6 Awww-Inspiring Ways Farm-Animal Moms Show Affection for Their Babies

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

sponsor a momMost people take for granted the similarity between animal mothers and their human counterparts. Farm Sanctuary recognizes the importance of the maternal bond and has for decades afforded dozens of farm-animal mothers with the unique opportunity to care for their babies for the first time in their lives. Here are some of my favorite family-bonding tales from our shelters.

1) Pigs

Mother pigs raised in sanctuary remain with their children for their lifetime and continue the same maternal care even when their adult offspring have grown up. These moms are known for making large nest like beds for sleeping, protecting them from danger and enduring respect and love from their babies even as they age.

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Portia, Nikki, Chuck, Honey, and Ellen.

Examples from our shelters: Nikki still to this day makes straw nests for her offspring. Her babies, some the same size as her and her son about 200 pounds larger, nestle as close as they can to their mother. On occasions when Nikki has had to leave for medical treatments, she can look forward to a welcome-home celebration from her daughters, who run around her and playfully bump her while barking to express joy.

2) Cows

A sanctuary setting affords cows a unique opportunity to form deep bonds with their children. They are allowed to nurse their calves for as long as they wish – even when they are larger than their mother! We witness this beautiful psychological bond between mother and child daily within the herd of families who arrived together. Babies, even as adults, stay close to mom for protection, but as they grow and age, this bond deepens in the form of companionship. Mother cows groom their calves for hours and as they reach adulthood spend hours grooming each other. They too form lifelong bonds even within a larger herd structure.

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Nutmeg with his mom, Betsy.

Examples from our shelters: Honey and Betsy were both very sweet and docile when they first arrived, but with the birth of Betsy’s son Nutmeg, both girls became a little sassy, running caregivers out of the pasture in the evening when they would call the cattle in for the night.

And I’ll never forget our 2004 rescue of a herd of 26 starving, pregnant cows. The friendliest mother actually turned on me shortly after her calf was born when we attempted to snap a photo. I was left with a black eye and crushed equipment!

3) Chickens

Chickens make amazing mothers and although we do not allow breeding at our sanctuaries we have had mothers arrive with babies. Mother hens are so protective of their children that you often cannot see the chicks when you first arrive in the barn. Moms puff up and hide their babies beneath them to ensure that not one single chick is taken from their brood. Even as their children grow, mothers shield them under their wings at night safeguarding them from harm. Chicks cannot get wet and mothers cover them in the rain.

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June and her peeps.

Mother chickens have such incredible maternal instincts that they will look out for or even take on the children of other mothers when duty calls. We have seen this in cases where multiple mothers come in with chicks of varying ages and sizes that are clearly not all from the same clutch. They often take them on and nurture them like they would their own children.

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June and her babies.

Examples from our shelters: At a farm where I was visiting years ago to pick up birds I saw a mother hen run straight at a large cat who was stalking her babies. The cat thankfully ran off as mom made contact and lots of noise. They will sacrifice themselves to protect their offspring.

Here, we have witnessed mother hens vocalize to their babies as soon as they spot an aerial predator. They’ve even sounded the alarm on pigeons flying too low over the farm. In response, babies run directly to mother hen for cover.

And we witnessed our own example of hens hiding chicks when we took in chickens from a cockfighting ring that included breeding mothers and chicks. We had to pick up the mothers to ensure their chicks were accounted for (and get pecked at by their moms). One mother would not let us near her when the babies were under her and was so upset we used food to coax her to at least stand so we could count if there were more than two feet beneath her.

4) Sheep

Sheep mothers have a specific language they only use with their children, a deep guttural call that tells them to come back quickly or to beware of intruders. The call they make is very distinct and their lamb in a sea of lambs can recognize the voice of his or her mother. Curious lambs cause moms to go into a panic and they are often seen running through the pastures literally screaming for their babies until they find them. The lambs too have distinct calls and whenever they talk mom quickly responds. Sheep are flock animals and are very family-oriented and stay with their families – moms, dads, and siblings for life when allowed to in a sanctuary setting.

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Tracey and Louise with their lambs Hazelton, Reubie, and Summer.

Examples from our shelters: When Louise was giving birth, her mother Tracey – who gave birth to Hazelton ten days prior – was separated from her so that she could have privacy with her new lamb. Still, Louise talked to Tracey the entire time she was in labor and Tracey called back to her. We put them together within a few days since they seemed too stressed. Louise was also producing limited milk but had twins, and Tracey allowed them to nurse from her.

5) Goats

Goats are super moms and have amazing lifelong relationships with their kids in the sanctuary setting. We have groups of goats who still sleep side by side – even wrapping their necks around each other – with their now full-grown kids. Left to their own devices they will stay with them for life. Goats also recognize their offspring and family even after periods of separation.

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Lizzie, Zuzu, Otto, Goodwin, and Marjorie.

Examples from our shelters: We have taken in rescued goats that were split up from goats who went to other sanctuaries and homes —and in a few cases they have come back to us— and immediately reconnect with their original family members even within a larger herd. We also had a goat named Juno whose baby crawled under a fence and ended up in a pig area and then panicked when he could not get back with mom. The fence was too tall for her to go over and she could not fit under so she threw herself over and over into the fence trying to get to him. We heard her panicked screams and came down to put them together, and her son Sebastian immediately started nursing. She would have done anything to get to him.

We also have a goat named Lizzie, who is elderly and has horrible arthritis. She requires regular treatments and her sons, ZuZu and Otto, go along with her. The three still sleep together. Her sons are much larger than her now, but forever loyal to mom.

6) Ducks & Geese

Ducks and geese moms are fiercely protective of their hatchlings as well and will chase away larger waterfowl and anyone who attempts to come near their children. They make elaborate feathered nests to lay their eggs. That said, our ducks are not allowed to breed.

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Examples from our shelters: We count our birds each night, and so you can imagine our concern when we realized we had a female duck who disappeared. We looked everywhere and could not find her. We feared she’d gotten out or, worse, was killed by a fox or other predator. Then one day – a month after our failed search – she popped out of a muskrat hole in the pond and behind her were six tiny ducklings. It took us hours to catch her; we waited for her to exit the pond and bring the family into the barn. She hissed and ran at other ducks and geese in the flock. When we finally got her to settle down, we were able to whisk her and her ducklings off to our health-care area where they could be safe from harm. And of course, mom kept the little ones hidden beneath her wings.

What You Need to Know about Avian Flu

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Iowa– have proclaimed a state of emergency, with millions of commercial birds believed to be infected by avian influenza. The death count is multiplying by the day and it’s estimated we’ll see 20 million birds destroyed overall as a result of the worst bird flu outbreak to strike the U.S. since the 1980s. Here’s what you need to know about this disease.

Chickens raised for slaughter

What is avian influenza?
Avian influenza (AI), or bird flu, refers to a number of viruses that infect birds. The viruses are classified as either low pathogenicity (LPAI), which causes a relatively mild illness, or high pathogenicity (HPAI), and results in severe illness.

Beginning in December 2014, HPAI was found in ducks in the Pacific Northwest, marking the first time in years that it had been detected in the U.S. Since then, multiple HPAI strains have infected flocks of domestic birds in multiple states. Strains H5N8 and H5N1 infected flocks on the West Coast, where the disease now appears to be dying down somewhat due to hot, dry conditions. Strain H5N2 is currently raging through the Midwest and making its way east.

The CDC reports that the strains of AI currently active in the U.S. pose a very low risk to humans. Among birds, however, they are highly contagious and in most cases fatal.

Where has AI spread?

Note

Note: Detected refers to non-commercial findings. Estimates as of May 1, 2015.

As NPR reports, Minnesota has been hit hardest, with close to 50 flocks affected, but the disease has struck many other states as well.

Wherever the virus is found, USDA and state officials kill the entire flock in order to contain the disease. The standard culling method is to fill the housing buildings with a water-based foam that suffocates the birds to death.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) designates this method as an appropriate means of “mass depopulation,” defined as “methods by which large numbers of animals must be destroyed quickly and efficiently with as much consideration given to the welfare of the animals as practicable, but where the circumstances and tasks facing those doing the depopulation are understood to be extenuating.” This endorsement tells you much less about the type of death delivered by the foam — which is undoubtedly horrid — than it does about the abysmal standards of welfare that pass as acceptable in an industry predicated on mass confinement and slaughter. By raising birds in groups of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions, producers create conditions in which humane euthanasia, or humane treatment of any sort for that matter, is impossible. The circumstances are “extenuating” by design.

In the U.S., more than 15.1 million domestic birds have been killed due to AI detections since the beginning of March 2015. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of reported detections and cullings:

Minnesota: As of April 27, the virus has been detected in at least 46 turkey farms, and at least 2.7 million turkeys have been killed. The virus also has been detected in a facility raising chickens for meat and a laying hen facility, resulting in a total of over 500,000 chickens in Minnesota being killed. Additionally 150 turkeys belonging to a backyard flock were killed.

Iowa: There have been eight detections resulting in a total of almost 10 million deaths. At two turkey farms, a total of 61,000 turkeys were killed. At each of two egg facilities, 3.8 million hens were killed, and at another three egg facilities and a pullet farm a total of 2.3 million chickens were killed.

Wisconsin: There have been eight detections. At two egg facilities, a total of 980,000 chickens were killed. At five turkey facilities, 467,500 turkeys were killed. In a backyard flock, 40 mixed-breed chickens were killed.

South Dakota: AI was detected at six turkey farms, and 285,000 turkeys were killed.

North Dakota: AI was detected at two turkey farms. At the two facilities, 109,000 turkeys were killed. An additional 2,000 chickens also were killed at one of the facilities.

Arkansas: AI was detected at one turkey farm, where 40,000 turkeys were killed.

Missouri: AI was detected at two turkey farms, where 52,000 turkeys were killed.

Kansas: A low pathogenic strain of AI was detected in a commercial poultry facility in Kansas. The species and total number of birds affected were not released. An unknown number of ducks and chickens in a backyard flock also were killed.

California: There have been five detections including two wild ducks. At two turkey farms, 206,000 turkeys were killed (at one of these facilities, only a low-pathogenicity strain was found; nonetheless all of the facilities’ turkeys were killed). At one “broiler” chicken and duck facility, 114,000 birds were killed.

In addition to the states listed above, AI has been detected in the following states in wild migratory waterfowl, captive wild birds (such as falcons), and/or backyard flocks:

Idaho
Kansas
Montana
Nevada
New Mexico
Oregon
Utah
Washington
Wyoming

AI has also been found in Ontario and in British Columbia, where it was first detected in December 2014, before we were tracking the spread of the disease. The total number of birds affected at turkey and chicken facilities in British Columbia is reported to have been 250,000. In Ontario, the virus has been found in two turkey facilities and one facility raising chickens for meat with a total of 52,800 turkeys killed and 27,000 chickens killed.

Please check our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN) Facebook page for updates. We continue to track new outbreaks. The disease is still spreading. This is an epidemic.

How has AI spread?
AI is spread in two ways: 1) directly from bird to bird, and 2) through contact with the manure of an infected bird. AI can be spread by equipment, vehicles, clothing, and other materials that have come into contact with the manure of infected birds. This includes, for instance, the shoes of someone who has walked by a lake where infected ducks have left droppings. (Additionally, some researchers have speculated that strong winds blowing infected debris into animal housing may have contributed to the broad reach of HPAI in Minnesota; however, biosecurity failures are still believed to be the primary cause of the Minnesota outbreak.)

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The spread of the virus has been linked to wild migratory birds, especially ducks and geese. Typically asymptomatic, these birds are able to carry the disease from area to area and shed it in their droppings. In domestic birds, especially turkeys, HPAI induces a ghastly and highly lethal disease.

Why have so many birds died?
While the migrations of wild birds help account for the broad geographical reach of this epidemic, it is industrial farming practices that account for the staggering mortality. The reason 3.8 million birds fell victim to AI in a single Iowa facility is because there were 3.8 million birds in a single facility.

Keeping large numbers of animals together, especially in the intensely crowded conditions characteristic of factory farms, leaves those animals highly vulnerable to disease. (In fact, these conditions may even create breeding grounds for new strains of diseases. Learn more about factory farming and disease.)

Battery Cages

Ironically, factory farm proponents have long cited biosecurity as a justification for keeping large numbers of animals confined in buildings with no outdoor access. As we’ve seen in this epidemic, biosecurity at these facilities is failing, and the confinement practices that ostensibly enable tight biosecurity are instead dooming millions of birds to disease and culling.

