From alpacas, to horses, and hounds - we'll be featuring the best of our creature features from The BRJ archives, so check back often for new posts!
There’s something about alpacas that make you giggle. With their long necks, Lyle Lovett hair-dos, and perpetual grins, these gentle, humming, Dr. Seuss-like creatures just make you feel kind of silly inside. Read More
It is early March, early in the spring lambing season, and I make sure I'm up at the barn by 5:30 or 6 moving silently and swiftly in the dark chill. Read More
It was a mild summer day at a rural airport in New Jersey. A team of specialized volunteers were on hand, waiting for the arrival of a plane that had taken off that morning from somewhere in the Deep South. As the cargo doors swung open more than a score of big, black, glimmering eyes peered out from within... Read More
With its black, dun, or red color, sandwiching a white middle, curious onlookers have dubbed this shaggy beast the “Oreo,” “Panda,” and even the “Police Car” cow but it is, in fact, the Belted Galloway. Read More
There’s something about alpacas that make you giggle. With their long necks, Lyle Lovett hair-dos, and perpetual grins, these gentle, humming, Dr. Seuss-like creatures just make you feel kind of silly inside. Around three-feet high at the shoulder and weighing between 100 - 175 pounds, alpacas are the smaller, more timid relatives of the fearless llama, and are domesticated versions of vicunas, wild ruminants that live high up in the mountains of the South American Andes. Prized for their soft, luxurious fleece, known as “the fiber of the Gods,” the Inca began herding and keeping alpacas as livestock around 6,000 year ago. Peru, Bolivia, and Chile are still home to the majority of alpacas, but these evolutionary descendants of the Hemiauchenia, camelids that once roamed North America 3-million years ago, began finding their way back north in the mid-1980s.
Seen as the next big thing in agriculture, alpaca farms sprang up across the U.S., sending the population soaring from a couple of thousand animals in 1991 to almost 100,000, just fifteen years later, when the alpaca bubble burst. Today, those who endured after the crash, and those who have decided to start up their own operations despite it, are finding creative ways to stay profitable and enjoy this unique livestock. Humorous, good-natured, and full of personality, alpacas are the ideal farm animal to share with the public, and many farmers like Nick Villa of Bluebird Farms, in Peapack, New Jersey, are turning to agri-tourism and education; inviting folks to come on out and meet his herd, shop for unique products and gifts at the farm store, and learn more about the animals they love.
“We think of ourselves as an educational farm,” said Villa, who hosts an Alpaca Academy, a two-hour class customized for students “6 - 96,” covering topics such as alpaca vital statistics, types and personalities of alpacas, care and diet of alpacas, and alpaca fiber. A fiber craft is included and of course, the alpacas are too.
When the Villa’s decided to put 11-acres of their property to pasture in 2012, they toyed with the idea of sheep, but when their 8 and 10 year-old daughters discovered that their lambs may end up as an accompaniment to mint jelly, they put an end to the discussion. So, after doing their research, the Villa’s decided on alpacas. “We name them and we don’t eat them,” said Nick. Nestled between hay fields and pastures, down a picturesque lane in New Jersey horse country, Bluebird Farm offers visitors a fun, laid-back, hands-on experience. Our initial glimpse of the alpacas was a mother in a pasture humming to her baby, called a cria. Alpacas have a variety of vocalizations including humming. They will hum for a variety of reasons, usually having to do with being concerned or curious, but new mothers will click and hum serenely to their new crias.
After letting the scene, scents, and sounds wash over us for a moment or two, we met up with Nick’s wife and partner, Marta, who gave us a small cup of feed and sent us out to meet the herd. Other families and couples from as far away as Sussex and Westfield were already there, feeding, photographing, and even romping with the alpacas. Two eager young females approached us immediately. It was a bit startling, since they are at eye-level, but mere seconds after they peered at us with cocked heads, through those long lashes and big, puppy eyes, we were smitten. A common reaction is to want to throw your arms around the alpaca’s fleecy neck and give it a cuddly embrace, but you should probably fight those urges when encountering an alpaca you are not on hugging terms with yet. Alpacas are generally stand-offish at first. Those who keep three or four as pets (alpacas are very social and three is considered the minimum for ownership) will often tell you that they are more like a cat than a dog, wanting attention on their own terms. They are curious, however, and apt to draw near - even nose to nose. But once they get to know you, they certainly don’t mind some gentle stroking on the neck or back, especially if a treat is involved. Many of the alpacas at Bluebird Farm are used to visitors and some approach freely, looking for a little love.
“They’re very friendly, but some are very skiddish and they will run away from you and hide,” said 11- year old, Abbie Villa. “Some will come up to you and want to be petted. They will nudge you ‘come pet me.’ Some will push very hard at your palm when they eat, and others are sooo… gentle.”
Alpacas never bite, but like llamas, they do spit, although they generally just spit at each other and usually only when they are competing for food or dominance. “Unlike Llamas, they do not spit unprovoked,” Nick assured us. “They have conversations amongst themselves that you do not necessarily want to be a party to,” he said, “usually over grain or something, but they don’t really spit at you.”
Intuitive by nature, alpacas seem to sense what kind of humor you’re in and react appropriately. “If you’re calm around them, they’re perfectly calm. If you’re jumpy or excited than they are going to be jumpy and excited,” Nick told us. “One of the biggest compliments that they can pay you, is if you come into the pasture when they’re all ‘cooshed’ which is when they are lying down on all fours. If nobody gets up, that means that you’re probably in a very good mood that day and not at all threatening. If I’m a little grumpy or something, they know. There is some sort of karma or something with these guys.”
With all the love and fuzzy feelings it easy to lose sight of the fact that alpacas do have a practical appeal as well - their fleece, called fiber. As soft and even smoother than cashmere, alpaca fiber comes in 22 natural color shades ranging from black to silver and rose gray and white, from mahogany brown to light fawn and champagne. It’s strong and elastic, non-flammable, and not only water resistant, but also wicks away moisture. Alpacas are sheared once a year and the fiber at Bluebird Farm is sent out to be milled in West Virginia. It comes back in skeins of yarn that are given to local knitters and craftspeople, who are employed to create the handmade products sold online and at the farm.
“We convert the fiber into all the wonderful products you see in the store,” Nick said. “Alpaca fiber doesn’t have Lanolin, so it’s much cleaner than sheep’s wool and doesn’t require harsh chemicals. It’s also hypoallergenic, so people who are allergic to wool can wear this, no problem. The fibers have a hollow core, so they have a great insulation value and it’s soft, not itchy. So is she,” he said, as he reached over to pet a milky-hued female alpaca fittingly named “Au lait,” who nuzzled up against me. “She’s really being good today,” he said like a proud father.
The Villa’s are joined at their farm by manager, Stacie Miller. Stacie started at Bluebird farm in 2015, bringing retail, social media and marketing savvy, combined with her educational experience as a 4-H leader and her love of animals. Besides the day-to-day duties of taking care of the animals, she designed and manages the farm store, and is responsible for their special events which now include; private birthday parties at the farm, a weekly story hour for toddlers, knitting classes for children and adults, a Ladies Night Out, small team building for businesses and corporations, and the “Sip and Spit” wine tasting, an event held to benefit Barnyard Sanctuary in Blairstown. “The alpacas came in, walked around the hors’ douvre table, and walked right out the barn,” said Stacie.
A Ladies Night Out or wine tasting with a herd of alpacas may sound like a far-fetched concept, though probably not quite as zany as the hotel in Japan that will rent a bowtie-wearing alpaca to be a witness at your wedding, but there’s something about these lovable livestock that just make you want to spend more time among them. Everyone we asked at the farm about this phenomenon seemed to have the same answer - they just make you happy. I may suggest another use for the alpacas of Bluebird farm - therapy animal. Because no matter what kind of sad or bad mood you may be in, just visit an alpaca farm at dusk (pronking time) and watch the herd seemingly jump for joy - you’re going to smile.
