A Smattering of Facts
The barn at Mary’s Farm Sanctuary was built in 1928 by a man named Albert whose father was from Germany. It is a traditional red barn where all the hoofed animals can come and go as they please: the barn door is always open. Inside they are protected from the heat in the summer and chill in winter and almost always go inside at night. There are no stalls inside—just gates that Mary can configure into a closed area if a horse needs time alone for treatment. She uses pine shavings to make them comfortable indoors and in the adjoining outdoor corrals the horses and donkeys are given their daily hay and fresh water.
In recent years, bees have been diminishing in number and this small insect is crucial for helping to pollinate flowers and crops. Bees only sting when they are threatened and can be enjoyed for all the good work they do, and for the honey that some of them share with us. Mary’s Farm Sanctuary attracts bees galore with a variety of colorful flowers and the bees and butterflies love the daylilies, zinnias and sunflowers. Mary also has a special spot each year for blue morning glories which the bees can never get enough of, and she hopes to install a hive in the coming year.
The birds of Eastern Iowa who visit Mary’s Farm Sanctuary include cardinals, blue jays, house and chipping sparrows, chickadees, brown thrashers, killdeer, meadowlarks, and red-headed, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, flickers, goldfinches, warblers, cedar waxwings, kingbirds, and ruby-throated hummingbirds., and— in winter—juncos.
There are also large birds too: crows and ravens, barred owls, red-tailed hawks and bobwhites. A favorite sighting is bobolinks: the non-breeding males and females are brown but the breeding males are black and white with a yellow patch on their heads. They nest on the ground in fields of grasses and dandelions because the yellow flowers are perfect camouflage while nesting. Mary thinks “Their call sounds like sonar!” Colorful flowers, especially zinnias, and trees, bird feeders and baths attract many birds in the area to Mary’s Farm.
‘Burro’ is simply the Spanish word for donkey and used to refer to the wild donkeys that roamed Mexico and the Southwest United States. These donkeys are usually small and gray with a distinctive cross on their shoulders. A miniature burro is usually less than 38 inches high.
Horses and donkeys sometimes get a really bad stomachache from eating too much or the wrong thing. It is called ‘colic’ and is similar to what human baby’s get when they take in too much air when nursing and it causes uncomfortable ‘gas.’ Keeping the animals on a balanced diet is the only way to avoid colic, and it is why sometimes (like us!) they cannot be given too many treats or they will be uncomfortable later.
A donkey looks different from a horse by their shaggier coats, larger head and bigger ears. Their manes also stand up straight rather than flowing over their neck. With a stockier build than a horse, donkeys were often used to transport heavy loads over long distances. Miniature donkeys like Otie and Jeb usually stand less than 36 inches at the shoulder and weigh less than 400 pounds. They were originally bred in Northern Africa and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Mammoth donkeys like Rosebud are the largest of the donkey breed and actually quite rare. They are usually over 54 inches high at their shoulder.
Equine refers to a horse or members of the horse family and comes from the Latin word ‘equinus’ for horse. The main equine species are horses, donkeys and zebras.
Unrelated to fairies, but just as important, a Farrier is a horse hoof specialist who trims the hooves and can also add horseshoes to working breeds. Horses hooves are like human fingernails and they must be trimmed every few months so they can walk easily. At Mary’s Farm Sanctuary a mobile
Farrier makes regular visits to the farm caring for the most of the hoofed animals. Dutch and Shorty have special hoof needs and are transported to a special Farrier in Kalona, an Amish village a few miles away.
Feed refers to the fortified grains like oats that the horses, donkeys and goats on Mary’s Farm Sanctuary eat. Feed used to be stored in cloth sacks that were sometimes printed with beautiful patterns that were later made into ‘feed sack’ clothing and quilts. A ‘feed bag,’ on the other hand, is a bag that hangs around the horse’s neck and gives them their own portion of feed.
Mary’s Farm Sanctuary has a dazzling array of flowers in the spring, summer and fall. Mary grows daylilies, zinnias (Grampa Zeno’s favorite), blue morning glories, and has a whole field of poppies! They attract many birds, butterflies and bees!
Humans eat food, equine animals eat ‘fodder’ which is what we usually call their grass/hay part of their meal but can also refer to everything they eat.
Pasture time on the grass is limited for all the donkeys and horses because their hooves can founder (also known as laminitis) which is an inflammation between the horse’s folds of tissue connecting the pedal bone to the hoof. Lush spring fields have excessive carbohydrates and if a horse overeats, it can lead to laminitis and can seriously cripple an animal.
The main diet of equine animals, hay is a grass field crop (grass, clover, alfalfa) that is mown, dried and then rolled into large cylinder bales that you see at harvest time in the fields. From there it is tied into smaller cubic rectangular bales that are easier to move and stack, keeping it dry to avoid mold. The horses at Mary’s Farm Sanctuary eat approximately 2,000 to 2,100 bales of hay per year.
