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Cows and sheep and donkeys, oh my!  Maintaining a working farm at Biltmore

Posted on 08/25/2014 by Judy Ross

The animals you see grazing when you drive through Biltmore are not just decorative—they play a major role in continuing George Vanderbilt’s vision of a self-sustaining, working estate.

Black Angus cattle, White Dorper sheep, chickens, and even guard donkeys contribute to keeping Biltmore a working farm.

“Every animal has a function, whether it’s laying eggs, breeding, guarding other animals, allowing guests to see the estate by horseback, or keeping grass and weeds down,” said Ted Katsigianis, Vice President of Agriculture.

For the nearly 200 Black Angus cows than range in Biltmore’s pastures, their job is to breed—producing one calf each per year. “Our cattle are in high demand as breeding stock,” said Ted. “We maintain a closed herd to protect against disease, and we haven’t purchased any breeding females since 1983.”

Another 400 head—calves, steers, heifers, and a few well-bred bulls—comprise the entire herd.

One special breeding program now underway crosses Black Angus with Wagyu cattle. Wagyu cattle from Japan are known for producing high quality beef such as Kobe, famed for its high marbling and tenderness, while Black Angus beef is recognized for its excellent taste and texture. The breeding program, which began in 2007, has produced delicious results that continue to impress Biltmore chefs.sheep

The adorable lambs you see frolicking in the fields each spring are part of a herd of about 600 White Dorper sheep. Used for breeding, the sheep draw crowds each spring when the lambs are born, with each ewe typically bearing 2–3 cute and playful lambs.

In the Farmyard at Antler Hill Village, goats and chickens are entertaining to watch, but that’s not their only purpose. Chickens help supply estate restaurants with eggs, and three types of goats—meat, fiber, and dairy—educate guests about the differences in breeds and functions. All the goats are used for breeding which means baby goats are gamboling in the Farmyard throughout the year.

goatAt Deerpark Carriage & Trail Ride Barn, several dozen horses—including six gentle giant Belgians—enable today’s guests to explore estate much like the Vanderbilts’ guests did—on horseback and by carriage. Staff members take guests on supervised trail rides through woods and fields that open up to great views of Biltmore House. And even when the horses aren’t on the trail, they are still working—grazing in pastures to keep the grass down. 

Other equines calling Biltmore home include a handful of female guard donkeys like Maybelline,  named for the dark “eyeliner” around her eyes. The donkeys are superb guards against coyotes, foxes, and dogs that threaten goats and sheep. One male donkey, Captain, is very visible as he looks out for the chickens living next to the barn at Antler Hill Village.horse

Even the pigs that graze on the west side of the French Broad River have jobs; they are fed vegetable scraps from our kitchens to reduce composting needs—a task the pigs enjoy very much.

“We run a substantial farm here, and all our animals are humanely raised,” said Ted. “They are not confined, they have shelter, and they are healthy in accordance with Global Animal Partnership guidelines. We are inspected annually to ensure we continue meet their standards.”donkey sheep

Rounding out the Biltmore menagerie are several dogs that patrol the pastures and barn cats who are great mousers—each contributing to Biltmore’s working farm.

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