Goodbye, Winter (and Good Riddance)

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Winters at the New York Shelter always present challenges. This one was especially brutal, with record-low temperatures in February and scathing wind-chills throughout the season, but it was no match for our dedicated shelter team.

Since few visitors ever see the shelter between the end of October and the beginning of May, I thought I’d share a glimpse of what living the (freezing) Farm Sanctuary life is like during the reign of winter.

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Suiting Up

Every day this winter, staff members were out and about from dawn until after nightfall, in wind chills as low as negative 35 degrees. Naturally, this requires a lot of clothing: layer upon layer, topped off with heavy-duty boots, hats, gloves, and facemasks. Moving around in all that is no easy task. It’s like working in a space suit!

The shelter’s humans aren’t the only ones who suit up. Our elderly sheep and goats, as well as the very young ones and anyone who has little body fat or just gets chilly, is outfitted with a special coat to keep them cozy. This year several of our turkeys molted in the middle of winter, so caregiver Abbie Rogers sewed them their own warm (and fabulous) jackets.

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Ice, Ice, Baby

While most shelter residents prefer to stay inside during the worst of winter, the cattle love to go out in all conditions. They even run and play in the snow. Since a fall could be devastating for these massive creatures, it’s crucial to keep their walkways ice-free. Salt is harmful to the animals’ feet, so staff fight the ice with sand, shoveling tons of it by hand over the course of the season.

On top of the battle with ice is the battle with snow. It was a seriously snowy winter this year, and the roads, paths, and animal areas were often buried under tremendous drifts that made the shelter grounds look like a frozen seascape. Plowing our vital walkways was a constant task for the barn cleaners. This tenacious team kept our paths clear all season, even when it got so cold that the tractors wouldn’t start.

The Barn Dance

Barn conditions are a tricky, high-stakes business in the brutal cold of winter. The barns must provide enough weather protection to keep the animals warm but, especially in the case of the large animals, must also admit enough airflow to prevent the atmosphere within from becoming moist, which would put the animals at risk of pneumonia. Regulating this takes attention to detail. Doors are kept open or closed strategically, every barn has a thermometer, and we keep a close eye on the weather.

It’s also important, as always, to keep the barns clean. In the summer, barn cleaners move the animals out of the barns for more efficient cleaning (and most of the animals are already outside anyway), but once it gets cold, it is no longer safe to do so. Instead, the cleaners must work around the animals, shifting them around the barn as they go. This slows down the operation, but it’s worth it to keep everyone safe and cozy.

Creature Comforts

The cleaners have a lot of straw to contend with in the pig barn, where we pile it knee-high during the cold months. The pigs build big nests for themselves, burrow down, and largely disappear from view until spring.

In their barns and sheds, our chickens and turkeys keep warm with ceramic heat-lamps (sent back to the manufacturer every year for safety checks). Along with the ducks and geese, they spend most of the coldest months inside; they prefer to stay nice and warm, and their beaks, bills, and feet can be vulnerable to frostbite. With plenty of space to roost, stroll, socialize, or have a private moment, the birds can get on with their lives even as the wind howls outside.

Like the birds, the goats hate the cold, and most stay in their barn. About 15 of them wear coats for additional warmth. The sheep, on the other hand, have their wool to keep them warm and tend to take the winter in stride. We do keep our special-needs sheep separate from the main flock so we can make sure they don’t fall or get stuck outside in the cold.

Our new mothers and babies, along with some of our elderly animals who have trouble staying warm, spent the season in our three warmest buildings. Our Melrose Small Animal Hospital, Rescue and Rehabilitation Barn, and Healthcare Hospital all have radiant-heat flooring, and our most vulnerable animals were safe and comfortable there all winter.

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Water, Water Everywhere

One of the many tasks complicated by winter weather is supplying the animals with water. It got so cold this year that the pipes beneath multiple barns and sheds froze, disabling many auto-waters and obliging staff to haul water to the animals. Any caregiver in charge of feeds and waters inevitably got wet — you could hear them coming from the ice rattling on their pants.

So. Much. Hay.

We have 50 cattle, 75 sheep, and 40 goats at the shelter. When pasture is available, these ruminants eat mostly grass. During the other six (or, in the case of this year, seven) months of the year, they eat hay. Food is the fuel they need to keep their bodies warm, and the colder it gets, the more fuel they need. During the depths of this winter, we were going through about six and half tons of hay every week.

Distributing all that hay takes not only elbow grease but also know-how. Different groups of animals get different types of hay. For instance, elderly animals who are missing teeth and/or have trouble keeping weight on their bodies are given a soft, rich grass hay. Heartier animals are given a hay that is not so rich, to keep them from becoming overweight. Male goats and donkeys require specific nutrients in their hay to prevent certain health issues.