Bluebird Farm Alpacas is open on weekends by reservation only. Farm and Halter Training Tours offer opportunities to feed, feel, photograph, and even take an alpaca for a walk. Please call, 908.625.4110 or visit bluebirdfarmalpacas.com.
Bluebird Farm Alpacas is located on Willow Avenue, in Peapack, NJ.
I am awake these days by 4 am, reading intently, waiting for The New York Times to arrive at 5:00 or so. It is early March, early in the spring lambing season, and I make sure I'm up at the barn by 5:30 or 6 moving silently and swiftly in the dark chill. I'm looking for ewes that have separated themselves from the flock, whether they're standing or lying down, and I'm looking more particularly for smaller silhouettes, a little head or two bobbing underfoot. When I see a separated ewe with no bobbing heads, I find myself looking for stationary forms, lifeless prone forms, corpses of the stillborn or little ones with problems.
We are breeding lambs this year with our small flock of Cheviot ewes to a Tunis ram. The Cheviot breed is a white, handsome Scottish mountain sheep originating in the Cheviot Hills which separate Scotland and England. They have sharp angular heads with black facial and eye highlights, the latter artfully and somewhat seductively looking like mascara. The Tunis is an ancient northern African breed with a large snout and a reddish brown face and legs. He did not hesitate for a moment when he saw what his role was; he knew precisely what to do.
My early morning reading has veered from my work editing sporting books to looking into the history of my little four-legged friends. I have a copy of what is undoubtedly one of the first books published in the United States solely dedicated to the subject of sheep: An Essay on Sheep, by Robert L. Livingston (1809). The author's family, as it so happens, is the namesake of the Essex County (NJ) town of the same name, and ancestors of former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a neighbor here in this part of Somerset County. The author makes the case that because of the sheep's utter defenselessness - they can't run, bite, claw, or gouge, and by their very timidity invite attack - they then must be the earliest tamed of domesticated animals, being so dependent on man. I am still pondering the veracity of this and find myself thinking about it at all hours of the day.
I have also been led to Sir Herbert Maxwell, a Scottish angler and naturalist who kept and published monthly journals of his years titled Memories of the Months (1910). He describes a dozen or so Scottish Blackface sheep lost in a massive snowdrift during a blizzard in northern Scotland in the late 1890s. After extricating most, the farmer had to leave the remainder for dead. Fully twelve days later, he noticed several melted and steamy air holes and found some hardy survivors that immediately re-joined the flock, seemingly none the worse for wear. To those who know sheep, this is more than just amusing, it is very funny, as it points directly to the beguiling charm of these animals. The supercilious horseman would like to think that his horse would survive, and the cattleman would of course root for his animal (bovine pride); but the fact is they would each kick and fret and worry themselves into a frenzy and perish. Sheep, on the other hand, are accustomed to defeat; they have accepted it and manage to live with it, quiescently and peacefully. After an initial panic, they would settle down in calm resignation - ready for anything that might come their way.
Ovine nature celebrates innocence, and embraces an equanimity and simplicity that is compelling. An amusing story here in Far Hills is of a local matron who owned a spectacular property of commanding views and rolling fields. She would walk through the adjoining woods to a neighbor's farm and open his sheep gates so his animals would walk over to her property. She enjoyed viewing them from her patio and sunroom, grazing on her grass. One day, this neighbor walked over to speak to her about this and found her inside the house with several of his sheep - socializing. Eccentric? Possibly. Understandable? Absolutely.
Here in this part of the state, the mix of agriculture and exurbia can be striking. Open land is hard to come by, it is extraordinarily expensive, and motorists with places to go don't generally like to come upon a tractor creeping along a country road. On a recent morning finding unexpected twins in a pasture, I was late for an annual appointment with my cardiologist. To complicate matters, several pregnant ewes got out of a gate left open (by me) and had to be coaxed back into the barn with no little effort. So, now sweaty and with my blood pressure elevated, I walked into the professional offices of the Summit Medical Group to announce my tardy arrival. Turning around at hearing a minor commotion, I saw a trail of sheep manure and clumps of bedding straw tracked across the expensive-looking blue carpet by my boots. My doctor found this quite amusing, but for some reason, the nurses in the office most definitely did not.
