Central Park Was Not The Only New York City Park To Have Sheep Manicuring Its Lawn
The History of Prospect Park’s Flock Of Sheep
But did you know that Brooklyn’s Prospect Park also had its own flock of livestock on its grounds? When this photograph was taken in 1901, Prospect Park had about 30 sheep, with three full-time shepherds to watch over the flock.
While still under design the Prospect Park Commissioners in 1866 proposed “to enclose with a sufficient iron paling and make use of as a pasture ground for deer, antelopes, gazelles, and such other grazing animals as can he satisfactorily herded together in summer upon it.”
Deer, antelopes and gazelles were not confined to the park. After the opening of Prospect Park in 1867 sheep were introduced to graze on its grounds.
Over the years the number of sheep fluctuated to as many as 110 as some sheep were sold off and others acquired.
Paddy Welch was the main shepherd of the Southdown’s and New Hampshire’s, until political influence forced him from his job in the early 1890s. In 1922 Prospect Park increased the value of its herd by introducing pure-bred Southdown’s.
By 1934 city planning titan and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, had enough of Central Park’s sheep. The 49 pure-bred Dorset sheep in Central Park were moved to Prospect Park to join the hornless Southdown’s on February 19, 1934. The Central Park building where the sheep had been housed was remodeled and became the site of the restaurant Tavern on the Green.
Central Park’s last shepherd Frank Hoey quit one year after the sheep were moved to Brooklyn. Hoey had been with the Park’s Department for 32 years, 20 of them tending to the sheep. After the move Hoey was transferred to the zoo to take care of other animals. Hory said, “Animals are pretty much the same as kiddies. They want lots of care and attention, although they are dumb, they know enough to know when they are not getting what they want. All of them respond to kindness, even lions and tigers.”
At Prospect Park, from April until November in decent weather, the flock were led from their holding pens at 8 am to grassy areas of the park to graze. At noon the sheep were brought back to get a drink and then returned to graze until 5 pm. Besides a Head Keeper, John O’Brien, the sheep were looked after by two Scotch collies Mike and his son King. The dogs ranged near the sheep, keeping the flock from straying and keeping away other Brooklyn dogs who might pose a threat.
The sheep were sheared usually in April. The fleece was then taken to auction. Each sheep yielded about $20 worth of wool.
For 39 years John O’Brien performed his duties at Prospect Park tending to the sheep and other animals at the Prospect Park Zoo.
It is not clear when Prospect Park removed its sheep from roaming free, but that probably occurred sometime before O’Brien’s retirement in March of 1942.