What is Farm Sanctuary doing to protect its shelter birds?
California
When HPAI appeared in California, we took immediate action to protect the birds at our shelters in Orland and Acton. We suspended visitor access to bird areas and instituted a “no birds in, no birds out” policy at both shelters. This means, unfortunately, that we cannot perform any bird rescues involving these locations while the HPAI risk remains high.

We have isolated our shelter birds from contaminants using tight-weave shade tarps, which keep wild fowl out of our bird areas and also prevent their feces from dropping into those areas as they fly over. We have also had to close off our ponds to the birds — ponds are the areas that pose the greatest risk of infection from wild waterfowl, who often land on open water to swim and eat.

All staff members at these shelters must now don special ISO gear and use foot baths when entering any bird area, and they are advised to change into different shoes upon entering the shelter in general from the outside, as an extra precaution. Additionally, all staff members are trained to identify signs of disease, both in our resident birds and in any wild birds in the area.

New York
As yet there have been no reported cases of HPAI east of Wisconsin, but it has reportedly been found in wild birds and/or backyard flocks. That said, the disease could spread further as waterfowl continue their spring migrations. We are following the movement of the disease closely and remain in constant contact with our vets. Currently, we are working with our avian vet at Cornell to review and update our AI protocols.

The Watkins Glen shelter has a large population of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese belonging to many distinct flocks that must be kept separate. Implementing the strict biosecurity measures necessary to protect them all from AI would be a massive effort. We want to allow the birds to have a semblance of the life they enjoy at our sanctuaries while still being safe from this disease.

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We are dedicated to maintaining the strictest biosecurity at all of our shelters in the path of HPAI. These measures are crucial not only to safeguard our birds from disease but also to avoid giving the USDA any grounds for demanding that our shelter birds be culled if the epidemic continues to spread, worsen, or spread to other species.

Farmers have a strong economic incentive to protect their flocks, but for us this is personal. We know each turkey, each chicken, each duck, and each goose at our shelters as an individual with a name and a personality. They are our friends. The millions of deaths resulting from HPAI, like the billions of deaths resulting from the consumption of meat and eggs each year, are catastrophic. But HPAI also represents a catastrophe for each individual bird: the ultimate devastation of losing one’s life. To us, the cause of each bird in our care is urgent and worthy of our very best efforts.

What Can I Do to Protect My Birds from AI?
We’ll say it again: This is an epidemic. Proper biosecurity is crucial for the protection of your own backyard flock and the birds in your area. If you care for any birds such as turkeys, chickens, ducks, or geese, please stay updated on the spread of the disease and be prepared to implement quarantine measures if it nears your area. You can check our FAAN Facebook page for the latest on AI outbreaks.

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Read more on AI from the USDA.

* According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), birds infected with AI may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • sudden death without clinical signs
  • lack of energy and appetite
  • decreased egg production
  • soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
  • purple discoloration of wattles, combs, and legs
  • nasal discharge
  • coughing and sneezing
  • lack of coordination
  • diarrhea

How can I help?

Donate now-blogWe’ve already incurred costs from securing our California shelters against avian influenza. If the disease nears our New York Shelter, the expense of protecting our birds there will be much greater. With your help, we can keep them safe. Please donate now.

The Indomitable Gloria

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The Indomitable Gloria

At Farm Sanctuary, we strive to help people understand that every animal is a unique individual. In Gloria’s case, “unique individual” was an understatement.

Gloria was a goat who thought she was a human. She was as joyful as a kid and as cantankerous as an old fogie. She played gleefully with friends but always kept them in their place. She possessed eccentric insecurities and uncommon strength of spirit. It’s been almost a year since Gloria passed away, but we’re still celebrating her life at the shelter.

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Trouble at the Racetrack

For the first eight years of her life, Gloria was kept tied up at a horseracing track outside Chicago. Such facilities sometimes keep goats in the belief that their presence calms high-strung racehorses. The goats are seen merely as tools to enhance the performance of their equine companions, and their own needs are often egregiously neglected.

Eventually, Gloria came to the attention of animal advocate Carrie Gobernatz. Carrie had been working to aid the many feral and stray cats, as well as dogs, chickens, geese, and other abandoned animals, struggling to survive on the racetrack’s backside. One day, Carrie came across Gloria in one of the barns. Gloria was tied up on a rope so short she couldn’t lie down, and she had no food or water. Her udders were huge and had sores on them. She clearly needed immediate veterinary attention.

