Farm Sanctuary’s Susie Coston on rescue, advocacy and encouraging compassion

Susie Coston and Sonny at Farm SanctuaryIt’s no wonder that Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston is known as “The Farm Animal Whisperer.” She has two decades’ worth of experience running animal sanctuaries, and in her spare time (ha!), she leads our annual Farm Animal Care Conference and mentors others who have started their own sanctuaries.

She shared her valuable insight into the lives and care of farm animals and what it’s like to work in the animal protection movement in a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). Here are some of Susie’s most upvoted responses to Reddit member questions (lightly edited for length).

On encouraging others to live a more compassionate lifestyle:

[Be] patient with others and really [reach] out and meet them where they are. If you are a good cook, unlike myself, inviting people for a very delicious vegetarian/vegan meal and just being warm and positive is a good start. … Everyone has a gift — artists, chefs, writers, storytellers, etc. — and using that gift to spread the message is a great way to contribute and encourage others to be more compassionate.

giftquote2On getting along with meat-eaters, despite knowing the plight of farm animals:

I always feel it is somewhat challenging especially when they seem to talk about it more knowing I am vegan than I think they would have if I were not. I feel you have to meet people where they are, however, since I put my parents, for example, through a bit of hell most of my teenage life — so me showing intolerance to them for not believing what I believe would be a bit hypocritical. I also see that by not fighting with them about it — by still loving people and just being who you are — many eventually change — maybe not completely but in some ways. My parents are eating far less meat, for example!

Susie Coston with turkeys at Farm Sanctuary

On people’s misconceptions about farm animals:

I think it is easy to see them differently because the only exposure most people have to farm animals is when they see them in an environment that is not natural — where they are frightened, where they are overcrowded, not receiving individualize care. We see them here being themselves — happy, sad, funny, etc. When they are not frightened they grieve more outwardly, they play, they are just more comfortable being themselves. … I think there is such a misconception about their sentience — especially birds, since they seem to be harder to relate to than mammals. We see birds — especially mothers arriving with babies, who sleep with a wing wrapped around their child to protect them. It is incredible. Continue reading

The Bird is the Word

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

The end of spring has found us all aflutter at the New York Shelter, where we’ve welcomed more than 70 new feathered friends.

Reba and Willie
These two geese came to us from a private property in the Rochester area, where they were shut inside a small pen in a barn. In January, the property owner had obtained them from the local dog warden, who had found the geese as strays. What could have been a respite turned briefly into a nightmare for the pair: the woman is a suspected hoarder who has been reported to her local SPCA in the past. A friend of hers found out about Reba and Willie and called us, anxious to remove them from their miserable living situation. Fortunately, we were able to negotiate the release of the pair. At our shelter, they will have plenty of space to wander, graze, and swim, like all geese deserve to do.


Willie on the left, and Reba on the right, swimming with new friends.

Ace and Ventura
Around the same time, we learned of another goose in need. Ace had been living on a property in western New York for 15 to 20 years. He had once been a member of a flock, but all of his friends had been killed by predators. The property owner’s daughter and her aunt feared Ace would be next, so the aunt reached out to us. We gladly offered Ace a safe home at our shelter.



Geese are sensitive animals who form deep bonds with their mates and friends. Having witnessed the deaths of his companions, this poor guy was so distressed that he became neurotic and pulled out all his chest feathers. The feathers are now starting to grow back, but Ace is still frightened and has a great deal of emotional healing ahead of him. Finding him a friend to help him feel safe again has been a priority, but all of our residents are clearly paired up and bonded with other geese. Continue reading

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Remembering Turpentine

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Summer of Goats

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The cutest goat videos of Farm Sanctuary: