By Jeff Odom
Just off a long stretch of Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel, Debbie Shivvers and her husband, Mike Shivvers, have created a place for threatened and endangered farm animals to live safely.
Amongst the chickens, turkeys and goats, the Shivvers adopted two French Poitou donkeys, which are considered one of the rarest and most endangered breeds in the world.
At one point in the 1980s, there were only 19 of the donkey still living worldwide. That number is now more than 2,000.
The 1-year-old male, Marcel, and his 7-year-old female companion, Mimi, roams the long fields of the Shivvers’ Plott Hollow Farm. Mimi even serves as a protector of the other animals from wild creatures such as bobcats and hawks, which threaten the others as predators.
“The initial reason we looked at (the donkeys) was to protect the goats and the chickens,” Mike said. “There’s bobcats and there’s coyotes in this area, and we’ve lost a couple chickens. … Donkeys are very protective animals.”
While the couple owns a thriving grooming business, located adjacent to the farm, a lot of time is spent looking after Mimi, who is pregnant and is due to give birth in August. Mike said Mimi is already into her motherly phase, keeping the goats in line and sometimes even letting them ride on her back.
“(Mimi) will walk over to where they all are and they’ll jump up onto her back, and sometimes one will knock the other off,” Mike said. “They all want to be the center of attention.”
Debbie said the couple moved from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel to start the farm two and a half years ago with the goal of creating an area for threatened species to live and breed.
“I grew up (in North Carolina) with a pet goat, so that was a must,” Debbie said. “Then, once we got the chickens, I said ‘I never thought I’d love chickens this much.’ And from there it all came together.”
Mike added, it didn’t take much convincing from his wife.
“I had to think about it, but I kind of just grew into it,” Mike said. “I had never done it, since I’m from New England. Up there, we just had dogs and cats. Chickens and things were what you saw at the zoo, or the grocery store.”
Other animals on the farm include heritage breed chickens and an endangered American mustang horse, which the couple adopted from a kill shelter in Citrus County earlier this year. Mike said owners leaving their horses at pounds aren’t uncommon these days because of economic uncertainty.
“Usually when you think of a pound, you think of dogs and cats, but there’s a lot of horses there too now,” Mike said. “With the way the economy has been and stuff, people are getting rid of their horses because people can’t feed them. The hay has gone up so high (in price).”
Mike said looking after the animals is a source of relaxation. It sometimes is even a reminder that life isn’t so bad after a hard day.
“You get satisfaction out of taking care of them,” Mike said. “You’ve got to come out and spend a lot of time with them, and it’s hard not to love them.”
The couple would like to expand the farm. They would like to first add more breeds of goats and chickens.
“With the world the way it is and so many breeds on the decline or in extinction, it’s all fine and dandy to be concerned about that, but if you don’t act nobody will,” Debbie said. “It has to start with one person.”
For more information on Plott Hollow Farm, visit www.plotthollowfarm.com.
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