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29th Annual Rare Breeds Livestock Show May 17

    Much of the traditional and iconic images of America are rapidly changing or disappearing. For many Americans, a farm is animals and pastures, barns and a generational family home, crops and fields, families and neighbors bound by common experience of working the land, where nature often calls the shots and work is hard. Yet that image today most likely exists on small farms that strive to produce organic or local foods often started by first time farmers. Economic realities have depopulated farming communities as bigger farms bought out and consolidated the small farms. Economy of scale dictated being able to survive in farming. What took hundreds of years of breeding to produce animals and crops best suited for a local environment, disease resistance, economic shifts, these breeds and varieties are being abandoned as large operations using the latest genetics, chemicals, and drugs seek that one size fits all breed to maximize profits. Most farms today are highly specialized and may only grow one or two crops or specialize in just one type of livestock. The most telling evidence for this is finding todays farm families buying the same foods and consumer items as urban families even though one envisions every farm with a bountiful supply of home grown vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy.

    For any grandchild of a baby boomer there are few “Old McDonald farms” for those grandchildren to see as the baby boomers were the last generation in America that may have had a relative that lived on a “traditional” farm. So though there is a built in market in America for hundreds of different dog or cat breeds, there are very few enthusiasts left that also own the once plentiful breeds of farm animals. Horses are perhaps that only large domestic animal that has a large following but much of that is specifically for the show arena and thus even some horse breeds are declining n number.

    This is what is at the heart of Garfield Farm Museum and its annual Rare Breeds Livestock & Poultry Show to be held on May 17 for over 29 years. Although not all the animals of the show are extremely rare, it is the whim of the public that maintains their numbers as popularity can come and go. Thus those that might be stable or beginning to decline in number now could be endangered in a decade or less. The down turn of 2008 put many enthusiasts of rare breeds in economic straits and coupled with an aging population that has a connection to animals, rare breeders are becoming rare themselves.

    For some it may something as simple as a hobby that sustains interest in particular breeds. The hobby of spinning, weaving, and knitting has done as much as anything to encourage different breeds of sheep whose wool may have different characteristics for the particular fiber need at hand. Julie Barr Illinois Green Pastures Fiber Co-Op will have different fiber products to sell. Museum volunteer Julia Bizub of Wisconsin plans to demonstrate spinning and her father-in-law sells homemade drop spindles for spinning.

    Some of the finest of wool came from Merino sheep and Garfield Farm Museum’s now elderly Merinos will be on display. Loren Marceau, one of the few sheep shearers in the state, will shear the museum’s sheep and several others that plan to attend. One can learn all about the difference to the still commercially popular Montadale sheep compared to the much less common piebald or spotted Jacob’s Sheep whose rams can grow 4 horns. Other breeds that plan to come include Wensleydale, Teeswater, Romney, and Icelandic Sheep.

     Sheep required special attention to keep them safe from predators and so dogs have been bred as guardians of such flocks. Debbie Rock plans to bring her Anatolian Shepard dog which is a classic example of a working breed that is now becoming less common.

    Horses EveryOne plans to demonstrate how to gain the trust of horses. Retired from carriage driving a 25 year old Percheron mare will be the feature of this demonstration. Percherons were historically one of the most prominent horses in the region as Mark Dunham of Wayne, IL imported and bred thousands of these important French draft horses in the late 1800s. This is only the second time a full blooded Percheron will be at the show. Horses EveryOne seeks to bring Post-Industrial Age, modern technology people back in touch with horses, experiencing their ancient lessons and joys. Horses built this country: they hauled materials to build buildings, cleared forests for farmlands. Horses provided a major mode of transportation: they carried riders, pulled wagons, carriages and trolley cars. Horses were warrior vehicles in the Middle Ages and in WW I and WW II.

   Other breeds of equines that plan to attend include Morgan horses, Hackney pony, Oldenburg, Halflinger. Colonial Spanish horses, and from Long Eared Livery Service, several mules.

    The Winifred Hoffman family plan to bring a Milking Shorthorn and Dutch belted dairy cows and calves. Dutch belted dairy cattle have a solid white belt of coloration as their fore and hind sections are solid black. The Hoffmans also will demonstrate halter leading cattle as well as milking by hand. This always astounds young people and catches a few adults off guard who have never seen a cow milked.
    A line of chickens that was developed from Garfield Farm Museum’s rare Black Java chickens, the Auburn Java will be the center of Lyle Behl's display. Because Garfield Farm Museum's small flock of Black Javas were heavily interbred, some brown instead of black and yellow chicks occasionally hatched out when incubated at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Tim Christakos, head of the MSI incubation exhibit took an interest in the coloration. Lyle Behl has actively bred for this type and now after several years has a line of Auburn Javas. He also plans to bring his Silver Java and Icelandic chickens. Additional poultry breeds will include White Javas and Gold Laced Wyandottes. Other fowl will include American Buff and Pilgrim Geese , Welsh Harlequin and Muscovy Ducks, and Narragansett turkeys.

    Rare in just terms of age alone, the museum’s ox trio, Jesse (20 years ), Duke and Doc, half brothers (19 years) are of the Milking Devon cattle breed. First brought to North America in the 1620s, this breed was good for milk, hides, tallow, and meat, and made the fleetest of foot for oxen. After two decades, the trio is not as “fleet” and are geriatrics on the equivalent of baby food diet. As animals age they suffer tooth wear and so now a diet of alfalfa pellets and calf sweet feed got them through another winter. Duke and Doc look thin but are content and ready to get out on the spring grass every day. Jesse, who tends to add weight must have his diet restricted as too much weight can be bad for his hips. Historically, oxen would have been slaughtered years before they were no longer as productive as draft animals but this trio is enjoying retirement only standing in their yoke for demonstration purposes. Except for pets, few of people ever witness the aging process in livestock. Not all the museum’s animals are old as a pair of recently weaned Berkshire piglets will arrive just before the show and there will be plenty of Black Java chicks recently hatched by area schools and the Museum of Science and Industry for sale.

    Great concern over the last several years has put the domesticated (European) honey bee in a tenuous position. Colony collapse that has yet to be understood has taken a toll on this pollinator needed for so many fruit and vegetable crops. Beeutiful Bounty will be on hand with honey for sale and demonstration of beekeeping.

    In addition to the animal exhibits, tours of the 1846 brick tavern will be given and there will be interpretation of the restoration status of the museum’s oldest building, the 1842 hay and grain barn. Since work began last fall, many elements that had been removed from the building over time have been re-established, including a granary, solid siding, former doorways with a threshing floor begun. Copies of the new children’s chapter book “Angie of Garfield Farm” will be available as the author Ann Brack Johnson helps with the tours of Angie Garfield’s childhood home.

    Inglenook Pantry will have refreshments available so a full afternoon can be leisurely spent down on the farm. There is a $6 donation for adults and $3 for children under 13 years of age. A portion of the proceeds after expenses goes towards the Livestock Conservancy, a national group working to preserve heritage breeds.

   Garfield Farm & Tavern Museum is a former historically intact 375 acre Illinois prairie farmstead and teamster inn that is being restored as an n 1840s working farm museum. Founded in 1977, it has achieved much more that was ever dreamed of as authentic restoration of its buildings continue. Supporter by individual donors and businesses, over $10 million has been invested in its preservation. The museum is located five miles west of Geneva, IL off IL Highway Rt. 38 on Garfield Road in Campton Hills, IL. For further information call 630 584-8485 or e-mail