In 1900 keeping and using animals was still an integral part of life in the villages of the Winsen Marsh and northern Lüneburg Heath regions. During the era of the economic miracle in the 1960's, a time of more intensive agriculture, the way of life on farms changed radically. While agriculture had, for example, traditionally been characterised by dual-purpose animals - such as the Ramelsloh chicken, which laid lots of eggs while also providing tasty meat - keeping such heritage breeds is today considered uneconomical. Instead specialised breeds are increasingly being reared. In the case of chickens this means that they either lay large numbers of eggs or put on large amounts of meat. Heritage breeds are, in contrast, usually more robust, less prone to disease and extremely resistant to stress. To show visitors how people and animals used to live together, we keep a variety of heritage livestock on the museum's grounds. They live in animal-friendly environments, such as meadows and historic barns. Most of these breeds are threatened with extinction today, so by keeping and breeding them the museum is making an important contribution to their survival.
Cows are traditional farm animals and Kiekeberg Open-Air Museum is no exception. Black Pied cattle were typical for the rural landscape in northern Germany until well into the 19th century. These comparatively small but muscular animals are long-lived, fertile and less susceptible to disease. They are undemanding when it comes to soil conditions and fodder. In addition to this, Black Pied cattle can be used as both milk cows and also for meat production. These characteristics made them particularly attractive to our ancestors.
Today's modern high-performance cattle are, in contrast, bred for either milk or meat production and so there is no longer any call for this versatile heritage breed. This is, however, not the case at the open-air museum, where visitors can experience Black Pied cattle at close quarters, either in the fields or in the historic barns.
Our cows are not the only ones who are pied - we also keep Bentheim Black Pied pigs. They owe their name to their random black markings and their place of origin. Although these pigs were among the most popular domestic breeds in Germany from the mid-19th century to the post-WWII era, today they are threatened with extinction. Kiekeberg Open-Air Museum is committed to protecting this species by keeping and breeding it.
The museum's pigs live in the 300-year old pig sty which is part of an original heath farm on our grounds. They have litters several times a year and all our visitors, whether young or old, love the piglets. After living an animal-friendly life at the museum our Bentheim Black Pied pigs are slaughtered for their meat. A traditional village butcher from the region turns their meat into delicious artisan sausage, which you can buy in our museum shop.
Our sheep are the museum's living lawn mowers. Bentheim sheep are the largest breed of moor and heath sheep and were common in the regions around the museum for many years. They are characterised by their robustness, undemanding dietary requirements and high quality of meat. Thanks to their hard hooves Bentheim sheep can cover long distances and are well-suited to herding practices in our region. Each sheep also produces around four kilos of pure white wool when shorn.
Despite all these good qualities, Bentheim sheep are today also an endangered livestock breed which faces extinction. Luckily, the museum has also been successful at breeding and keeping these animals and visitors always look forward to seeing the cute lambs in the springtime.
A lot of clucking goes on here! Since 2014 the Kiekeberg Open-Air Museum has been coordinating the Ramelsloh breeding ring for the preservation of this endangered breed, which aims to preserve its rare yellow plumage and genetic diversity. Ramelsloh chickens were first bred in 1870 in the same-name village, located north of Lüneburg Heath. They are also known by their nickname ‘Ramelsloh Blue Legs’, derived from the distinctive colour of their legs. Although chambers of agriculture once recommended the Ramelsloh chicken to farmers as a particularly high-performing breed it was not long before it no longer met the requirements of modern agriculture. As dual-purpose animals the chickens produced fewer eggs than specialised laying breeds and almost died out.
At the open-air museum, our clucking residents with their distinctive blue legs can be found at several locations in the grounds - and heard everywhere. The chicks, which are kept in the reconstructed henhouse from Winsen, are great favourites with visitors.
Pomeranians are the heavyweights among geese and can weigh up to eight kilogrammes. Our breeding programme has been so successful that our Pomeranian geese are the only animals at Kiekeberg which are no longer an endangered species. Nevertheless, the German Association for the Conservation of Historic and Endangered Domestic Animal Breeds is continuing to monitor their numbers.
The geese greet visitors arriving at the entrance with loud calls. And the gaggle attracts a lot of attention when everyone waddles around the grounds from one grazing pasture to the next, quacking loudly as they do so.
The open-air museum has residents who like to bleat and butt in - our white goats. They are robust animals which are resistant to disease, have few dietary or water requirements and are highly adaptable. This makes them easy to keep in comparison to other animals. In addition to their milk, goats also provide their owners with meat, skins and dung. They were particularly popular with poorer people, earning them the nickname of ‘the common man's cow’.
In fact, goats can be considered a measure of how affluent a society is. Countries which have large goat populations usually have a poor human population. The number of goats kept in Germany was particularly high in the years following WWII but subsequently declined following the economic miracle of the 1960's, reaching Its lowest point in 1977.