LEXINGTON — Three weeks after opening, a stray barn has welcomed its first residents.
The six-stall barn comes with Lexington County’s own large animal investigator, Holly Hallman, whose primary job is catching stray livestock, including horses, cows, pigs, goats and goats. chickens, and either return the animals to their owners or house them in the barn until they are adopted.
“The county has shown the need for a central location where we provide short-term animal care and housing,” said Steve Collins, county animal services director. “That was the genesis of the barn.”
The barn cost the county about $156,000 to build. Since opening, it has housed about 20 animals, Collins said. Hallman estimates that she receives about 200 calls for breeding services each year.
Lexington’s idea of a county-owned barn to house stray livestock is unique to South Carolina, but the problem is particularly pressing in Lexington County due to the stark contrast between disappearing farmland and rapid development. .
“We meet people who have lived (on their farms) for six, eight, whatever the number of generations and it’s always been one-sided,” Collins said. “But times are changing, and your neighbors now aren’t your neighbors before. They live in a housing estate and they don’t want your chickens there.”
Although the project has been in the works for about three years, its opening comes as inflation rates are high and farm animal care has become increasingly expensive. High costs for hay, feed, land and services have caused many horse and cattle owners to abandon their animals, said Jim Rhodes, owner of Aiken Equine Rescue, which works with Lexington County. to bring back stray horses.
Before Lexington County built the barn and hired a large animal investigator, the sheriff’s department was responsible for rescuing and restraining stray livestock. Not only was this a poor use of officers’ time, but there were no real systems in place and no one had specific training for working with large stray animals, Collins said.
Hallman, who has worked with cattle all his life, took several training courses in preparation for the job. Working with stray livestock is actually quite different from working with animals on her personal farm, she said.
“You go from friendly animals to undersocialized animals, so they’re harder to catch,” Hallman said. “This is where you have to think outside the box.”
For example, Hallman recently had to catch a bull who, unlike most horses, does not react to food and is not used to having a halter. Hallman had to get creative and use panels to make a makeshift enclosure and slowly shrink the enclosure until the bull ran into the trailer, she said.
When Hallman responds to a call, his goal is to immediately return the animal to its owner. If she cannot find the owner or she has reason to believe an animal is being neglected or abused, the animals are brought to the barn, located on Ball Park Road in Lexington.
“It’s counterintuitive,” Collins said, “but we built this fancy big barn out of a desire to bring nothing back to it.”
Caring for an animal is always the obligation of the owner, but circumstances arise in which an animal becomes homeless. When this happens, county officials believe it’s important to have the resources to support the animal in the short term.
When an animal arrives at the Lexington County barn, an owner may come forward to claim the animal for a five-day holding period. After the five days, Hallman and the animal services team begin looking for families or organizations to adopt the animals.
Aiken Equine Rescue, an Aiken County nonprofit farm that rehabilitates and finds permanent homes for horses, has taken in two horses from Lexington County since the barn opened.
“We are good partners,” Rhodes said.
A county that has a large animal facility like Lexington’s is rare, although there is a need for one, Rhodes said. Counties must be responsible for their animals. For counties with a significant amount of farmland, that means being prepared to handle large animals, he said.
“Not every county will need something as big as Lexington County,” Rhodes said, “but they do need something.”
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