“I feel we’re not too deserving because we’re not typical farmers,” Becky Robb said of her and husband Rick’s selection as farm marshals for the 2010 Farm-City Days parade.
It could be their atypical-ness that got them the honor.
The Robbs, who own and operate General Repair and Supply in Iola, raise exotic animals as well as beef cattle on their ranch north of town.
“I just love animals,” Becky said, explaining her penchant for unusual farm pets.
It started 25 years ago with a pot-bellied pig. A donkey was added about 10 years later, Rick said. Now, Rick and Becky Robb’s menagerie has grown to include four-horned Jacob’s sheep, hump-backed brahmas, African watusis, shaggy Scot Highland cattle, various goats and sheep and dogs and wallabies.
Most notable is Clyde the camel.
Purchased about six months ago, Clyde is a single-humped dromedary and Becky’s favorite.
“I just always wanted one. It’s my dream animal — well, one of them, anyway,” she said.
Typical or not as their herds may be, the Robbs exemplify love of ranching.
They take pleasure in coming home each evening to the daily chores of feeding, slopping and caring for their flocks.
Becky has also spent the last 20 years running the Baby Barn at the Allen County Fair.
“We’re all on the fair board,” Becky said of her family, which also includes son J.D. and daughter Kate.
Becky often brings young animals to show to civic groups and schools, and frequently has classes tour the ranch.
“I love animals and kids and this way I can do both of them together,” she said.
Becky also noted that her work with the Baby Barn actually encouraged their raising of unusual animals.
“To run the Baby Barn, you need mom and baby animals,” Becky said. “That time of year” — when the fair is in session — “is not the normal time you have babies” on farms and ranches, she said. “So I started raising animals to have babies” to show in the Baby Barn.
Pot bellied pigs are particularly good with children, she noted. “I’ve never had one bite. They’re dainty and polite with the kids.”
While many of the Robbs’ exotics are miniature breeds, smaller does not mean less care, Rick noted.
“They have a really big attitude,” Rick said of miniature cattle. “They’re harder to handle than larger cattle and they are fast. I think you underestimate them because of the size.”
And, he said, despite their fancy names, “For salvage value, everything’s beef.”
MANY OF THE exotics roam freely about the ranch, just as any pasture animal would.
In the evening, goats are turned loose.
Becky pointed out one particular goat.
Known as a fainting goat, the breed locks its hind legs when frightened, Becky said.
Sure enough, as she chased it about the pen, the goat’s legs stiffened as it fumbled out into the open.
Becky said that when they purchased it, they were told the breed had been developed as coyote bait. Kept with more expensive animals, the story went, the goat would freeze up, providing easy prey for marauders, allowing the more-valued herd to escape. “That’s what we were told, anyway,” she said.
Animals not allowed to roam are the wallabies.
The Australian natives that look like miniature kangaroos are “really just domesticated wild animals,” Rick noted. They browse like deer, he said, and don’t mind Kansas weather. “They actually like the rain, and will stand outside in it.”
But they can still jump. Let loose, they would just run, Becky said.
“Like a deer, when they’re frightened, flight is their main defense,” she said.
The Robbs do have deer, as well. Becky is a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Currently, two fawns are growing up on Robb Ranch, and will be released into the wild when grown.
The fawns came to the Robbs from the state, Becky noted, though the cost of rehabilitation “is all out of my own pocket.”
She has been licensed to care for injured and orphaned animals since 1996. Increased costs associated with such care likly mean this is her last year at it, she said.
THE ROBBS purchase many of their animals at an exotic livestock auction held a few times a year in Yates Center.
The next such auction is in February. By then, Becky said she hopes to have bottle-feeding pot bellied pigs to sell, plus young goats and sheep to trade.
The Robbs will trade animals they have enough of, acquiring new breeds or blood for their herds.
“As long as I can trade for most of my animals, I’m good,” she said of keeping her flocks diversified.
But Clyde will never be traded. Becky saved up for years to purchase him, she said.
The camel wasn’t cheap. A recent young female at auction was offered for $3,000, she said. It didn’t sell.
Besides the purchase price, Becky noted there is the added expense of milk when you buy a bottle-feeding baby, as Clyde was.
Plus, “A lot of people don’t have the time to bottle-feed four times a day,” — the regimen she adopted with the camel, who was just weeks old when she got him.
Clyde sucked down numerous quart bottles of lamb milk replacer, Becky said. “It adds quite a bit to the initial cost.”
That is one reason, she said, that Clyde will most likely be an only camel.
Although related to llamas and alpacas (two more breeds at Robb Ranch), Clyde — due to his size — scares some of the other animals, Rick said. At eight months, he is already six feet tall, though he still follows Becky around like a puppy. As she turns to walk to the garage, Clyde looks up from his hale bale, and trots off bandy-legged after her, mewling.
Many of the exotics have long life expectancies, Becky noted. Donkeys can live 40 years. Pot bellied pigs can be 15. And Clyde — well, at the beginning of his four-decade life-expectancy, Becky noted, “J.D. will inherit Clyde.”
Her son is willing, she said. And while he loves ranching, she’s not too sure he’ll keep exotics. And that’s OK, she noted.
“Ranching is hard work,” she said. “It’s every day, year round. In winter you’re breaking ice and feeding hay.”
And although the hours are long, especially when coming after a day at the shop, “I can’t imagine living in town,” Rick said.