In addition to hay, our elderly goats and two of our elderly cows receive a special mash that’s easier for them to eat. This is typically prepared by our interns. Yes, there are folks who choose to intern with us during the coldest, snowiest, iciest time of year, and we are grateful for them.

Extra Care

During the winter, you won’t find one staff member here who doesn’t know the forecast. We pay constant, close attention to the weather, the conditions in the barns and yards, and especially the animals. We watch for any signs of discomfort or illness, which is a particular risk during the temperature fluctuations toward the end of the season. By that point, many of the animals have a serious case of cabin fever. Things can get pretty rowdy in the barns, as their residents act out like kids stuck inside too long. We certainly can’t blame them for getting antsy.

The increased difficulty and discomfort of the work, as well as concern over keeping the animals safe and healthy through it all, can be exhausting, so we also pay close attention to each other. We check in often, make sure people are taking breaks and giving themselves a chance to thaw out. When the cold descends, we all draw a little closer together, both animals and people, everyone feeling a little extra grateful for the warmth and support of the shelter family.

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Extra Joy

And then, after all that, suddenly it’s spring.

Coats are shed (or sheared), the ducks and geese return ecstatically to their pond, the pastures turn a dazzling shade of green, and everyone comes out to soak up the sunshine. The animals bask in it for hours. They run, they play, stretch their legs, and kick up their heels. We all get a little giddy. We’ve made it through another winter, together.

5 Ways Our Adoption Network Saves Animals

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Farm Sanctuary operates the largest farm-animal rescue and refuge network in North America. The Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN) encompasses hundreds of individual adopters, as well as fellow rescue and shelter groups, and has a presence in nearly every U.S. state.

Providing wonderful, lifelong homes, the network allows us to make space at our shelters for new arrivals and also to undertake large-scale operations like last year’s rescue of more than 300 “spent” egg-laying hens. FAAN is an impressive example of what we can do when work together.

An animal rescued by Farm Sanctuary has sanctuary for life. Here’s are five things that set our Farm Animal Adoption Network apart:

1. We put farm animals first.

Because the animals we rescue are viewed by most people as food sources, we must be especially careful that they don’t fall into the wrong hands. We don’t advertise on sites like Craigslist or Petfinder. Nor do we advertise at feed stores or anywhere else where these animals might be associated with food production. We screen adopters thoroughly to be sure they are both committed to and capable of providing excellent, lifelong care.

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We also never promote our animals by referring to qualities that could be exploited, like egg-laying for ducks, geese, and hens or “lawn-mowing” and brush removal for goats and sheep. Doing so might bring in more applicants, but they would be applicants who see these animals as a means to some end. These animals suffered in exploitative circumstances before their rescue, and they never will again. We insist that adopters treat their adopted animals as companions.

2. Health matters.

The FAAN application process involves a review of the housing and outdoor areas to be provided to the adopted animals, as well as personal and veterinary references.

Because the animals we rescue often face health complications due to industrial breeding and raising practices, we insist that adopters have access to appropriate veterinary services. Chickens bred for egg production, for instance, are prone to a slew of reproductive-tract ailments, from blockages to cancer. Though we adopt out only the healthiest of the chickens we rescue, access to expert care and treatment is still crucial for all the adoptees. Part of the process of adopting these special-needs animals into homes is teaching adopters how to care for them.

3. We go the distance.

We transport animals to their adoptive homes ourselves. This not only ensures that the journey is safe and comfortable for the animals but also allows us to evaluate their new homes in person.

We’ll bring animals to the homes that are best for them, even if those homes are hundreds of miles away. Take, for example, the four pigs we recently transported from our New York Shelter all the way to a shelter in Florida.

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Our many long-distance and interstate adoptions require careful preparations. Out-of-state adoptions also require testing and health certificates for specific diseases, which vary by destination state. Following these laws is imperative for the safety of the animals, since animals transported illegally can be confiscated and destroyed for testing.

4. We follow up.

Though adopted animals are living outside our shelters, they’re still part of the Farm Sanctuary family. Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell checks in with new adopters to make sure everything is going smoothly, and with the help of National Shelter Director Susie Coston, she regularly fields questions from adopters new and old about healthcare, behavior, and resources.

Many adopters have come to the sanctuary to learn even more about basic healthcare for their new family members, and many have attended our Farm Animal Care Conference, offered every September.

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National Shelter Director Susie Coston provides in-depth instruction at our Farm Animal Care Conference.

5. We realize not every animal should be adopted.

Our rescued animals are survivors of abuse and neglect, which can leave them with persistent health challenges, or even special emotional needs, for the rest of their lives. For some, these difficulties require the sort of accommodations, monitoring, and care that can be provided only at our shelters .

