Park barnyard gets new pets

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
There are three potential new stars in the barnyard at Dan Nicholas Park.
The Stanback Petting Barn has its first-ever Guinea hog and a Gulf Coast sheep, both historical breeds common when the Southeast was settled.
And the barnyard is also home to a new Belted Galloway calf that’s getting bigger every day.
The Guinea hog is actually a just-weaned pig. But that doesn’t make it a Guinea pig.
Guinea hogs were one of the breeds of hogs that were common in the Southeast. Imported from West Africa and the Canary Islands in conjunction with the slave trade, the hogs were also known as “acorn eaters” and “yard pigs.”
Bob Pendergrass, supervisor of the Rowan Nature and Learning Center, recently entertained members of the Parks and Recreation Commission with the history of the breed.
Pendergrass said the pigs were tough and lived off the land. They rarely exceed 200 pounds.
Farmers let them run loose and occasionally called to round them up, which spurred the art of hog calling.
Over time, farmers gradually switched to larger breeds, with the Guinea hog becoming very rare in the U.S.
Penny, the tiny Guinea hog at the park, came from the Gray Moore farm in Pamplico, S.C. She’s now chowing down on pellets, carrots and greens.
The latest rare-breed specimen is a four-month-old male Gulf Coast sheep, one of the oldest breeds of sheep in North America.
According to the Gulf Coast Breeders Association Web site, it’s believed the Gulf Coast sheep developed from sheep the Spanish first brought to the southeastern United States in the 1500s.
Prior to World War II, hundreds of thousands of sheep were allowed to freely roam in pastures, woods and sugar cane fields along the Gulf Coast.
After World War II, farms turned to larger breeds, causing the Gulf Coast breed to become nearly extinct.
For settlers, the sheep provided wool for clothing and meat for food.
The as-yet-unnamed ram at the Petting Barn came from Hartsell Farms, a local farm.
Pendergrass said the ram will have big curly horns, similar to the Carolina mascot, Rameses.
That’s a bit disconcerting for Pendergrass, an N.C. State graduate and supporter.
The third newcomer, a 6-month-old Belted Galloway steer, already weighs 200 pounds.
The breed developed in the 16th century in the Galloway District of Scotland and is often called the Oreo cow รณ mostly black or red with a large white middle.
Mature Belted Galloways reach 1,800 to 2,000 pounds.
“It’s the prettiest of all the calves we have had so far,” Pendergrass said.
Rockwater Farms supplied the Belted Galloway.
All the new animals and longtime favorites are ready for visitors at Dan Nicholas Park.