As Philipsburg Manor gears up for Sheep to Shawl as usual this year, there is one major change. The main attraction – the sheep – will only be passing through like the crowds they attract.
The animals are indeed leaving Philipsburg Manor, reports PR Director Rob Schweitzer of Historic Hudson Valley, confirming reports circulating among shocked and saddened Sleepy Hollow residents.
Schweitzer said the cost of year-round animal upkeep at the farm had become unsustainable and they are finding the resident animals new farm sanctuary homes.
The cost of the livestock has been estimated at $200,000 per year. The menagerie totals: two oxen, 18 sheep and lambs, and a dozen chickens.
Animals will return for certain special events, but regular visitors will no longer be able to come in close contact with the animals so many have come to enjoy through the years.
Schweitzer said that the absence of full-time animals actually brings the farm closer in line with its history.
“Historically, the gristmill was the focus of the Philipse family’s plantation, not livestock," Schweitzer said. "And while it had several hundred acres of farmland, it was largely devoted to orchards, grains, and vegetables. The design of Philipsburg Manor’s 18th Century barn reflects its primary function, which was the storage and processing of grain.”
This move “tightens the interpretive focus at Philipsburg Manor on slavery in the colonial North, a story to which the live animals were always a bit of a tangent,” Schweitzer said. “In fact, HHV had considered not keeping animals back when first implementing the site’s slavery-focused reinterpretation in the early 2000s.”
However, the season kickoff event would certainly be naked without its sheep, so the Sheep-to-Shawl will feature the return of its former residents, bolstered by extra sheep provided by farmer Gene Sheninger, as happens annually. This year's event takes place the weekend of April 20 and 21, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
Schweitzer noted the possibility that animals could even come back permanently some day.
Still, citizen animal lovers will miss their regular sightings of this anachronistic farm's grazing livestock.
As essential to Sleepy Hollow as its cemetery stones are its living animals. Dozens of reactions are rolling onto the Facebook 10591 page, all prompted by one woman's comment that she just happened by the ox getting loaded up to go to NJ.
Mary McBride responded, “The first time I drove through Tarrytown I looked through that fence and saw cows and sheep and said I need to live here.”
Amy King said, “Had I known, we would have gone over to say goodbye to them.”
“MAJOR loss for this area/town,” said Alexa Brandenberg.