After leaving Rhode Island, the next stop on the road trip was Putnam County New York and Tilly Foster Farm Museum located in the city of Brewster. The farm itself is a beautiful historic property that once served as a premier Thoroughbred farm for the region. Horses can still be seen on the property, but instead of race horses, most are boarders whose owners enjoy the facilities that were once reserved for the cream of the equine crop in New York.

Through the efforts of George Whipple and The Whipple Foundation / Society for the Preservation of Putnam County Antiquities & Greenways, Tilly Foster Farm has been preserved to and will become a museum and home to an assortment of endangered American breeds of livestock and poultry. The primary goals of the foundation are to keep Tilly Foster Farm free and open to the people of Putnam County while making the farm self-sufficient to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Whipple plans to build a a world-class farm museum that incorporates rare farm animals that will serve to educate the public about farming, local history, and animal husbandry. George’s personal commitment to rare breed conservation has made him a long-time member of ALBC since the organization’s early years. His relationship with ALBC has recently been broadened with his election to the ALBC Board of Directors.

George grew up in Putnam County and is deeply concerned with preserving the beautiful rural qualities of the area in and around the county. He still resides on his grandfather’s Pine View Farm in the rural town of Kent, not far from the farm museum. Outside of Putnam, George works in New York City and is known to New Yorkers for his celebrity interviews on Whipple’s World, a show he films for NY1 News. I had the pleasure of getting to know George when he first began thinking about livestock and poultry breeds on the farm. He called the ALBC office for advice on appropriate breeds for the farm and to determine where he could find them.

After much brainstorming, George walked away with a breed list. He extended an invitation for me to visit the farm if I was ever in the area so, as I made my way back towards New York City for my lecture, I decided to stop by. Upon arriving at Tilley Foster Farm, I was in awe at the beauty of the old buildings and the fine herd of Randall Lineback cattle in the front pasture. George greeted me by the newly renovated guest cottage that will supplement the farm’s income by being rented out to visitors wanting to experience the farm and enjoy the pastoral setting the property has to offer. We began the afternoon with a walk around the farm. We were accompanied by George’s Parson Russell terrier, Mayfair, who is retired from the show ring and enjoy her new job as master of all she surveys on the farm. (She takes particular delight in making sure the ducks and geese keep in line.)

As George and I visited the farm, we discussed the future of the facility and the development of programs to promote the rare breeds. Plans include utilizing a meeting facility and restaurant for on-farm seminars and classes. As part of the farm’s lecture programs, ALBC Board President Callene Rapp was scheduled to give a public presentation at the farm on raising heritage breed rabbits.

Among the breeds we saw on the farm were Jacob (American) sheep, Blue American rabbits, Guinea hogs, Narragansett turkeys, several varieties of Heritage Chickens and ducks, and their famous American Mammoth Jackstock, Nate. Children’s book author Sheila Mealy recently made him a local celebrity by publishing a lovely book about the donkey and the adventures that brought him to Tilly Foster Farm.

The basement level of one of the barns contains a wonderful display of antique farm equipment. A collection of tractors, valued at over one million dollars, is exhibited in the area. The machinery and displays are on loan to the farm by the Putnam County Antique Machinery Association. Some other assets of the farm include an impressive investment in infrastructure to make the property largely energy efficient through solar and wind power made on the farm. The solar array alone can produce up to 13,000 watts of electricity for the farm.

Beyond the animals, Tilly Foster Farm also serves as a home for a unique rock and roll museum called Avalon Archives. The museum’s collection is owned by a friend of George’s by the name of Ned Moran. Ned is a retired New York City firefighter and an amazing music guru to all that know him. Ned’s collection contains highly prized items and memorabilia that any rock and roll enthusiast would give their right eye for. Ned began his collection while living in San Francisco between 1969-1974, a golden age of rock for many. It seemed only appropriate to take a step into the museum as that day happened to be the 32nd anniversary of the Elvis’ death and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Much of the collection consisted of highly coveted concert posters, cards, and artwork. I’ve visited Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I can say that in comparison, Avalon’s intimate setting gives visitors a more tangible and personal connection to the history on the walls. After leaving the museum, I had the distinct feeling of just having spent a quiet afternoon with old friends in that building.

By late afternoon, the temperature peaked (90°+!) and it was about time to finish the tour for the day. By then, most of the animals were in their barns or had the good sense to get in the shade and keep cool. Having spent a pleasant day in his company, I said my goodbyes to George and headed towards my next destination.

In the next installment, Jeannette will head to meet Craig Haney at the Stone Barns Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Buckeye Broiler Breeder Clinic in Ohio

Join the Countryside Conservancy and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) for a Buckeye Broiler Breeder Clinic in Peninsula,OH. The event will be held October 6, 2009, at the Happy Days Lodge.

The clinic will begin with a one-hour lecture. Learn about Heritage poultry breeds, their use in sustainable agriculture, ALBC's Buckeye Recovery Project, how to evaluate production traits, and practical breeding strategies for bloodlines improvements. The second hour of each session will be devoted to careful physical examination of Buckeye birds in order to understand how a breeder/grower can improve commercial traits over time.

All clinic participants will:

  • Receive preferential treatment for purchasing ALBC strain Buckeyebroiler chicks

  • Be eligible to participate in a new regional Buckeye breeders andgrowers network

  • Receive copies of several ALBC publications including: Selecting for Meat Qualities and Rate of Growth, Selecting for Egg Production, On-going Selection of Breeding Stock, ALBC Chicken Breed Comparison Chart

Buckeye Breeder Clinics
When: Tuesday, October 6th
Times: 10am-noon and 2-4pm
Cost: Registration: $100 per person or $150 per couple from the same farmoperation.
Location: Happy Days Lodge @ 500 W. Streetsboro Rd., Peninsula, OH 22264

Space is limited. First-come-first-serve.

To register for one of the Buckeye Breeder Clinics or to find outmore information about any of the events, contact or call (330) 657-2542.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Tar Heels' Dying Breed

By Jennifer M. Kendall

This Saturday, thousands of Tar Heel faithful will pack Kenan Stadium for the first Carolina football game of the season. As kick-off time nears, Ramses, the coveted UNC mascot will strut down the sidelines - beaming Tar Heel pride from his radiant blue horns. But behind the wooly coat and massive horns, Ramses hides a secret that few know – he’s part of a dying breed.

A Carolina tradition since 1924, Ramses the Dorset Horn sheep may soon be a mere legend. On any given game day the 60,000 fans that pack Kenan Stadium outnumber the estimated global population of Dorset Horns. In 2009, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy listed the breed on its Conservation Priority List under the Watch Category, citing a global population of fewer than 10,000 breeding animals.

On a hot, steamy August afternoon, I met with the Hogan family of Hogan’s Magnolia View Farm, just outside of Chapel Hill. The Hogan family has kept Ramses for the past 85 years, helping to give the Dorset Horn breed a future, blue-horned ram after blue-horned ram.

“My family has been on this farm since 1757. I’m a 9th generation farmer and 4th generation ram keeper,” said Rob Hogan. In 1924, the same year the ram was introduced as the mascot, Hogan’s great-grandfather assumed the duties of the ram keeper. “My great-granddad, Clay Hogan, had four sons and two were UNC alums. Henry Hogan played on the football team. I think between the farm’s proximity to campus and the family connection to the university - it just made sense,” said Hogan.

The current Ramses is the 18th Horned Dorset kept by the Hogan family to go by this name. University archives suggest the first UNC Horned Dorset came from Texas in 1924, when then head cheerleader Vic Huggins suggested UNC get a live mascot to honor famed Jack Merrit, known to his fans as the "Battering Ram."

The current Ramses is not a direct relative of the first UNC ram, but since 1996 there has been a direct line of succeeding males. Hogan, a cattle farmer by profession, says it’s a little different from raising cattle. “With cattle, you switch out the bull every so often to keep genetic diversity, but since we always have to have a male – Ramses regularly gets a new wife from another flock.”

This year, Ramses wife’s name is Tulip. Tulip was given to the Hogans from the Cassell family, in Wytheville, VA, right in the center of Hokie country. Yes, the baby Ramses may have some Hokie blood in its veins. One great benefit of the Horned Dorset breed is that they can reproduce out of season, a quality not seen in most wooled breeds. If properly managed, Horned Dorset ewes can give birth three times over the course of just two years.

So why is the Dorset Horn sheep an endangered breed? The “blow to the horns” came from one of UNC’s biggest rivals, North Carolina State University. The rivalry went beyond the football field and into the genetic arena. In 1949, a Horned Dorset ram on an N.C. State farm sired four hornless ewes. Over the next five years, the late livestock scientists Dr. Lemuel Goode and Sam Buchanan bred the Horned Dorset ram to those four ewes and all other ewes in the flock. Finally in 1954, a ewe delivered twin rams, one with horns and one without. Within 20 years, 70 percent of all registered Dorsets were hornless (polled).

Rob Hogan has his own ties to N.C. State. Hogan graduated from State’s Agricultural Institute in the late seventies. “People ask me that all the time,” Hogan said when I asked him how a State graduate felt about being the guardian of UNC’s prized mascot. “People say it doesn’t make sense, but it makes all the sense,” Hogan offered. “The only school in this area at that time that offered agricultural education was State and knowing I was going to take over the family farm, it made all the sense to go there.” When asked how his college peers felt about his family housing the ram, he jokingly responded, “Well, you knew not to bring something like that up.”

And that led me to my next question which Hogan also knew was coming, “Who do you pull for on State vs. UNC game days?” He replied with a nonchalant, “On those days, I can’t lose.”
And with that, it was time to go find Ramses the Horned Dorset for his one-on-one. In the heat of the afternoon, he was cooling his “heels” in the wooded area of the pasture and close-by was Tulip, his current mate. Hogan approached him and convinced him to give up his shady spot for a bit.

Hogan commented, “Obviously he has a good temperament. He goes down in front of 60,000 people on any given Saturday and the bands are playing, fireworks are going off, people are hooting and hollering, and Ramses is unscathed.” Hogan says Ramses’ docile nature is just part of the breed along with some proper handling and training.

And out into the pasture came Ramses in all his horned glory. He was quite muddy and his horns were faded, but Hogan assured me that come Friday night, game rituals will commence. “Every Friday night before a home game we put him out in the backyard and he gets a shampoo.” After his shampoo comes the most important part. “After he’s clean, we paint his horns blue.”

Hogan’s entire family joins in the pre-game prepping of Ramses. Hogan’s Aunt Carolyn makes Ramses game attire which is his Carolina blue blanket. Hogan’s sons help with cleaning and prepping the animal and on game day they all enjoy the ride to town, with Ramses in the back of the pick-up truck.

As Ramses grazed in the pasture, Hogan chuckled as he shared some of his favorite questions people ask. “They always want to know where I found a sheep with blue horns. Or, they want to know if it’s male or female – never mind the two foot long testicles on the ram.” Hogan’s wife Ann added, “They always ask if he’s real.” Ram-napping stories are also a regular source of laughter for the two.

As I touched the faded blue paint on Ramses horns I was reminiscent of seasons past. While admiring this symbol of Tar Heel tradition, I could not help but wonder about the future of the breed and many others. Over 170 breeds of livestock and poultry are considered a Conservation Priority by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the list is growing.

So this Saturday and every game day, amongst the cheers, and bands and excitement – thank the Hogans for all that they do for this breed and thank all the other Horned Dorset breeders out there helping to keep the breed alive. And when Ramses the coveted UNC mascot struts down those sidelines - beaming Tar Heel pride from his radiant blue horns – don’t take him for granted.

For more information on how to help save heritage breeds of livestock, visit