Our lambs are bred for what is known in agricultural circles as the "ethnic" market. These spring and Easter lambs are cherished both culturally and gastronomically by many of Mediterranean descent along with certain other groups. We sell them at 30 to 50 pounds, privately, and I pride myself on their condition: no scours (diarrhea), worms or other parasites, and all are fed high-protein grain and timothy. There are no pesticides, herbicides or hormones used in proximity to these animals, and all have had happy, pampered lives, however abbreviated.
But it is the magic of birthing that electrifies me. By 5:30 or 6 at this time of year, now approaching the vernal equinox when the sun's arc pierces the equatorial plane, our hills come alive. The two main pastures slope down to a pastoral spring creek, its pellucid, perpetually cold water gently flowing down from the springhead up in the ravine, gurgling up and out of the ground - a treasured godsend. This is the source of life for this farm and I notice that the ewes are more attracted to it as their delivery times approach. They smell it, they sense it; the musicality of the constant flow of clear water over the rocks is soothing and comforting, a soft lullaby.
In the dark one recent morning, as the sun was just beginning to lighten the sky over the ridgetops, I found yet another set of twin lambs down near the creek under an exhausted ewe. Both were still quite wet but were more or less up on their wobbly, oversized legs. There are foxes and coyotes here and predation is never far from the door. I picked up both lambs - their skin feels like a warm and wet three-day beard of stubble - and led the ewe up to the barn by the baby-like cries of her separated lambs. With little flesh covering their ribs, I could feel their hearts beating strongly and purposefully in my hands. I knew at that instant that I had the world at my fingertips. I was part of a profound confluence of place and time and my thoughts turned to privilege - and it was blessedly mine - for it was me, me alone, there in that dark fecund meadow, that at that moment was connected, connected to the heartbeats and origins of life on this wonderful planet.
Local authors, Bill Trego and Katherine Newcomer, have formed the Starlight Creek Writer's Workshop to "advance and support fine writing at all levels -- across age groups, genres, and skill levels." They meet at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Gladstone NJ. The cost is free but they request a simple emailed brief biography stating your interest. All are welcome!
It was a mild summer day at a rural airport in New Jersey. A team of specialized volunteers were on hand, waiting for the arrival of a plane that had taken off that morning from somewhere in the Deep South. The wind was 30 degrees at 6 knots, there was a clear ceiling overhead and 10 square miles of visibility, as a Piper Saratoga II HP approached the field, touched down and taxied to a stop. The cabin of the Piper Saratoga had been stripped of its seats to accommodate a payload of carefully stacked crates, and as if on cue, the crew of eager volunteers went into action, scrambling to unload the precious freight. As the cargo doors swung open more than a score of big, black, glimmering eyes peered out from within and blinked back the daylight. One of the volunteers smiled broadly and wiped away a tear, as two-dozen, tail-wagging Chihuahuas began to yip in happy unison…
The volunteers belonged to Home for Good Dog Rescue, a foster-based, non-profit dog rescue with offices in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, one of the vital and intrepid rescue groups that rely on the services of pilot, Matt Kiener of Flypups, Inc., a registered 501 (c) nonprofit, single-plane, air transport operation with a unique mission - to save desperate canines waiting to be euthanized in overcrowded kill shelters and fly them to freedom and the hope of a new, loving home.
Kiener is a big-hearted, detail-oriented man, with an honest countenance and cheerful smile. He started Flypups, Inc., in 2011, but admits that he came by his love of dogs somewhat reluctantly. “I didn’t grow up with dogs,” he confessed. “My wife is a big dog person. She was the one that convinced me.”
Kiener was bitten by his first case of “puppy” love when he got his first dog, a beagle that he named “Squire.” “I came up with these rules that he’s not going to be on the couch, he’s not going to be on the rug, he’s not going to be allowed upstairs or on the bed and all this kind of nonsense,” Kiener recalled. “And I was the one to break all the rules. He’s my best friend.”
Ironically, the first dog of the pilot who logs hundreds of hours in the air on behalf of rescue dogs, all at his own expense, isn’t a rescue dog himself. “I had a terrible misconception, which I think is prevalent among a lot of dog owners,” Kiener admitted, “that if you’re getting a dog from a rescue that it’s got issues and that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, it’s kind of the contrary…they’re terrific dogs and my experience has been that they’re perhaps more loyal or grateful, if you will.”
The rescue dog that convinced Matt Kiener of this fact was actually a result of his first airborne liberation mission. “There was a guy down at the airport who had signed up to do this dog relay flight and his plane had to go in the shop,” Kiener said. “So, he called me and asked me to do it.” I said, ‘You know what kind of plane I’ve got, right?’ I have this little two-seater aerobatic plane, there’s no room for anything. He says, ‘I know, I know, it’s just five puppies, no problem.’ So we met down in Sky Manor Airport in Pittstown, and we offloaded the pups, put them in our crates, put them in the plane, and off we went.”
“We’re flying up there, and I’m distracted looking at them, playing with them, and I’m thinking this is the greatest thing in the world. I love dogs. I love flying and I’m helping. I mean I would have done it, you know, just transporting dogs for the sake of being in the company of the dogs, but I’m actually bringing them from harm’s way. There are certain days in your life that are life-changing and you kind of feel it at the time. It was one of those days.”
When Kiener got to the airport in upstate New York, he was given permission to let the dogs run around for a few minutes while he went to an office to deal with some paperwork. “I get to the door and I happen to look down and I see this one puppy had left her siblings and followed me,” said Kiener. “I picked her up and I was going to bring her back and I said, ‘Do you think you’re coming home with me?’ and she started licking my face and I was like, ‘Oh, no’. So I called the wife, I said ‘I’m bringing one home.’ She said ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. She goes ‘Cool, I’m going to get puppy stuff.’”
Kiener’s wife, Jess, a passionate horse trainer and dog lover, who retrains Off The Track Thoroughbreds for Dressage competition, is dedicated to Flypups’ mission. She can often be found doing the “dirty” work behind the scenes, like cleaning and disinfecting the crates after each mission and acting as a “co-pilot/stewardess to the dogs” on flights.
“Jess is terrific,” Kiener beamed. “There are times when we have to overnight the dogs. I’ll bring six, ten, twelve dogs home and they need to be fed and medicated and this and that. She just jumps in takes over. She’s awesome. She’s incredible.”
After his initial rescue flight, Kiener knew that saving kill shelter dogs was going to become a priority in his life, but to do it, he would have to upgrade to an aircraft that was “capable of going faster, further, and carrying more.” He decided that the most affordable option would be a Piper Saratoga, a seven-seat, single-engine plane known as the SUV of light aircraft. To help him stay focused on accomplishing his goal, he named his new rescue dog, a German shepherd/English foxhound/beagle mix, “Piper,” and according to Kiener, it worked.
“Every time I said, ‘Piper, Piper come here, Piper whatever,’ I was thinking about it,” Kiener said, “and within in six months I upgraded to this phenomenal plane.”
Kiener and Flypups, Inc. has flown as far west as Tennessee and as far south as Florida to rescue imperiled canines like Radar, a pit bull puppy used as bait to train fighting dogs, and then tossed in a ditch alongside an interstate in Pennsylvania, to bleed to death when his injuries rendered him too feeble to be of any use in the ring. Radar was discovered by a passing police officer and subsequent media attention made him a cause célébre in the Philadelphia area, where the community rallied to not only to mend Radar’s physical wounds but his emotional scars, as well. Kiener was called upon for the flight to Radar’s final round of healing in Ohio.
“So I get to the airport…and there are no less than 30 or 40 people waiting to see this dog off… I’m just overwhelmed by the support for this dog,” remembered Kiener. “The handlers were saying, ‘Okay Matt, you’re going to transition this dog to Chuck, who is the behaviorist out in Cleveland that would be working with him, so we want to introduce him to you but he’s not very trusting with people, he doesn’t get along with people.’ So, we’re nervous… but I assured them that I would be fine. So, I sort of squatted down on the ramp and they let go of the leash. He lunged towards me and you hear clicking of cameras like Lindsey Lohan is walking by or something. He just jumped up on me and engulfed my nose with his tongue. Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the sad reality that not every dog can be saved. It’s just not possible. And to put this much time and money and effort into a single dog, especially a lot of people would say, a bully breed, might be wasteful, but I can assure you, this is the sweetest, kindest, most amazing puppy.”