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Samantha, who requires a prosthetic leg, will always live at our New York Shelter so she lives in close proximity to expert medical care.

No sanctuary can make a sizeable dent in the number of farm animals slaughtered in this country, which is now over nine billion per year. What we can do is give wonderful lives to the animals we are able to save and do so by treating them as we would our own companion animals- as an individual. Each is important in his or her own right, as an ambassador and a thinking, feeling individual.

Care to learn more about home adoption? Farm Sanctuary is always on the lookout for great adopters. We’re happy to help you figure out what sort of adoption is right for you and what you need to do to get ready. Visit our adoption page for more info or to fill out an application.

The Farm Animal Adoption Network

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

A compassionate world begins with us. More than 9 billion farm animals are slaughtered each year in the U.S. alone. We wish we could rescue them all, but even with three sanctuaries, our space is limited. Thankfully, we also operate Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN), the highest quality farm-animal rescue and refuge network in North America. FAAN encompasses hundreds of individual adopters, as well as fellow rescue and shelter groups, and has a presence in nearly every U.S. state. Providing wonderful, secure, lifelong homes, the network allows us to make space at our shelters for new arrivals and also to undertake large-scale operations throughout the year. FAAN is an impressive example of what we can do when work together. Our FAAN members provide our animals with individualized care, seeing each as someone not something; a far cry from their treatment in the farms from where they are rescued.

Let’s meet a couple of our fabulous FAAN members who recently welcomed new arrivals to their homes.

Meet the adopters: Vicki and family

Vicki and Jonathan Harkness, owners of plant nursery Perry Hill Farm, have been adopting rescued animals for over 21 years, including a group of sheep, a cow, and several chickens through Farm Sanctuary referrals, as well as multiple turkeys directly from our shelter.

2015_12-21_FSNY_Sven_Jedidiah_Amos__Perry_Hill_009_CREDIT_Farm_SanctuaryIn December 2014, the Harknesses adopted three more New York Shelter turkeys, rescued as poults from a factory farm. They surprised their son, Joshua, with the new arrivals, whom he declared “the best Christmas present ever!” Vicki says, “Joshua is amazing with all the animals on the farm. He has grown up with them.”

2015_12-21_FSNY_Sven_Jedidiah_Amos__Perry_Hill_035_CREDIT_Farm_Sanctuary Sven, Jedidiah, and Amos have been enjoying their new home and following their new buddy everywhere. Vicki recalls looking out the window to see Joshua jumping on the family’s trampoline — while his turkey entourage waited patiently on the sidelines for him to finish and rejoin them.

“Adopting animals has affected all of our emotions,” says Vicki. “They make us laugh, feel love, they make us cry when they are sick, they make us get mad when they break down the fence and go on adventures, and then we end up laughing. When a cow gets into your house and has pooped all over your floor, all you can do is laugh!”

And the best thing about adopting rescued farm animals? “Seeing them happy, healthy, safe, and free.”

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Meet the adopters: Molly and Lauren

Molly Merryman is a documentary filmmaker and an associate professor of Sociology at Kent State University, teaching courses primarily in the department’s Victimology concentration. Lauren Vachon, who writes fiction and poetry, has an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches Intro to LGBT Studies at Kent State University.

One day last fall, Molly and Lauren saw an alert from Farm Sanctuary about our rescue of 87 chickens who had fallen off a transport truck onto the Staten Island Expressway.

IMG_20150118_101802162 Wishing to do something for these birds, they reached out to us to adopt. Additionally, says Molly, “We live in a rural area where we see animal transport trucks regularly; we’re always upset at the conditions of the transport of those animals. We wanted to do something positive.”

Molly has been vegetarian for years, but at the time of the rescue, Lauren was still eating meat on rare occasions. When they talked about the possibility of adopting these birds, who would have slaughtered for meat if they hadn’t fallen off the truck, Lauren finally officially became vegetarian. She says, “The way these chickens began their lives, and the way they were rescued, and the fact that we wanted to be their caretakers seemed incompatible with eating meat.”

This January, they welcomed 12 of the Expressway hens to their 10-acre property in northeast Ohio. “The chickens are so fun and sweet and friendly!” says Molly. “We love how we can hold and pet them. We love how they come running as soon as they hear our footsteps. They are always so happy to see us.” The hens are staying warm through the winter in a cozy coop built by Molly’s dad. With wheels on the coop and a transportable enclosure, the hens will get to enjoy a moveable feast once the weather breaks, with their caregivers frequently shifting them to fresh patches of yard for foraging and exploring. This summer, the flock will get to investigate the garden.