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“I was very angry,” recalls Carrie. “To think that vets walked right by her every day to care for the many horses in this barn owned by a very wealthy racehorse owner made me sick.” Carrie immediately lengthened Gloria’s tether, set down straw bedding for her, and brought her fresh food and water. The next day, she confronted Gloria’s “owner” about his neglect. He refused to relinquish Gloria, but Carrie persisted, finding a vet and getting an estimate on treatment for the udders. When the quote of $500 for veterinary care came back, the “owner” changed his tune and agreed to hand Gloria over to Carrie.

Carrie contacted Farm Sanctuary, and we immediately sent a rescue team from our New York Shelter in Watkins Glen. “I was so happy for Gloria, and right before she got on the van to leave, I took that last photo of her with me,” says Carrie, who continued to visit the racetrack daily to help the animals there. After seven years of feeding, spay/neuter work, adoption projects, media outreach, and campaigning, not to mention being kicked off the racetrack more than once, Carrie finally succeeded in getting the racetrack owner to take responsibility for the suffering animals on the backside. The racetrack recently held its first fundraiser for its resident stray and feral cats.

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Photo credit: Jo-Ann McArthur

 

Operation Second Chance

When Farm Sanctuary’s rescue team came for Gloria, we found her in rough shape. Her face and ears had been rubbed bald, and her hooves were long and brittle. The most obvious sign of neglect was the condition of her udders, which dragged on the ground and tripped her whenever she tried to take even a single step. The world she had known for eight years had been cramped, monotonous, and unhealthy. But hope had arrived.

Donate now-blogAt Cornell University Hospital for Animals, a team of vets performed a mastectomy, removing the 19-pound udders from Gloria’s 126-pound body. She recovered well from the operation, and the next day she was able to return to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Center of our New York Shelter. Gloria must have felt like she had acquired not only a new home but also a whole new body. For the first time in years, she could walk without tripping over her own udders. And for the first time in her life, she could walk wherever she wanted.

Gloria’s friend Carrie was among those celebrating her transformation. “I loved the Youtube video you did of Gloria’s rescue and was terribly happy to see her living like a goat should,” she says.

The Humanga

Gloria had been confined and neglected for her whole life, but she was strong. Far from breaking her spirit, the hardship at the racetrack had made her tough and sassy. And she was ready to really live at last. She quickly went from walking to running, bucking, and playing. She loved to play and roughhouse with her human companions, standing up for a head-butting session or bumping her head into a leg only to hold it there.

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One thing she definitely did not want was to be around other goats. In fact, she was scared of them. Each time we tried to leave her with other goats, she cried out as if to say, “There’s been a mistake! I’m a human, not a goat!” We nicknamed her “Humanga,” because she was part human, part goat. When she was with people, she wasn’t scared of anything.

We eventually moved Gloria into a pen in the goat barn, so she could see the other goats but didn’t have to live among them yet. We left her door open, so she could roam the shelter. The open space daunted her at first, but soon she realized that the shelter was her playground. Then there was no stopping her. She made a point to visit the farm assistants and stir up trouble while they were trying to clean the barns. We’d get calls over the radio requesting that the Humanga be escorted somewhere less disruptive. She was very special to everyone she knew — a favorite of our caregivers and farm assistants as well as our many visitors — for her unique and powerful personality.

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While Gloria kept residence in her private pen in the sheep barn, two little goats named Jake and Peanut started squeezing under the gate to visit her. Perhaps because they were so young and so small, Gloria didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she grew fond of them.

She also developed a soft spot for the elderly and eventually joined a herd of geriatric goat ladies — at the age of ten, she fit right in. They became her family, and she adored them, forming especially close friendships first with Juniper and, after Juniper passed away, with Dotty.

A Very Good Run

During Gloria’s initial visits to the hospital after her rescue, vets had not only removed her udders but also diagnosed her with uterine cancer. They removed the uterus as well, but the cancer had already metastasized. Treatment would not have eliminated the cancer and would likely have decreased the length and quality of Gloria’s life. We decided instead to just let her live and have has much happiness as she could.

The cancer spread very slowly, leaving Gloria several years to do just that. And they were good years. Gloria had fun. She made friends. She made a home. The self that had endured quietly within her during the years of her confinement — the Humanga, the lovable, indomitable force — came out to play. And she played until her very last day. Gloria was indeed someone, not something.