For Kiener, transporting a single dog is a very rare and special circumstance. On most flights, the cabin is stacked with four-legged passengers in tidy crates. “Generally, I can’t do one dog,” he explained. Since I’m paying for all of this out of my own pocket, and appealing to organizations, I need to be responsible with the money. I have a cost per dog in fuel that makes sense to me. So, will I fly down to North Carolina for a dog? No, I need to get at least six, hopefully a dozen dogs, and then it makes sense. The cases for the single dogs, those are special and rare. There was a Great Dane that needed to go from Maryland out to Ohio. Normally I wouldn’t do that except that there were four dogs in Ohio, three of them needed to go to New Jersey and one of them needed to go to Florida. This is the way it went. I flew from Jersey to Maryland. I picked up the Great Dane, I went to Ohio. I dropped off the Great Dane and picked up the four dogs. I brought them back to Jersey, three of them got adopted here in New Jersey. One of them was going to go down to Florida. Again, I’m not going to make a trip with one dog all the way down to Florida but I was bringing fourteen dogs from Florida back to Pennsylvania, picking up a fifteenth in Virginia. Of the 14 that I brought up to Pennsylvania, I believe six of them were entering a program for veterans. So these dogs would be trained to serve veterans who were suffering from PTSD. When I do a transport and the dogs go to something like that… I mean it’s always a win when you’re saving a dog, but when you’re helping others in conjunction, it’s a great day.”
Like, Radar, most of the dogs that Flypups wings away to safety come from heart breaking situations, such as the 24 Chihuahuas that belonged to a deceased hoarder in North Carolina and were scheduled to be euthanized. “Twenty-three of them slept, one of them yapped the whole way,” Kiener recalled with a smile.
Then there was the litter of puppies kept in a fetid, windowless basement and forced to fight for kibbles and scraps of food tossed to them by their owner. “An advocate that I know down there found out about them and she called me and said, ‘Look a friend, of a friend, of a friend, knows this guy and I might be able to get them out. Do you have a home for them?’ And normally I’m not the one that makes those arrangements. They’re made and I’m called to fly from A-to-B. But I made some phone calls and I found a place for them. So the advocate I know, Laurie, she went to the guy’s house and talked to him… There was no care being given. He wouldn’t separate them so there was a runt who was abused because they all wanted the food and some of them were more aggressive than others.”
“Usually it takes just a couple of minutes to put each dog into a crate and get them onto the plane. It took over an hour for these six. They were so traumatized…The light from the sun was just more than they could handle. It was the one time where I was really sort of concerned because every other transport, the dogs were happy and excited. They knew they were going someplace special. But they were really struggling. You don’t want to force them into the crates, they’ve been through enough and you want to just be patient, take your time, coax them and work with them and I think that went a long way, taking that time. By the time we got to New Jersey, they’d come around. They’d started to relax. They were playful and one of them licked me when I was unloading him. And I was like, ‘Thank God’.”
It’s uncommon for Kiener to become personally involved in the adoption process and he is almost never involved in the selection of dogs to be rescued. Instead, Flypups offers their services to a select group of rescue organizations that, in his words, “get the hardest part of this.” These organizations have the painfully difficult task of visiting the kill shelters, deciding which dogs can be rescued, and then nursing them back to health and adopting them out to new families. “I’m not strong enough to do that,” Kiener admitted in his humble way. “I can’t even take my dog to the vet. A lot of time Flypups gets the press and the pictures and I feel a bit guilty about it in many respects because I’m just the bus driver.”