Molly and Lauren are getting to know their new friends and have already encountered some stand-out personalities. Bitey, despite her namesake habit, is Lauren’s favorite, because she’s so curious; she’s always the first to come see what the humans are doing. Another flock member is Curly, instantly recognizable by her curled toes. Molly and Lauren have kept a close eye on her to make sure she’s getting around okay. Despite her slight deformity, “she does fine,” says Molly, “and we’ve been delighted to see that she’s one of the most persistent scratchers. She loves digging through the long grass underneath the coop.”

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Lauren says the best thing about adopting the chickens is that she can’t wait to get home from work to go feed them and spend time with them —“their happiness is contagious.” Molly adds, “We both think it feels so good to know these hens have a rare second chance at a good and happy life, and that we’re the ones providing it. Taking care of them is so satisfying.”

Attention, Aspiring Adopters!

Interested in home adoption? Farm Sanctuary is always on the lookout for great adopters. We’re happy to help you figure out what sort of adoption is right for you and what you need to do to get ready. Visit our adoption page for more info or to fill out an application.

Sheep Make Good CEOs and 5 More Fascinating Facts in Honor of the “Year of the Sheep”

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, Feb. 19, 2015, launches the Year of the Sheep, celebrating the animal considered to be most emblematic of kindness. What better time to share our love of these remarkable animals? Though many people eat lamb and wear wool, far fewer have actually interacted with the animals exploited for these products and know what they are really like. So this year we’re inviting everyone to celebrate sheep with us, in the hope that a deeper understanding of these complex creatures will change the way they are viewed and treated.

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1. Sheep are notoriously friendly
At Farm Sanctuary’s shelters in New York and California, our sheep wag their tails like dogs, they know their names, and they form strong bonds with other sheep, goats, and with people (unless they come to us traumatized, as some do).

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2. Sheep experience emotion similarly to humans
A study published in Animal Welfare showed that sheep experience emotion in ways similar to humans. The authors concluded that “sheep are able to experience emotions such as fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness, because they use the same checks involved in such emotions as humans. For instance, despair is triggered by situations that are evaluated as sudden, unfamiliar, unpredictable, discrepant from expectations, and uncontrollable, whereas boredom results from an overly predictable environment, and all these checks have been found to affect emotional responses in sheep.”

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3. Sheep have panoramic vision
Thanks to their cool rectangular pupils, sheep can see almost 360 degrees, including directly behind themselves!

4. Sheep know how you feel
Another study from Cambridge University found that sheep — like humans and some primates — can pick up emotional cues in both humans and other sheep. Not surprisingly, they strongly preferred smiling and relaxed expressions over angry ones.

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5. Sheep never forget a face
Researchers in the United Kingdom, writing for Nature, found that sheep have the same “specialized neural mechanisms for visual recognition” that humans do, which allows them to remember the faces of at least 50 individual humans and other sheep for more than two years, “and that the specialized neural circuits involved maintain selective encoding of individual sheep and human faces even after long periods of separation.”

6. Sheep are the CEOs of the barnyard
Sheep can learn how to solve puzzles, remember what they’ve learned, and adapt to changed circumstances — all much more quickly than monkeys. The researchers note what they call the “impressive cognitive abilities of sheep” and find that “sheep can perform ‘executive’ cognitive tasks that are an important part of the primate behavioral repertoire, but that have never been shown previously to exist in any other large animal” other than humans and some other primates.

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Remembering Willow

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Willow was all about family. She belonged to a herd of 30 cattle, 26 of them pregnant cows bred for beef production, whom we rescued from a farm in Butler County, PA, in 2004. The farmer continued to breed his cows despite the fact he could not afford to adequately feed them through the winter. By the time the cows were rescued, they were dangerously thin.

In her teens at the time, Willow was among the older members of the herd. She had already endured years in production, bearing one calf each year. Most of her calves had been taken from her when they were still young, but some of the females had likely been integrated into the herd. Willow was especially close with four younger cows — possibly her daughters by blood.

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Willow lived 10 years at our New York Shelter, reveling in the company of this family. Before their rescue, the cows had each other and nothing else. Now, they had sprawling green pastures; shady hideaways; a clean, warm barn; and the vigorous good health that comes with nutritious food, expert care, and lots of exercise. Willow and her daughters cherished their freedom; so much so that their shelter arrival precipitated a wave of fence renovations. The entire Butler County herd was notorious for destroying fences to reach their favorite things, which included fresh pasture and fruit from our many apple trees.

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As Willow grew healthier and stronger, she saw her family grow, too. She and her daughters, Celeste, Twilight, Meg, and Ashley, all arrived pregnant and soon gave birth to a cohort of beautiful calves. These devoted sons and daughters always felt safest when their moms were near. Even when they had grown larger than their mothers, the youngsters would still dive beneath them to nurse when they were worried or afraid.

We knew we could count on Willow to care for several young orphans, including some of the male dairy calves we rescued from neglect and abandonment over the years. And Willow and the other moms have done their part to welcome these newcomers to the herd, extending to these youngsters the care and affection that they were not able to receive from their own mothers.

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That said, Willow the caregiver was also known to cut loose, playing, running and head-butting with family and friends. She also had a reputation as one of our “announcers.” Whenever the herd began moving to a new pasture, Willow would loudly proclaim the development. She sounded like a foghorn and could be heard throughout the shelter.

Still, Willow was wary of humans her whole life, a common trait among beef cattle. Unlike most farm animals, beef cows in breeding herds tend to have little contact with humans. They are left to graze and gestate with little intervention, even in the form of basic healthcare. The rare occasions when they do encounter humans are almost invariably traumatic, whether it is during painful procedures like castration, dehorning, or branding, all performed without anesthetic, or during the devastating separation when a young cow or steer is taken away to be fattened for slaughter.

Understandably, survivors of such farms are not keen on human contact. Thus, we left Willow largely to her own devices, intervening only when necessary for her wellbeing. Such was the case when, in 2008, Willow was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in her eye.

Like many other members of her herd, she was light-skinned and light-eyed and, therefore, vulnerable to certain cancers from sun exposure. Willow fought her disease heartily for years, and we gave her the best care and treatment we could. But late last year, we discovered Willow’s cancer – despite having been surgically removed and treated, had returned and spread. That cancer, which originally had been visible and treatable, had metastasized and was now internal and untreatable.

We could tell something was wrong when she willingly let us approach her — something she had never done before. She knew she needed help. For two weeks, our vet came to the shelter every day to treat Willow, attempting to build up her strength and resolve issues that we ultimately discovered were only secondary to her underlying condition. To our grief, the cancer could neither be cured nor effectively treated, and a great deal of pain lay ahead. We wanted to spare her that. Willow was euthanized in the cattle barn, passing away gently in a private stall.

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When we let the other cattle back into the barn, they all came to the gate of Willow’s stall to visit her body. They were distressed, especially those with whom she had been closest. Her friends and family crowded around her protectively, as though to preserve her lifelong aloofness toward humans, and the members of her herd uttered guttural calls, a gesture of mourning.

No one who witnessed that display could doubt that cows experience grief. Willow’s son, Blue, was the most visibly upset, throwing his head and charging at staff who attempted to move her body for burial. Even Queenie, an older cow with a reputation as a tough cookie, was clearly distraught and ran after the equipment we used to take away the body of her departed friend.

Willow’s death, like her life, was defined by her relationships; her importance to her family. Her survivors were deeply saddened, but it is love that will also help them heal. The family she led is strong. The bonds will endure. Though Willow is gone in body, her spirit lives on in the generations she nurtured.

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Remembering Turpentine

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Too many people have misconceptions about turkeys. They assume these animals are unintelligent, unsociable, and undifferentiated. Some visitors come to the shelter not expecting to connect with the turkeys. Again and again, Turpentine walked up to those visitors and calmly demolished all of their assumptions.

That was the power of Turpentine’s personality. In fact, his gregariousness once saved his life. Before coming to Farm Sanctuary, Turpentine lived on a farm, where he was being raised for Thanksgiving dinner. As luck would have it, a Farm Sanctuary supporter lived next door. The turkey and his neighbor became friends, and every day when she called out Turpentine’s name, he would gobble back to her. The farmer, won over by this amazing boy himself, could not go through with his original plan to kill Turpentine. He decided to give him to another farmer to slaughter, but thankfully his neighbor convinced him to give Turpentine to her instead. She reached out to us, and we gladly welcomed the friendly turkey to our New York Shelter.

Turpentine may have thought we’d given him the shelter. He had soon familiarized himself with the grounds and begun keeping tabs on all the most interesting action. He followed caregivers. He followed interns. He followed visitors. And he chose his friends. He picked out people, many he had never met before, and clearly made a connection with them. He spent most of one Celebration for the Turkeys event in the lap of a man named Carlos, visiting from Canada.

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Nearly anyone who spent time at the shelter had the experience of looking back and seeing Turpentine behind them. He trailed caregivers and guests everywhere, even one time ducking under a gate and following a tour group up the hill to the main cattle herd. We constantly had to walk him back to his barn to keep him from wearing himself out.
Turpentine clearly loved attention, and we soon realized he loved the camera even more. If there was a person or a lens nearby, he would be sure to show up. He was always trying to get in front of whatever he though was receiving attention, from people posing for a photo to a baby goat nursing. He photo-bombed. A lot.

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The camera loved him right back, and so did we. He was a part of daily life at the shelter, and his presence was felt everywhere. Today, his absence is felt, deeply.