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Three Piglets, a Thousand Miles, and a New Chapter

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

This is the story of Gabby, Xena, and Hercules, three little piglets who escaped the fate of one hundred million pigs slaughtered annually. They additionally escaped the lot of other pigs who are more intensely confined for breeding each year.

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Gabby, Xena, and Hercules’ collective story could have followed the typical course. That version goes like this: Three piglets and their two siblings were born on a ranch. At the ranch — as at any facility, large or small, where animals are raised for meat, milk, eggs, or fibers — the animals were valued only in terms of the profits they would yield, and individualized healthcare wasn’t offered. Thus, when it happened that the piglets’ mother “dried up” and was unable to nurse them, the rancher did nothing to help. Keeping the piglets alive would have cost more time and money than he felt they were worth. All five piglets died of starvation. Versions of this story unfold at farms and ranches and industrial pork facilities all over the country, all the time. But that’s not how this story goes.

Instead, the piglets’ plight was discovered by a woman named Darci Feigel, who worked hard for three weeks attempting to nurse the five of them back to health. Sadly, two of the piglets were too far gone and, despite Darci’s best efforts, they passed away. The remaining three, however, rallied. These little piglets now had a chance to live and a caring rescuer on their side.

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Darci knew she wouldn’t have space for three grown farm pigs at her small sanctuary. Searching for a permanent home, she got in touch with Farm Sanctuary. Though we didn’t have room for any new pigs at our own shelters, we were able to find placement through our network. Pasado’s Safe Haven in Monroe, WA, offered lifelong sanctuary to all three piglets.

We’ve transported many pigs over our years of rescue work (and seem to be on a roll), so we knew just what to do to help these piglets along. We guided Darci through the process of obtaining Certificates of Veterinary Inspection, which are necessary for transporting pigs across state lines. When the piglets were ready to go, National Placement Coordinator Alicia Pell drove up from our shelter in Acton, CA, to chauffeur the VIPs north to Pasado’s.

After picking up the trio from Darci, Alicia traveled on to our shelter in Orland, CA, where she and her passengers spent the night. The next day, she drove the 12 hours to Pasado’s, where Gabby, Xena, and Hercules were unloaded into their own room at the shelter’s Healing Center.

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On the way, Alicia got to know this trio a little. Xena is somewhat timid and shy. Hercules, the biggest, and the only boy, was a little bossy with his sisters when it came to sharing the solid food they received in addition to their bottles. Gabby, the smallest of the three, is a feisty and hungry gal. During bottle feedings, she demanded to be fed first.

These are just the first sketches of the rich personalities and complex relationships these pigs will grow into as they establish themselves in their new home. They have so much living and discovering ahead.

The story of these three piglets could have ended abruptly and painfully on a California ranch, extinguished as a rancher with only the bottom line on his mind ignored their dwindling lives. Instead their story stretched all the way up the coast, bringing together a string of rescuers, creating new connections and enriching old ones. Now there will be so much more to their stories, so many more experiences and much more time to enjoy them.

The story of Gabby, Xena, and Hercules is just beginning. We’re a part of it, and so are Darci, and Pasado’s Safe Haven, and all the people who will meet these pigs there. And you.

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Farm Sanctuary runs the largest rescue and refuge network in North America. It is a network of caregivers and physical resources that connects animals with help and homes. And it is also a network of concern — of witness — that connects their journey with thousands of readers. Through this community of rescuers, adopters, and supporters, we give new life not only to their animals but also to their stories, which have the power to help so many more. You are part of this network. You help us give life to these stories. Please pass them on.

Twilight of the Flock

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The “Santa Cruz sheep” of our Northern California Shelter belong to a lineage that was once at home on California’s Santa Cruz Island, roaming its hills and valleys 24,000 sheep strong. Today, there are no sheep on the island. Aside from a small population raised by mainland heritage breeders, the flock members at our shelter are probably the last surviving descendents of the island sheep.

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Island Dawn

Sheep arrived on Santa Cruz Island in the 1800s, brought by ranchers. As the island’s ranching industry waxed and waned over the ensuing decades, escaped and abandoned sheep formed a feral population, which evolved into a tough, independent new breed.

