By: Staff  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Farm and Ranch Almanac |

The deer moved in unison from one end of the pasture to another, maintaining a generous flight distance from the strangers. Sunlight danced off spotted coats as the herd ebbed and flowed in the crisp, early fall air; bucks, does, and fawns ran to their heart's content, apparently enjoying the day. Three curious critters came closer to the fence - three long necked, long-legged emus playing tag with each other and the deer, revving up their four-footed pasture mates to an all-out gallop.

Adjacent to the deer pasture, about a dozen donkeys played hide and seek among the trees. Back near the house, several sows and their litters occupied pens in the barn, sheep grazed the hillside, and goats scattered about the barnyard. Down the lane, a small herd of miniature horses hid in a weedy pasture next to a hayfield, and here and there, in singles and in pairs, in stalls an paddocks and pens, various pet horses, ponies, a wool sheep, dogs, and a Nubian goat lounged about.

It was business as usual at Pegasus Valley, the Pleasant Hill, Ohio, farm of Polly and Gary Ward.

The Wards raise fallow deer, donkeys, Texas dall sheep (a hair, not wool, breed), wild boar, pygmy goats, and miniature horses on 145 acres near this small Ohio town northwest of Dayton. They also grow corn and hay for feed. Depending on species, the animals are sold as pets or working stock or are raised for meat, hunting, or breeding.

Neither Polly nor her husband grew up on a farm. Polly's family had three acres and ponies, and she worked in various office jobs until they decided to get involved with animals in a big way. Gary is a native of the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights and works as a design engineer for a tool company. Gary's engineering expertise is hand on the farm; he installed a hydraulic pump to bring fresh water to the fallow deer pasture and constructed a feeding station so Polly does not have to enter the fenced area to feed the deer during rutting season. Grain is augured into the covered bin from a truck and released by standing on a platform outside the fence.

The day-to-day animal care falls to Polly and a hired helper, so Polly reads everything she can get her hands on about the species they own, "especially the old stuff" that contains wisdom of animal husbandry from old-timers. "Choose an animal you like even if you just like it just because it is," Polly said. "If you get into it for the money, it isn't going to work. You've got to like what you're doing because the work is too darn hard."

And there's no doubt that Polly likes what she is doing. A call to the Wards during kid season is conducted against a background of bleating babies kept in the kitchen until they are old enough to stay in the barn, and even in late summer a piglet or two might spend time in the house. She speaks with pride of the animals and of the breeding programs they have devised to improve the health and sales value of the animals.

The work pays off. The Wards are building a market for their meat and live animals through private treaties and exotic livestock auctions.


Along with knowledge about various species of exotic and common livestock and the physical commitment to daily farm chores, modern farmers must be aware of local and state laws and regulations that affect their business and of activist campaigns to interfere with the production of food and fiber. Polly and Gary understand that animal rights radicals will chip away at farmers' rights whenever and wherever possible, and are leaders in fighting legislation that is inspired by animal rights groups and bureaucracies, legislation that limits the rights of responsible animal owners to pursue their hobbies, interests, and businesses. But far from being nay-sayers, they also work for legislation that protects animals and their owners throughout the state.

In 1990, faced with a bill that banned the keeping of dangerous animals (including pygmy goats), the Wards joined other farmers to begin the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. The group successfully worked against that bill and others that restricted the rights of responsible animals owners, including a kennel licensing bill supported by the Humane Society of the US and an attempt to ban kennels on properties of more than five acres. As OAAO secretary, Polly edits the OAAO bimonthly magazine about organization activities, animal rights campaigns, and legislation, keeps in touch with animal owners associations in other states, and is a resource for animal owners accused of cruelty or facing legal problems related to animal ownership. As president, Gary has brought the organization to the attention of state and local elected officials.

Most recently, the Wards are engaged in a legislative battle to block another HSUS-backed animal cruelty bill that would increase the authority and responsibility of Ohio's humane agents without requiring training, allow impoundment of animals without a warrant, and provide broader protection for pets than for farm animals of the same species. However, true to their concern for responsible animal care, they are also working with OAAO, Ohio Valley Dog Owners Inc., and other groups on a broad-based animal welfare proposal that includes moderate housing standards, exemptions for humane animal husbandry practices, training for humane agents, and due process protection for owners investigated for violations.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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