Connect with the Shaker farming tradition by visiting our gardens, fields, and barnyard. We care for many of the same breeds of animals kept by the Shakers and employ many of their farming methods, such as organic gardening and free-range animal care.
Animals on The Farm
Oxen Oxen are male cattle of any breed, neutered and at least four years old, who are trained and used for work. Although the Hancock Shakers had carriage horses for transportation, they primarily used oxen for field work throughout the 1800s, maintaining as many as eight teams at one time to work the vast acreage.
Cattle Throughout the 1800s, the Shakers preferred “triple-purpose” cattle, valuable for milk, meat, and work. The breeds they kept included Devons, which were developed in medieval Devonshire, England, and first brought to the New World with the Pilgrims, and Durhams (later called Shorthorns or Milking Shorthorns), which are also named for the British region where they originated. The Shakers sometimes cross-bred Devon and Durham cattle to improve the herd’s quality and productivity.
Sheep Merino Sheep were not commonly found in the United States until the early 1800s when a progressive farmer, noted businessman, and Pittsfield resident Elkanah Watson began importing prize Merino sheep to the Berkshires. Because the Shaker Sisters were considered excellent at spinning and weaving, Watson brought some of his sheep’s fine wool to the Shaker Village for processing into textiles, thus beginning a relationship that lasted for many years. The Hancock Shakers recognized the superiority of the fine, soft Merino wool, and maintained a large flock of Merinos.
Poultry All kinds of poultry — chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese — were kept by the Shakers to provide eggs, feathers, and meat. Dominiques (one of the first breeds of chickens to arrive in colonial America), were joined by Wyandottes, Dorkings, and Rhode Island Reds on many farms in New England, along with Pilgrim and Toulouse geese, Cayuga ducks, and Bourbon Red and Narragansett turkeys. “Egg-citing” Fact To determine what color eggs a chicken will lay, look at the chicken’s ears. Those with darker colored ears produce brown or dark colored eggs, while chickens with lighter ears produce white or light-colored eggs.
Pigs Our pigs are a mixed breed of modern and heritage pigs that include Hampshires, Yorkshires, Dorics, Landrace and Brookshires. Older breeds have more fat, while those more recently developed are leaner, reflecting changing dietary concerns. The gestation period for a mother pig or sow is three months, three weeks and three days. That means one mother may give birth to three litters in a year. Ideally, the pigs at HSV have two – one in the spring and one in the fall. Interesting fact Pigs are among the few animals that will not overeat! Because pigs have small stomachs, they eat frequently, which gives us the impression that they’re gorging themselves. But they always stop eating when they’re full!