A short while ago, we noticed a small abscess lump on Turpentine’s chest. When it started getting bigger, we took our boy to the vet. An ultrasound revealed the extent of the mass, and we scheduled a surgery to have it removed. The decision was not made lightly; we weighed the pros and cons carefully.

The surgery thankfully went well, but a second surgery was needed. While waking up from the anesthesia after the second operation, Turpentine suffered a heart attack. Heart problems are a common blight of domestic turkeys, who have been bred to grow rapidly to an excessive weight. Even with expert care in a sanctuary setting, these birds remain vulnerable to cardiovascular ailments. Often large industrial breed male turkeys in a basic squabble over territory suffer from heart attacks, so sadly this is not uncommon.

We brought Turpentine back to the shelter to recover. Caregivers provided daily cleaning and wrapping for his operation site — and of course all the love and attention he could want. He seemed to be doing well, spending time outside each day, enjoying life. But on Sunday night something went wrong, and Turpentine suddenly died. He passed quickly and without suffering. The cause was most likely his heart.

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Back in 2013, we shared some very important facts about Turpentine on the Farm Sanctuary Facebook page: 1) he’ll follow you around until he is sure you have seen how beautiful and awesome he is, 2) he likes his reflection in the window at the Melrose Small Animal Hospital, and 3) he chooses a select few people who can pet him. Turpentine had his own Facebook page, too, with more than 800 fans. It was plastered with photos featuring our special guy, typically in front of, next to, or right in the middle of a group of humans delighted that he had made himself the star of their shot.

That was thing about Turpentine. No matter who you were, he made himself a part of your story. But of course, really, you were a part of his. Everything about him expressed his sense of self. You could see his pride, his joy in his own life and home, his fascination with people. He gave such an impression of a mind at work, a fellow intelligence.

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At Farm Sanctuary, we work to help invisible animals, the billions who die every year unnamed and unknown. The only difference between Turpentine and those billions was that he had the chance to show people who he was. Turpentine insisted on being known.

His charisma made him an outstanding ambassador for turkeys and a great friend too, and he left a trail of grinning humans wherever he went. Turpentine made sure you couldn’t ignore him. And looking back through the pictures now, I can almost imagine that, with every photo-bomb strut into the frame of someone’s captured moment, he was making sure none of us could ever forget him.

When Pigs Ride

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

During our 28 years in operation, Farm Sanctuary has not only provided lifelong sanctuary for thousands of rescued animals but also brought thousands more to loving adoptive homes through our rescue and refuge network. That number includes more than 200 pigs who we’ve transported to private homes and other sanctuaries. This winter, six more made the journey toward their new lives.

A Place for Every Pig

We met these pigs in August at Bob Comis’ farm in Upstate New York. After years of raising pigs for meat, Bob became uncomfortable with killing pigs for a living and decided that exploiting animals for food did not align with his values. He is now in the process of turning his pig farm into a vegetable farm. In the meantime, however, he had a small herd of pigs with special needs he could not address adequately at his property.

Initially, we took in a very sick pig named Gus and his best friend, Roxy, these two will live at our New York Shelter for the rest of their lives. Since we did not have space for the others at the time, we reached out to fellow rescue groups in our network to find fantastic homes for these pigs. Florida’s Rooterville offered a home to four of the pigs and Upstate New York’s Catskill Animal Sanctuary stepped in for the remaining two. Both sanctuaries have adopted several rescued animals from us over the years, and we were excited that they were able to welcome these newcomers to their herds.

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Ready, Set …

Once placement was secured, we picked up the pigs from Bob’s farm and brought them to Cornell University Hospital for Animals to receive check-ups and prepare for their trips. All of the female pigs were spayed, a measure that substantially lowers their risk of reproductive tract cancer. (The male pigs were already neutered, farmers neuter male pigs when they are a few days old).

The pigs who were showing signs of arthritis also received radiographs, which revealed that two of them already have severe arthritis in their hips, even though they are under a year old and still growing. These two will need lifelong pain management. We determined they should go to Rooterville, where the soil is sandy which is great for sore hips and joints and the weather is warm; compared to the frigid Upstate NY temperatures.

Go!

Finally, all the pigs were cleared for travel, the paperwork was in order, and the shelters were ready to receive their new residents. First came the trip to Florida. Three members of our New York Shelter staff accompanied the pigs, driving in shifts so that they could make the 16-hour trip in one day. The trailer was set up like a mobile bedroom, with lots of straw for the pigs to make nests for sleeping during the drive. The transporters stopped twice to give the pigs their meals and multiple times to give them water and clean out soiled straw. When the transport arrived at Rooterville, the transporters helped unload their passengers and then turned around and drove right back to the shelter. They were troopers!

