Cincinnati Freedom: The Legendary Slaughterhouse Escape Artist

“Escaped Cow Still on the Loose!”; “The World’s Fastest Cow!”; “Cow Becomes Local Hero!”; “Cow to Get Key to the City!” These are just a few of the news headlines that a snow white Charolais cow inspired in 2002 when she took a courageous leap of faith, cleared a 6-foot-high fence at a Cincinnati, Ohio slaughterhouse, and engaged citizens in a dramatic 11-day chase that gained national attention and still has people talking today.


As she resisted capture time and again, staying hidden in a park where she foraged and rested when she could, the courageous cow demonstrated an unbendable will, and her tremendous fight for survival resonated with the public. By the time of her capture, she had won the hearts of so many that calls for mercy poured into the city from all over the country. In the end, it was a plea from renowned artist Peter Max that brought the brave bovine safely to our New York Shelter, where she was named Cincinnati Freedom and given the liberty she always deserved.


Though one of our most elusive residents, choosing the company of cattle over people, Cinci nonetheless received countless visitors through the years, each one eager to catch a glimpse of the valiant cow they followed in the news. While sanctuary guests were unable to touch her, everyone who saw her was affected by Cinci all the same, as even her posture and gaze spoke of the intense life force burning within her and an acute awareness of the special place she inhabited in the world. Most were awed in Cinci’s presence, as she was a living testament to the desire for life we — human or animal — all share.


Cinci’s effect on members of the cattle herd was equally profound. Forming a natural bond with other famous slaughterhouse escapees who came to the shelter before and after her (including Queenie, Annie Dodge, and Maxine), Cinci traveled with her strong, faithful female companions as an inseparable unit — the members of which moved gracefully and intuitively together as if all were of one body and one mind. But her spirit breathed life into the entire cattle herd, as well. While Cinci preferred that we humans keep a respectful distance, she connected with every cow and steer, treating each of them with the utmost tenderness and love. Continue reading

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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: 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:

New Mexico

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.)


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?
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.


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.

PreventativeMeasures_AI_IG_blog-01 (1)

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.