While not every rescue dog has the luxury of being flown to freedom, Kiener feels strongly that it is more efficient and much less stressful on them than a grueling road trip, which can mean hours or even days confined in crates in the back of a van. A belief that he was even more convinced of when plane trouble forced him to rent a panel van and drive a rescue mission from Nashville, Tennessee to Long Island.
“It gave me an even greater appreciation for when we do fly and what we’re doing for them (the dogs) because I know what that trip did to me. They’re not coming from great circumstances so when you can reduce the stress…it’s just like us (humans) - would you rather drive down to Florida or jump on a plane and be there in 2 hours?”
Kiener is also convinced that the dogs are very aware of what is happening to them and are grateful for the second chance. “One of the most special components to this is when you’re bringing the dogs on to the plane,” he said. “They know - and you will never convince me otherwise. They have a sense that they’re going someplace better. They’re enthusiastic, they’re excited, they know we’re going on an adventure and it’s going to end well and everything’s good.”
Kiener made a conservative estimate that his beagle “Squire,” makes him smile around twenty times a day, and that over the past twelve years that has worked out to over 88,000 smiles. “Who gets that much joy from any one being?” he mused. “Not only do I get the joy and excitement from helping and saving the dog, but the realization of what I’m bringing back to somebody, I’m giving them 88,000 smiles, I’m giving them all these kisses and all this attention and excitement in their lives. Sometimes I lose track of that. Sometimes I’m so focused on the dog getting a better life. But there’s also a person or family who’s getting a better life because of this dog.”
While Flypups, Inc. would like to help every rescue organization that needs their services, they only have the time and resources to aid the organizations that they already working with, but you can help them expand their mission. Monetary donations are greatly appreciated but you can also help in an almost effortless way, by “liking” them on Facebook. The more “likes” that they receive, the easier it is for Flypups, Inc. to approach large sponsors for assistance in keeping them in the air. Flypups, Inc. is also always interested in volunteers to support their mission and prospective adoptive families that are interested in giving a deserving dog a new life.
FlyPups transports dogs from desperate situations to fosters, no-kill shelters, and fur-ever homes. To learn more, please visit flypups.org
Above photo courtesy of Flypups, Inc. See more images on our Photo Gallery page.
Watch a video and interview with Matt Kiener of Flypups, Inc.
While the site of Herefords and Angus cattle grazing in a grassy field is fairly common, there is a newcomer to the pastoral scene that has been turning heads.
“I’ve got a story idea for you,” long-time reader, Carole Weiss, exclaimed, pulling us aside one morning in front of the Black River General Store. “What are those black and white cows in that field off of Burnt Mills Road?” “You mean the “Oreo” cows?” our animal-loving publisher replied, just as excitedly. “Yes!” Carole said, “They do look like Oreo cookies.” “I don’t know,” we admitted, “but we’ll find out.”
With its black, dun, or red color, sandwiching a white middle, curious onlookers have dubbed this shaggy beast the “Oreo,” “Panda,” and even the “Police Car” cow but it is, in fact, the Belted Galloway or as it is more familiarly known, the “Beltie.” This hardy Scottish breed of cattle hails from the craggy hills, wooded glens, and rugged moors of the seacoast region, in the former Galloway district of Scotland. The solid-colored, polled (hornless) Galloway is believed to have evolved from an ancient Celtic breed, but exactly when and where selective breeding of the belted variety began remains a mystery, though a logical theory suggests that they are the result of a cross, that occurred sometime in the 16th century, of Black Galloways with Dutch Belted dairy cattle known as Lakenvelders.
Belted Galloways arrived on the shores of North America in the late 1930s, becoming truly established in the 1950s with the founding of the American Belted Galloway Breeders Association, which incorporated under the name Belted Galloway Society, Inc, in 1964. Once concentrated in Maine and other areas of New England, Belties can now be found throughout the U.S. To get a closer look at New Jersey’s resident Belted Galloways, we ventured out to the Forbes family’s Southdown Farm, off of Burnt Mills Road in Bedminster.
