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:

 

Humane Meat: A Contradiction in Terms

By Bruce Friedrich, Director of Policy and Advocacy

People have become increasingly aware that virtually all of the 9 billion land animals slaughtered in the United States each year for their meat are terribly mistreated. In fact, routine farming practices are so abusive that they would warrant felony animal cruelty charges if they were done to cats or dogs.

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As a result, more and more compassionate people have joined the ranks of those who choose to eat a vegan diet. Some, however, have looked instead to meat from animals treated less badly, which is often stamped with a “humane certified,” or other such label, and may be referred to as “humane meat.”

This raises two questions in my mind. First, is there such a thing as truly “humane meat”? And second, even if we agree that some meat involves better conditions than conventional meat, should animal advocates promote it? I will address both questions in turn.

Is there such a thing as humane meat?
Let’s pose a question: Would you be willing to eat “humanely raised dog meat” or “humanely raised cat meat”?

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I suspect not, and yet there is no rational difference between eating a dog or a pig, a cat or a chicken. All of these species are made of flesh, blood, and bone. And they have interests and personalities, as everyone who has spent time at Farm Sanctuary knows so well.

In fact, scientists have shown that pigs and chickens outperform dogs and cats on scientific tests of behavioral and cognitive sophistication. For the same reason that there is no such thing as humane dog meat, there is also no such thing as humane chicken, pork, or beef. Simply put, killing an animal in order to eat her cannot be called humane.

Let’s pose a second question: Would you be willing to cut an animal’s throat? For most of us, taking an animal’s life is abhorrent; we just wouldn’t do it. Of course, all of us could spend an afternoon participating in every aspect of getting plants to the table — picking them, packaging them, etc. But there is no aspect of slaughtering animals that is similarly pleasant, no aspect that any of us would enjoy doing.

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If you’re like most people, you would not slice open a chicken’s throat for something as inconsequential as a meal. But this is precisely what we’re doing if we’re eating meat. Although we’re not personally killing the animal, we are paying someone to do it for us. And if we wouldn’t do it ourselves — if we wouldn’t even want to watch it — we should ask ourselves, where is the basic integrity in paying someone to do something we are opposed to?

Should animal advocates promote “humane meat”?
We should also understand that our decisions can have a strong impact on other people, and our decision to eat any meat at all (even if the meat is from producers that are less abusive) may influence others to eat factory farmed meat.

I’ve been a vegan for 27 years, and, in that time, I’ve convinced many friends and acquaintances to follow my lead. Each one of these individuals saves just as many animals through their veganism as I do through mine. Every person I convince to choose a plant-based diet increases my lifetime impact as a vegan.

But the reverse is also true: By not advocating veganism, all of those animals who could have been saved will instead suffer terrible lives and die horrible deaths.

Most people observing someone eating “humane” meat simply see a fellow meat-eater. They are not likely to change their own diets, because what they see is simply meat. Beyond that, eating “humane” meat is far more difficult than eating a vegan diet. Every restaurant in the country has something for vegans to eat, and it’s almost always cheaper than the meat-based alternatives. The vast majority of cities don’t have even a single restaurant that serves meat from animals who have not been factory farmed.

Obviously, working for improved living and dying conditions for farmed animals is a critical element in the animal rights movement. We should be fighting to ban gestation crates and battery cages. We should be working to ensure that the Humane Slaughter Act is properly enforced. The vast majority of Americans explicitly support banning abusive systems and decreasing abuse at slaughter, and we should strive to align our laws with our national values.

It’s important for the animals involved that we take steps toward ending the cruelty they endure every day. We cannot ignore the animals who are currently suffering.

But for anyone who truly cares about animals, veganism is the only choice that aligns our values — our opposition to cruelty and killing — with our actions.

It’s not that much to ask, and lives are depending on us.

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Spring Has Finally Sprung

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It’s been a very long and a very cold winter at the New York Shelter, but a belated spring finally arrived. Here is a taste of springtime at the sanctuary!

Mud Everywhere!

A sudden abundance of mud was our first sign that spring had come. Besides slogging through the mud, we have plenty of clean-up work to do, from clearing sand off the roads to repairing gutters damaged by winter weather. It’s hard work, but after five months of ice and snow, we hardly mind.

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Marge splashes in the mud puddle on a warm Spring day.

A Bright, Yellow Orb has Appeared in the Sky

This time of year, you’ll catch shelter residents of all species (including human) standing outside, faces to the sun, just soaking up the warmth.

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Tara and Jordan playing in the sun.

The chickens, in particular, are experts at basking, taking great pleasure in lying down and stretching out their wings to make the most of every ounce of sunshine. With the snow finally melted, the flock is also eager to dust-bathe, scratch in the dirt, and explore the entire sanctuary. You’ll often find them under the bird feeders, hoping that one of their wild neighbors will knock some seeds to the ground.