Horses come in all sizes and were traditionally measured by how many ‘hands high’ they were at their shoulder. Larger horses were tamed over the centuries to help humans in their fields and were the main form of land-based transportation. Miniature horses began to be bred in the 17th century in Europe, followed by Argentina and South Africa. Miniature horses usually stand less than 34-38 inches high and on average live a third longer life than a full size horse. Those with a gentle disposition can often make excellent therapy animals and enjoy contact with people of all ages. Full size horses usually live 25 to 30 years.
Mary’s house was built in the 1920’s from a Gordon van Tyne kit, as was the garage. Van Tyne kits were a popular arts and crafts home design and many houses in this area are similar and were built by various relatives of the same family.
Mary Slaughter Dyroff is the person who created and manages Mary’s Farm Sanctuary. After growing up in Lone Tree, IA, Mary spent time in Maine, Wisconsin, and Washington DC, working as a Budget Analyst for the Veteran’s Administration. She decided to return to Iowa, find a farm and fulfill a lifelong dream of having a Belgian draft horse. After locating the perfect house, barn and field near Lone Tree, she soon found the best horse: Dutch. And then several other smaller horses, mules and two goats who deserved a nice place to retire and graze. She also took in rescued dogs and cats, offering them a spacious yet cozy home and ready community. After professional pet therapy training Mary began to bring her miniature horses to senior centers and schools and they were a huge hit wherever they went. She also found that a few of the dogs excel at therapy lap time. After registering the Sanctuary as an official non-profit in 2016, Mary has expanded her outreach activities to more places in Johnson County, and hosts groups at the farm to learn about the animals, gardening, about bees and butterflies and her abundant flowers. In 2018 her raised garden beds will help provide a bumper crop of fresh produce for the Lone Tree Senior Meals Program and Johnson County Food Banks.
Monarch butterflies, aside from having beautiful orange and black wings, play a crucial role in spreading pollen between flowers. They have four stages of life and four generations in one year. First in March/April an egg is laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. This hatches into a caterpillar which needs eats milkweed for two weeks to fortify itself for the next stage: the chrysalis. Monarchs build a cocoon around themselves and two weeks later they emerge as beautiful butterflies and begin feeding on flower nectar. It’s lifespan then is two to six weeks and the first generation will die after laying eggs for generation two. The second generation is born in May/June and the third generation in July/August when they happily dine on flowers in Mary’s garden. The fourth generation of North American monarch butterflies migrate South in early autumn to distant places like Florida, Southern California and Mexico.
I think you know what this is, but if you don’t, be careful not to step in it. It is amazingly fragrant but not exactly like perfume, and is a valuable component of garden compost because it is full of vitamins and minerals that plants enjoy.
A mule is half horse and half donkey. A male or ‘jack’ donkey is crossed with a female or ‘mare’ horse to create a mule. They have a high nose, long ears, thin limbs and small hooves like donkeys, and height, body shape, neck and rump like horses. Mules were originally bred for added strength helping farmers plough the fields, and from donkeys they inherit strength, intelligence, patience, perseverance, endurance and sure-footedness, and from horses they inherit ‘equine beauty,’ athletic ability and speed. A miniature mule is a cross between a miniature donkey and miniature horse.
Oats are a grain beloved by horses, donkeys and goats. They are grown in fields and the oat kernels are shaken off the stems and bagged as ‘feed’ for the animals. Oats are safer for equine animals than other grains because they have a lot of fiber and less chance of bringing on colic, but they are like desert: oats are in addition to hay rather than the mainstay of the diet.
A green pasture is like an ice cream treat for hoofed animals, and they (like us) sometimes want to eat too much. Grazing time is limited so they don’t make their stomachs upset with colic or have their hooves founder. The horses and donkeys at Mary’s Farm Sanctuary consider their pasture time a pure treat because they don’t stay there all the time, and you can see their excitement especially in the spring after a long winter when they rush out onto the fresh green grass.
Raised beds are the bunk beds of gardens, a full plot on wooden stilts so that flowers and vegetables can grow closer to the sun and also easier for the people who tend them. The raised beds on Mary’s farm were constructed by her nephew Ben Slaughter with lumber donated by Richard Wieland. Mary’s raised beds even have wheels so it is possible to move them around for the best growing spots!
Pine shavings are a fragrant sawdust that is sometimes used in the barn when a horse needs to be put inside for treatment. The shavings are changed regularly to give the animals a comfortable home. Later the pine shavings are shoveled with the manure to make excellent garden compost.
There are currently 18 equine animals, 1 goat, 9 dogs and 26 cats who live at Mary’s Farm Sanctuary. And Mary does a ‘head count/roll call’ every night to make sure they all come home safe and sound.
Animal doctors, or veterinarians (vets), often become specialists. Large Animal Vets take care of horses, cows and other large and exotic animals and Small Animal Vets take care of dogs, cats and other household pets. Since it is hard to transport large animals, Large Animal Vets often have a mobile veterinary hospital that visits farms and ranches, while smaller pets go into the vet office for an appointment. Both large and small animals have a full range of medical needs and conditions and many take regular medications to ease their symptoms. It takes a special procedure with each animal to know how to give them their meds—like people, every one is different!