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.


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.



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.


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.


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.

spring photo

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.


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.


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.


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 .


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.”


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.”


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.