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Chickens explore the green grass.

Many Residents Are Sporting New Duds (or No Duds)

Spring means it’s off with winter coats. Some animals, like the cattle, shed their fuzzy winter fur for sleeker summer coats. Others, including our very young and very old ruminants, no longer need the human-made jackets that helped them stay warm through the winter. The sheep started to get toasty in their thick wool, so spring shearing is a big relief for them.

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Dara enjoys her new haircut.

And we’ve shed our coats, too — and our hats, and our gloves, and our insulated coveralls. For the first time in months, we’re actually recognizable!

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Melody brushes Joey in the warmth of the sun.

The Ground Is Suddenly Covered with a Mysterious Green Substance

It’s been a while since we’ve seen grass, and many of our residents are absolutely thrilled to encounter it again. Our ruminants enjoy hay during the winter, but boy do they love getting out on fresh, green pasture.

Along with the grass, spring brought a profusion of wildflowers, including dandelions, a favorite of the sheep and goats.

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Ingrid nibbles the dandelions.

Some Animals Are Really, Really Excited

Our pond freezes during the winter, which means no swimming for our waterfowl. By the time spring rolls around, they can barely wait to get back to the water. Few sights express the joy of the season so vividly as that of the ducks and geese returning to the water when their pond thaws at last. You can hear the joy, too, in the cacophony of honking and quacking as the flock members paddle, splash, and bathe to their hearts’ content.

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The geese cool off in the pond.

Springtime Joy is Contagious

You’ll see a lot of running, spinning, and playing this time of year, even among our more “mature” residents. Just like us, the animals feel their hearts soar on these warm, sunny days of spring, and they just can’t help kicking up their heels.

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Maxie and Delilah scamper in lush green pastures with National Shelter Director Susie Coston.

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No one enjoys a watermelon treat more than Ellen.

 

 

 

Postcards from the Road: Maine, the Good Life

By Gene Baur, President and Co-Founder
I recently visited Maine to speak at the VegFest, an annual event organized by the Maine Animal Coalition. Being surrounded by others who are interested in a more compassionate world was positive and inspiring, and it’s so good to see the community growing. Like other VegFest events I’ve attended, this event illustrated a burgeoning awareness about the benefits of plant-based foods and the need to reform our current food system.

I also visited The Good Life Center, which was founded “to perpetuate the philosophies and lifeways of Helen and Scott Nearing.” The Nearings were vegetarians and pioneers of the modern “back to the land” movement. In 1932, they left urban living for rural Vermont before eventually settling in coastal Maine in the early 1950s. Helen and Scott wanted to be self-sufficient and healthy, and, in Helen’s words, to “liberate and dissociate ourselves, as much as possible, from the cruder forms of exploitation: the plunder of the planet; the slavery of man and beast; the slaughter of men in war, and of animals for food.” Scott lived to be 100, and Helen died in a car crash at 91.

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The “back to the land” movement, which focuses on environmentally sustainable foods, is thriving in Maine, with various small farms occupying the landscape. In both urban and rural locations, concerned citizens are seeking to be more connected to nature as well as to be more resilient and self-reliant. Part of this movement often includes growing one’s own food. Sweet Dog Farm in Brooksville, Maine, close to the Nearings’ farm on the Blue Hill Peninsula, is an example of the kind of farm that grows food in a healthy, sustainable way. They produce organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs without using animal manure, blood, bone meal, or any slaughter industry byproducts. Instead, they use plants, including seaweed that is plentiful in the nearby ocean, to enrich and build up the soil. They market their products directly to customers who can visit and purchase goods right on the farm. This type of community-oriented, organic, vegan farm is the wave of the future.

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Sweet Dog Farm is run by Bob Jones and Doris Groves, who host participants from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) (http://wwoof.net/) to lend a hand. WWOOFers volunteer their time in exchange for the chance to live on a farm and learn about rural life. During my visit, I met three WWOOFers who work at Sweet Dog Farm, one from Michigan, one from New York, and one from Alabama. They made a delicious lunch that we all enjoyed together, along with a group of neighbors who joined the meal and conversation. I am inspired to see so many people living mindfully and working to create a better world through healthy food systems and communities.

The WWOOFers at Sweet Dog Farm remind me very much of the interns at Farm Sanctuary — people who are involved in making a positive difference in our world. (For information on Farm Sanctuary internships, click here.) Since 1986, our interns have helped to advance Farm Sanctuary’s mission. Interns play an integral role at our shelters, and they continue to advance our cause when they return home and share what they learned with friends and family. I’m sure WWOOFers do the same.

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The food movement is evolving, and it’s encouraging to see more and more people take an interest in growing their own food and embracing ideas that the Nearings’ promoted decades ago when they said: “We believe that all life is to be respected — non-human as well as human. Therefore, for sport we neither hunt nor fish, nor do we feed on animals