By the 1980s, sheep ranching had declined substantially on Santa Cruz Island. One remaining ranching family, the Gherinis, retained 10 percent ownership of the island. The other 90 percent had been acquired in 1978 by the Nature Conservancy (TNC). Regarding the feral sheep as an invasive species, the Conservancy began a program of eradication.

Dark Days

TNC’s violent campaign included funding aerial shootings of the sheep and shipping groups to the mainland for slaughter. In 1984, the Gherinis opted to make a profit out of killing the sheep as well. They leased their remaining ranch lands to an “adventure” club, whose members hunted the sheep still living in the area.

In 1997, as they prepared to sell their land on the island, the Gherinis decided to kill off all the remaining sheep there. TNC and the National Park Service (NPS) agreed to help by organizing a hunt. It looked like the end for the Santa Cruz sheep, who had survived on their own, and weathered the lethal harassment of their human neighbors, for at least 70 years.

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Refuge on the Mainland

Friends on the mainland, however, were ready to put up a fight. When TNC and NPS announced they were going to kill the sheep, the local humane agency and area citizens joined with Farm Sanctuary to stop the cruel hunt. We offered to take hundreds of the animals and launch a national rescue and adoption effort to place as many sheep as possible into safe, loving homes. After immense public pressure and media attention, the Gherini family agreed to release 200 of the sheep to Farm Sanctuary, and we welcomed this flock to our shelter in Orland, CA.

That was 18 years ago, and they have been good years for these sheep. Most remained stalwartly independent and wary of humans, and we left them to enjoy their pasture largely undisturbed, intervening only when they needed us. During the dry season, when grazing was sparse, we provided hay. When a sheep was sick or injured, we gave them care, and as the flock became older and more vulnerable to predators, we began shepherding them in from the hills at night. Some of the bolder sheep, and the few who arrived as lambs, became friendly with us. For the most part, however, they continued life much as they had on the island, roving our stunning hill pastures everyday. Only, here they were safe from persecution.

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Old Age

The hardy Santa Cruz sheep remained strong and healthy for many years. Eventually, however, those years caught up to them. We have now lost most of the flock to old age. As we mourn these departed members of our shelter family, and with them the gradual ending of an era, we are also doing more than ever for the surviving flock mates, who now require geriatric care.

We monitor these venerable sheep closely, with an eye to maintaining their comfort and mobility. Most of them are blind and experience mild to severe arthritis; about a third of the flock receives pain medication. Many have few to no teeth left, and we give these sheep a special mash of soaked feed that’s easy for them to eat. Because the Santa Cruz sheep remain essentially feral, they must be treated differently from our domestic sheep, who are inured to human interaction (and in many cases quite enjoy it). In order to minimize our time spent handling them, and thus minimize their stress, we administer their care very efficiently.

The Santa Cruz sheep live together in a special-needs pasture, where we can easily visit them for care. Despite their infirmities, most still prefer to spend all day outside. When nighttime temperatures drop too low, we bring them into the barn to keep them safe from exposure.

Flock Strong

When the flock has slept in the barn at night, it’s always Karana who leads the charge back out to pasture the next morning. The last of the female sheep rescued from the island, Karana is an important figure in the herd. She has arthritis in her shoulders, for which she receives daily pain medication, but that doesn’t slow her down or prevent her from making sure the guys know who’s in charge. She’s also a comforting influence in the group. In stressful situations, many of the others will flock to her for reassurance.
Another flock leader is Riccardo, the most active of the group. He is one of the few who shows little sign of arthritis. He has his teeth, and his sight remains normal. When it’s time for health checks, he still has plenty of vigor to give caregivers the runaround, dashing and jumping out of their grasp. With his flock mates, meanwhile, he is something of a caregiver himself: The blind sheep will call out if they get separated from the flock, and it is always Riccardo who calls back to help them find their friends again.

Keeping the Light

Today, 15 Santa Cruz sheep remain at the shelter. Sheep are considered old around 12 years of age, but these sheep are all at least 18, making them some of the oldest sheep we have ever heard of. They have spent all their lives in the sunshine and fresh air, with the earth beneath their hooves and the smell of grass in their nostrils, heeding their instincts, finding comfort and strength in their flock. They have lived as they wished, experiencing the full arc of life. And now, as they come to the end of that arc, they have us to keep their final days contented, peaceful, and full of dignity. It is a privilege.

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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.

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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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