The Farm Animals
The animals kept on the Farm are heritage breeds and represent animals that were present in Virginia in the late 18th century. We are helping to preserve these heritage breeds, as many of them are rare.
It is important to remember that people were only beginning to breed animals for particular characteristics by the late 18th century in Virginia. Specific breeds were usually not identified by name. We now have names for these breeds, although they are not names that the colonists would have used.
Descended from the Red Devon cattle native to Devonshire, England, these cattle were prized in 18th century Virginia for their usefulness and were considered a “dual-purpose” breed; they were used for food (milk and meat) and work.In the 18th century, Devons produce about one quart of milk per day. Their milk has a high butterfat content and is excellent for making butter and cheese. Their meat is also of good quality.They can be trained as oxen for pulling a plow or cart but we do not have fields large enough to justify the time it takes to train a team of oxen.The Farm family keeps cows so they will have milk to make butter and cheese.More history of Milking Devon Cattle is available on the website of the American Milking Devon Cattle Association at www.milkingdevons.org
Ossabaw Island Hogs
This breed of hog comes from Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia where they have been isolated since the 18th century. They are descended from Spanish pigs brought to the New World in the 1500s.Hogs were very popular in 18th century Virginia because they were a cheap source of meat. They reproduce rapidly, are easily fattened and their meat preserves very well.Traditionally, hogs would have been left loose in the woods to forage food for themselves, being penned only to fatten for slaughter. The meat was then preserved by salting or smoking.
Bronzeback and Spanish Black Turkeys
Bronzebacks are very similar to the Eastern Wild turkeys that can still be found in Virginia woods. The Spanish Blacks are descended from wild Mexican turkeys imported to Spain and England in the 1500s , then brought back to this continent by English settlers in the 18th century.Our turkeys are put to work! In the summer, the children take the turkeys out into the tobacco fields each day so the turkeys can find horn worms. Turkeys will eat the worms for food; if they did not, these worms would eat an entire crop in just a week. If it were not for turkeys, our farmer could not grow tobacco.
All of these chickens are similar to what would have been in Virginia in the 18th century. Dominiques were developed in New England and are probably descended from Spanish chickens brought up from the West Indies with the “triangle trade.” Silver Spangled Hamburgs were brought over from Holland. Dorkings came from England and have been recorded as early as the time of ancient Rome. Many of our chickens are, appropriately, mixes of two or more of these breeds. These Dung Hill fowl are allowed to roam freely around our farm house and provide the Farm family with eggs and meat.
Our geese are Cotton Patch, a rare breed that is smaller than the standard white geese in most modern farm yards, and closer to what geese were like in 18th century America. The geese provide the farm family with meat and eggs, and are very good “watch animals”– they make a lot of noise whenever any person or animal comes near!
Cats are kept around the farm house to keep mice and rats away from the food stored in the house.