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Next came the trip to Catskill. Though it was a much shorter drive, staff once again made sure that the pigs were as comfortable as possible. Even as they rode through the frigid weather of a New York December, the pair were cozy in their trailer/sleeper car. Upon arrival at Catskill, the two were welcomed into their new digs: a former horse field that staff had converted into a pig habitat just for them, remodeling the run-in shed into a cozy pig barn. Our friendly transporter (and farm manager), Mario, made such an impression on the welcoming committee that they named one of the pigs after him. The other they named Audrey.

All the Way Home

These special-needs friends may need a little more care and accommodation than your average pig, but they’re just as playful, curious, and full of fun. And they’ve been having a blast at their new homes.

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The long drive to Florida was clearly worth it for the four pigs who now call Rooterville home. Even the two with severe arthritis are flourishing. The warm weather down south is easier on their joints than harsh Northeast winters, and the sandy soil of the Rooterville grounds is gentle on their legs and feet. Additionally, Rooterville staff have extensive pig experience; pigs being their main residents.

Also in good hands are the two pigs who stayed nearby. Says Catskill Farm Manager Kathy Keefe of Mario and Audrey: “They are doing very well, arguing with their neighboring pigs but settling in just fine. Mario is bold and fairly demanding of attention, mostly in the form of scratches and belly rubs. Audrey is more delicate and polite but enjoys the physical attention just as much.” She adds, “They are a joy to watch as they gallop across the field to see whoever comes by to visit or, even better, to feed.”

While they are reveling in all the joys of pighood, these porcine ambassadors are also helping to teach visitors to their new homes that pigs are individuals, with all the intelligence, sensitivity, and social facility as dogs and cats. In this way, one rescue of six pigs can galvanize changes that help millions.

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Web of Hope

Even on small, non-industrialized farms, animals do not receive individualized care, and many are left with untreated and undiagnosed conditions. Over the almost 30 years of our operation, Farm Sanctuary has worked with vets and other experts to treat rescued farm animals and give them the care they have never had but so deserve. Every animal who comes to us is treated like a member of the family, and all their needs are met; their individuality is taken into consideration at every step, from the initial care they receive to the homes that ultimately welcome them. Today, we run the largest rescue and refuge network in North America and are able to respond with efficacy and assurance when an animal needs us. We are grateful for the opportunity to give these creatures better lives; for the wonderful sanctuaries, rescuers, and adopters who collaborate with us in this work; and for the animals themselves, who share with us so much joy at the simple gift of coming home

The more our adoption network grows, the more animals we can help. If you are interested in providing a lifelong home for two or more rescued farm animals of any species, please check out our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN)

Lunch Hour

By Gene Baur, president and co-founder

This year, filmmaker James Costa and Birdstreet Productions released “Lunch Hour.” Celebrated by Forbes magazine and Mother Jones as a powerful new documentary about our food system, the film examines the National School Lunch Program, childhood obesity, and our country’s addiction to unhealthy foods.

Watch the film. Host a screening. Make a change. Find out more about what you can do at the film’s website.

James Costa is a board member of the International Documentary Association, a member of the British Academy of Film and Television (BAFTA), and recently joined the Farm Sanctuary Board of Directors. James answered a few questions for us about his film.

 

Interview with James Costa

Farm Sanctuary: What inspired you to make Lunch Hour? Do you think the timing is significant?

James Costa: I was visiting a school and saw what they were having for lunch. It was not something I’d give to my worst enemy. The timing is great, because right now everyone is concerned with what our unhealthy American diet is doing to our kids.

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FS: You’ve made the film readily available to viewers through Amazon and iTunes. Tell us a little more about this grassroots approach to releasing Lunch Hour.

JC: A film on school lunch is not going to go head-to-head with a blockbuster at the cineplex. Releasing it through iTunes and other digital platforms was the best idea, since everybody got to view it on the same day. It wasn’t like you had to live in NYC or LA to see it. A person living in the smallest town in America could see it as long as they had the Internet.

FS: What was the most surprising thing you learned during the making of the film?

JC: How certain groups were so suspicious of the film before they even saw it. They thought it was a film that was going to attack the food service workers and blame everything on them. It just shows you how attacked they must feel. Once they watched the film, they realized I was praising them.

FS: What sort of response has the film received thus far?

JC: The people who have seen it have really connected to it. When I am lucky enough to attend a screening, the discussion is lively, and you can see and hear all the wheels turning to get this issue to a result where kids get healthy meals.

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FS: You’ve been a longtime supporter of Farm Sanctuary and are deeply involved with other animal advocacy efforts. What are some of the connections between factory farming and the issues surrounding America’s national school lunch program?