Bordered by the North Branch of the Raritan River and hidden from the roar of I-78 by a tree-line border, Southdown Farm, part of a 500-acre holding, offers a flat, sweeping plain, unusual amidst the noted hills of Somerset; a topography that made the property ideal for the old polo grounds once located here. Ten houses dot the working farm, one of which is home to manager Michelle Ogle, who has overseen the cattle and haying operation here for 18 years. Michelle is originally from upstate New York, and holds a degree in animal science from Cornell University. She relocated to New Jersey to work on nearby Dunwalke Farm, and came to Southdown in 1993 to help expand the cattle operation. The Forbes’s were already running Herefords on the farm when they saw their first Belted Galloways, in Maine, and asked Michelle to investigate the breed. They purchased their original stock in 1994 and are now the largest registered breeders of Belties in New Jersey, showing and selling their award-winning cattle nationwide.
“We are a purebred breeder,” Michelle explained, “which means we are looking to produce breeding stock. So we’re looking for that ideal within the breed.” Michelle has enjoyed working with Belties and is returning to a seat on the breed association’s council, which she held for a decade before taking a four year hiatus to enjoy the birth of her daughter. “It ended up being a lot of fun getting into the Belted Galloways,” Michelle said. “They are one of the most alert or intelligent breed of cattle I’ve ever worked with. You notice none of the Herefords are walking up to us,” she pointed out, as she entered the pasture with the respectful confidence of someone who has spent a career working with large animals. “They’re not as alert… if I come into a group and go to a farther fence as if we might move them to another pasture, every Belted Galloway will meet me at the gate. The Herefords are kind of… ‘oh did you call us, why are they running’… it’s a difference in alertness in the breed.”
The Belties’ striking appearance is its most noticeable attribute and these beautiful animals are showing up in the pastures of hobby farms and agro-tourism operations; stopping traffic, posing for photo ops, and drawing in customers. “We get a lot of people… that see them and just have to have them…” Michelle said. “Nobody just drives by and sees the Angus and the Herefords in the fields and says ‘I want one.’” But those who get to know the Beltie quickly discover that they are more than just a pretty face.
While Angus and Herefords are still the predominant cattle bred for beef in the U.S., the Beltie is gaining in popularity, not just for the high-quality of its meat but for its durability, toughness, and ability to adapt. Thrifty and moderately sized (a mature bull at age 5 weighs 1,800 to 2,000 pounds), Belties have a strong instinct for self-preservation and have retained many of the natural survival traits lost to traditional breeds. During a particularly devastating flood in Kentucky, residents of a farming community were forced by rapid rising waters to evacuate their farms, leaving livestock to fend for themselves. One farmer reported that when he commandeered a rowboat and returned to his farm, he found all of his Belties huddled together on the highest ground they could find. The entire herd had survived for three days without food submerged in water up to their backs while in contrast his neighbor had lost 27 of his 30 Angus.
Having evolved in the capricious weather of the Scottish coast, Belties can endure climates that range from icy cold to sweltering hot, and unlike most breeds that rely on a layer of back fat for warmth, the Belties come equipped with a double-coat of hair that is shaggy and weather-resistant on the outside with a soft, mossy, insulating undercoat. As efficient grazers, they do extremely well in grass-based operations and will dine on natural forage spurned by most cattle. “Personally, I think the Galloways are going to be the type of cattle used for more sustainable farming,” Michelle predicted. “Because of their slower growth rate, they are very good utilizers of natural forage,” she explained. “Suitable for the range, suitable for brush conditions… these cattle will eat leaves off of a multiflora rose, which around here is a good thing. They will even eat the young fur-de-lance, things like that, that you don’t see the other cattle eat unless they are in a deprivation situation.”
As recently as 1994, the Belted Galloway was listed in the “rare” category on the American Livestock Census’s Conservation Priority List, meaning the breed had an estimated global population of less than 5,000 and fewer than 1,000 in North America. But thanks to handsome good looks, a little charm, a bit of Scottish tenacity, and the careful attention of breeders like Southdown Farm and groups such as the U.S. Belted Galloway Society, this robust bovine is on the rebound; creating its own niche on the commercial market, riding the wave of rediscovered sustainable farming practices, and finding its way into the hearts of enthusiastic supporters.
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