Hello Everyone! Farmer Mike here! Winter is finally over and I am happy to say we have some new additions to the barnyards at Living History Farms this spring.
Lilly the 1900 Farm milk cow had her calf on March 5. We had hoped she would wait for warmer weather. It was the coldest night of the month with the overnight low of 2 degrees! Luckily, the day was sunny and the temperature warmed up. Mother and baby are doing fine. Lilly can produce over 4 gallons of milk a day, far more than the calf needs, so we have begun milking her for some of our programs.
Lilly and her calf are a breed, or type of cattle, called Shorthorn. Shorthorn cattle can be just red or just white but most often they are red and white spotted. Most shorthorns have horns—both boys and girls. Lily is special though; she is a polled cow. Animals who naturally do not grow horns are “polled”. She has passed that trait to her calf.
When you visit the museum you will see shorthorn cattle at the 1850 Pioneer Farm and the 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. The 1850 Farm cattle have horns, but the 1900 Farm cattle happen to be polled.
In the 1800s, farmers wanted to make more money from their livestock and they began to raise specific breeds that were good at giving milk or had good meat. Angus and Herefords are special breeds that give good meat, but these breeds don’t make good milk cows. Jerseys and Guernsey’s give lots of milk but they aren’t the best beef producers. The Shorthorn was the most common breed in Iowa in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Shorthorn was popular because it was very good at all the jobs cattle had on a farm. They were good milk producers, good beef producers, and in pioneer times they made good oxen. Martin Flynn, the man who built the mansion at our museum, raised famous Shorthorns. Men came from all over the country to buy cattle at the Walnut Hill Farm.
Other additions are lots of lambs! Sheep usually have twins, sometimes single lambs, and rarely triplets. This year our sheep have had a single lamb, two sets of twins, and one set of triplets so far! The first lamb came way back in December. Here’s the winter lamb with Farmer Kelly.
The first twins arrived March 11, with a set of triplets not long after. We had another set of twins this past week.
Our adult sheep are pretty round and shaggy right now. Their wool is thick from keeping them warm all winter. Sheep are sheared, or get a haircut, once a year in the spring.
We are hoping to shear our sheep in May. Each of our adult sheep will give 8 to 10 pounds of wool. How much is ten pounds? Three 2-liter bottles of soda weigh ten pounds. A bowling ball often weighs about ten pounds. That’s heavy wool! After the wool is washed and the dirt and oils come out, the wool will weigh less than half that amount. The fibers (or individual hairs) of the wool are 2 inches long or more depending on the sheep. Sheep were usually kept for their wool and sometimes for meat. Our sheep are mixed breeds as was common in Pioneer Iowa.