JC: A lot of the meat that is in the school lunch program comes from factory farms. We have to understand that the ill effects of factory farming are going to be consumed by the children of America. It’s pretty frightening. I’m surprised parents aren’t going to the schools with torches and pitchforks asking for this disgraceful practice to end.

FS: Considering the reliance on factory-farmed meat in America’s schools, what kind of impact do you think a shift to healthier lunches for children will have on the industrial food system and farm animals?

JC: There will be less demand for the products of factory farms and more demand for healthier, plant-based foods. I don’t mean to get preachy here, but if something is not good for you, you can’t wish it to suddenly be good for you or keep eating it and expect different results. Kids need healthy foods to remain focused in school and be the best students they can be. Giving them junk food because they are used to it is not a solution. It’s a sellout that only hurts kids in the long run. Sorry, but I never want to defend that side of the argument that defends the status quo. It’s not a good side to be on.

FS: The film points out that we are at times too embarrassed to look at our own complicity in how our children are treated, and it prompts us to act on their behalf as their voice for change. What if any connections do you draw between this important work for children and your animal advocacy work?

JC: We in the animal rights movement need to get kids to start eating healthy now, so when they become adults, they won’t feel like they’ve been deprived of anything. Kids are smart and love animals and don’t want to see them hurt. Parents don’t want to see their kids being sick and unhealthy. Getting the word out to parents about what goes in their kids’ school lunches is a start. It’s why I made Lunch Hour. Getting involved in this issue is good for the kids, animals, and the environment. It’s a win-win-win!

A New Beginning for Two Pigs (and One Pig Farmer)

By Gene Baur, president and co-founder

Gus is in the hospital right now, wracked by a respiratory infection. The veterinary staff is doing its best to keep him comfortable as he receives the critical care he needs to survive. Luckily, Gus has his friend, Roxy, with him to make all of this much less scary.

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We picked up Gus and Roxy from Bob Comis’ farm in Upstate New York last Tuesday. After years of raising pigs for meat, Bob became uncomfortable with killing pigs for a living and decided that exploiting animals for food did not align with his values. He is now in the process of turning his pig farm into a veganic (vegan, organic) vegetable farm. In the meantime, however, he had a sick pig on his hands, whom he sent to Farm Sanctuary. Since pigs are social animals, comforted to be with friends, Bob sent Roxy to the sanctuary along with Gus. Even small, “free-range,” or “humane” farms are unable to provide individual care to each animal and still turn a profit. At sanctuaries, each resident is treated as an individual, and at our New York Shelter, Gus will receive the personal care he needs.

Right now, Gus is exhausted by his illness. Both he and Roxy are a bit nervous and unsure in the unfamiliar hospital setting. But once Gus is better, we’ll bring him and Roxy to our New York Shelter. In their new life, Gus and Roxy will be able simply to be pigs, and simply to be themselves. We are so looking forward to learning their unique personalities.

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If you’d like to be a part of the work we do to help animals like Gus and Roxy, become a member today by clicking here.

(Articles by Bob Comis about his decision to give up pig farming can be read on The Huffington Post and The Dodo.)

 

Summer of Goats

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Summer has finally arrived, and the winter chill is fading to a distant memory. With the warm weather and longer days has also come a new phenomenon: Goats have taken over the Internet. Yes, goats. They’re cavorting through YouTube, overrunning BuzzFeed, and bounding into Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds as they play on slides, ride school buses, triumph over adversity, sing the Jurassic Park theme song, and appear unimpressed by British royalty.

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Ingrid and Marilyn perfecting goat tomfoolery at our New York Shelter.

Whether goats have risen to popularity due to their curiosity, their irreverence, or their charming sense of rebellion, these charismatic creatures have gained some well-deserved pop-culture notoriety. By the end of June, Jezebel’s Kelly Faircloth had declared: “2014 is the Summer of Goats.”

Of course, we’ve always been big goat fans here at Farm Sanctuary. With over 25 years of experience rescuing and caring for animals, we’ve become an authority on all things goat. Although all of the goats at our shelters have been rescued from the sort of hardships that don’t make it into cute, viral videos, these indomitable animals remain some of the most joyful, funny, and fascinating characters you could ever hope to meet. So, join us as we celebrate our goat friends this summer on our website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Here are a few of our newest residents to help us begin celebrating the summer of goats.

The absurdly cuddly Totes, an orphaned kid, was rescued by a United States Coast Guardsman.

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Our sweet Jordan was raised by a 4-H participant, but he ended up in pain and peril on the streets of New York City. Safe at our shelter, he’s healed and having a blast.

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Abandoned at our gate and too small to join our adult goats, Hemingway found an unusual feathered friend — Ryan the gosling.

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The cutest goat videos of Farm Sanctuary: