We Are Not Alone

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Sonny steer at Farm Sanctuary

I turned around and Sonny was there.

I was having a really sad day. I decided to walk up the hill to find my best pal, a steer named Sonny. For five minutes straight, I just hugged him, wetting his neck with possibly a gallon of tears. Knowing I had to get back to work, I finally parted with him and walked down the hill toward the shelter buildings.

After a while, I heard a noise and turned. Sonny had left the herd and followed me. He knew I needed him, so he was there.

Just like us, animals need to feel that they are not alone. During my two decades in animal sheltering, I have witnessed the power of family and friendship every single day. All creatures have a will to live, and friendship motivates them to live their best, supported by and supporting others.

Here are my favorite examples from the past year.

Farm Sanctuary sheep residents Tracey, Louise, Hazelton, Reubie, and Summer

Louise, Tracey, Hazelton, Reubie, and Summer enjoying a beautiful day at sanctuary.

In February, three lambs were born at our New York Shelter. Far along in their pregnancies when they were rescued from neglect, mamas Tracey and Louise (Tracey’s daughter) faced high-risk deliveries, but with the help of devoted shelter staff, everyone made it through. Tracey, who delivered son Hazelton first, supported Louise during the birth of twins Reubie and Summer, calling out to the younger ewe throughout her labor. Tracey also nursed Summer when Louise couldn’t produce enough milk for both twins.

As dairy sheep, Tracey and Louise endured repeated impregnation. Though Tracey was allowed to keep Louise, all of her sons were likely taken away to be sold for slaughter. Hazelton was the first son she was allowed to keep, and she wasn’t about to let anything happen to him. When we introduced the group to our main flock, Tracey immediately began putting everyone in their place, head-butting even the largest males, so all knew that her family was not to be bothered.

Sheep express affection and devotion primarily through physical closeness, which is why you’ll find this family sticking together and sleeping side-by-side at night. For Tracey and her clan, sanctuary means being together.

Romy lamb and Levi goat at Farm Sanctuary

Levi, right, with his best friend Romy

Levi was found loose in NYC after escaping from a storefront slaughterhouse. During his first weeks at sanctuary, he stayed indoors sitting on a hay bale. We feared this behavior arose from health issues, but it turned out that Levi, who had likely witnessed the slaughter of his herd mates, was simply too terrified to do much of anything. Though we approached him with gentleness and care, he could not trust us.

That all changed when he met Romy, a lamb who came to us from a small farm where he was found alone and dying in the cold rain. When Romy was finally well enough to go outside into his yard, Levi couldn’t help coming out into his own adjacent yard to investigate. Within hours, the little goat who had been paralyzed by fear was running, jumping, and kicking up his heels as he played with his new best friend.

Following the lead of gregarious Romy, Levi has become a whole new goat, bravely walking right up to human visitors. His friendship with Romy has transformed him, and his world, once limited to the corner of a hospital pen, has gotten a whole lot bigger.

Calvin, Vince, and Paul Harvey goats at Farm Sanctuary

Vince, center, with his best friends Calvin, left, and Paul Harvey.

Vince had a rough start in life. Born at a goat dairy — a male kid in an industry that has very little use for males — he was used as partial payment to a tree trimmer. But the tree trimmer didnʼt want him either, and went door-to-door in his neighborhood trying to sell him. Things started to look up for Vince when he was taken in by a kind woman who wanted to protect him, but she soon discovered that her little charge was very sick. She contacted Farm Sanctuary, and we were able to get Vince the care he needed, which included antibiotics, tube feedings, and medication for his pain. Slowly but surely, he began to feel better, and he was finally able to leave the veterinary hospital and come home to our Acton shelter. But goats are herd animals; Vince was lonely as the new and only kid at the shelter.

Fortuitously, we learned that a combination goat dairy/sanctuary is phasing out their dairy business to focus on their sheltering work. Though the sanctuary’s operators initially intended to support their sheltering work by selling dairy products from the goats in their care, they eventually realized that this model was not sustainable. Goats, like all other mammals, must be impregnated in order to lactate. That means that goat dairies produce not only milk but also baby goats. The facility had more goats than it could handle.

Enter Calvin and Paul Harvey, the best friends Vince could have hoped for! The trio has become a source of endless entertainment for sanctuary guests and staff. One of their favorite games is bouncing off caregivers who are bent over or lying on the ground with them. Buoyed by the friendship they share and the caring people all around them, the kids are keen to explore and experiment. For these best friends, the sanctuary is the best kind of playground.

Anna & Maybelle piglets at Farm Sanctuary

Anna & Maybelle — the best of friends and sweet as can be! Follow their adventures in their new home at The Daily Squeal!

Anna and Maybelle had likely fallen off a transport vehicle before they were spotted wandering on a busy roadside. Piglets are notorious for squirming their way out of trailers, and they sometimes fall out onto the road without the driver even noticing (this in addition to the countless piglets and other farm animals who end up on the road when transport vehicles crash or overturn); many of our residents came to us after these accidents. Such incidents can be fatal for the young animals, but Anna and Maybelle were lucky enough to avoid being seriously injured in the fall or getting hit by another vehicle. They also had each other, which was surely a comfort during their two frightening days by the roadside. Right now, these piglets’ lives are all about exploration and fun — and each other. They play and dig and run with utter abandon, and they are always together. When separated for even a few moments, they squeal and run to search for one another. When we watch them romping and rooting, we recognize a common joy in simply being alive.

There are so many other beautiful bonds that we’ve seen over the years. It saddens me that the majority of industry-raised animals are deprived of these experiences, but at Farm Sanctuary, we take the time to nurture these ties that mean so much to our animal residents. We recognize that our animal residents share so much in common with us: awareness, intelligence, rich emotional lives. Just like us, they crave companionship, playmates, and a support network — and making sure they have it is a vital part of the Farm Sanctuary life.

Remembering Joey

Joey enjoying the pasture

Joey enjoying pasture time at Farm Sanctuary.

This month we said goodbye to Joey, a goat who had called our New York Shelter home since 2007. If you ever visited the shelter, you probably remember Joey. He was usually one of the first members of his herd to approach guests, and he loved attention.

Joey joined the shelter family when he was just six months old. He was found wandering the streets of Brooklyn with a slaughter tag from Texas in his ear, likely having escaped from one of the city’s live markets. These storefront slaughterhouses are notorious for keeping animals in unsafe and terrifying conditions before slaughtering them onsite. Luckily, Joey escaped and found a home where he could be loved without reservation.

It took a while, however, for Joey to warm up to us. It’s likely that Joey witnessed the slaughter of other animals, perhaps even family members, before his escape. When he arrived at sanctuary, he was terrified of everyone. We had to place him  in a special pen with high walls, so he would not jump out. Even when he finally joined a herd of goats, he was so frightened that, on his first day, he scrambled over a fence and wedged himself behind a fuel tank. Thankfully, he was unharmed. It took about six months for Joey to finally realize that he was among friends and truly safe.

That realization transformed Joey. Eventually, he felt so at ease here that when he napped, he really checked out. He was notorious for snoring and groaning as he enjoyed a deep doze. Every time we welcomed a new shelter staffer, intern, or tour guide, we would inevitably get a worried call over the radio about a goat who was “down and making weird sounds.” It was just Joey at peak relaxation.

Joey goat

Joey, with his friendly, outgoing personality, was a special favorite of many Farm Sanctuary visitors.

When he was still young, Joey lived with a group of female goats and became utterly smitten with a doe named Cocoa Bean, who was several years his senior (staff joked that he was into older women). The two slept by each other’s sides every night. Even when this group was integrated with the sheep flock, which was also home to several goats closer to Joey’s age, Joey remained devoted to Cocoa Bean, staying by her side even as old age slowed her down.

In his prime, Joey was huge, one of the biggest goats on the shelter, but he was also gentle. When he first joined the sheep flock, the group was led by Dino, a much smaller goat. We’d placed Dino with the sheep because he was not quite strong enough to contend with the hardier goats in the main herd. Among goats, hierarchy is typically determined through contests of strength, and if Joey had wanted to oust Dino, he could have. But Joey never once made a move on the position, even when Dino was further weakened by geriatric health troubles. Only when Dino passed away did Joey take over the lead. Though he had never felt compelled to fight for leadership, Joey stepped into the role adeptly and became an excellent leader to the herd. When the sheep were on the move, you could count on finding Joey out in front.

From a youth spent snuggling with his sweetheart to maturity as head of the heard, Joey experienced the full arc of life at sanctuary before arriving to old age. As Joey aged, he developed a spinal cord condition that caused ataxia, and his hind limbs gave out when he attempted to rise or walk. The condition gradually worsened, and we even attempted to outfit him with a special cart/wheelchair designed for goats. He was no longer able to run at the front of the herd; he had to follow, ever so slowly, behind. Just as he had once supported Cocoa Bean when her pace slowed, Joey now received support from his friend Clarabell. She stayed by his side on the way to pasture in the morning and back to the barn at night, even though it meant a very long, slow journey each way.

Clarabell and Joey

Joey, front, with his devoted friend Clarabell.

Joey met his changing condition with equanimity, and through the help of the cart and other interventions, we were able to keep him comfortable and happy for over a year after his first symptoms emerged. Ultimately, however, Joey’s condition became more severe and spread to the brain, leaving him unable to rise and, on his last day, unaware of his surroundings. Recognizing that we could no longer provide a good quality of life for Joey, we made the difficult decision to say goodbye and helped him pass peacefully through euthanasia.

Remembering Joey, we think of those funny noises he made in his sleep. In a way, they were the sounds of sanctuary: total trust, utter peace, sweet surrender to the pleasure of being alive and safe. Joey loved his home, was good to his friends, and looked out for his herd. Life for him was straightforward, simple, and kind, and he too was all of those things. He will be deeply missed.

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Joey on a brisk winter day at sanctuary.

Rescue reunion: 10 years later, rescuers visit the pig they helped save

Truffles pig and rescuer

Truffles pig and Denise, who helped rescue her, meet again at Farm Sanctuary.

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Truffles pig is a testament of the healing power of love. This wonderful pig, a favorite of many Farm Sanctuary visitors, will be ten this year — an incredible feat considering her origins. She was raised to live to just six months of age, by which time she would have been slaughtered for meat. Instead, nearly a decade later, she is the matriarch of her sounder, loved and respected both by her fellow pigs and her human friends at our New York Shelter.

During her first few weeks of life, Truffles was removed from her mother and subjected to tail docking without pain relief, both standard procedures on factory farms. Confused and frightened, she was then packed onto a hot and crowded transport truck to travel to a finishing farm, where piglets are fattened for slaughter. Her escape from this fate was fortunate, but not without additional hardships. She fell off of a truck into heavy traffic on Interstate 69 in Indiana, and was bruised and bloody from the fall.

Truffles piglet

Truffles as a piglet at Farm Sanctuary

Fortunately, luck and love were on her side. A young woman was driving in the opposite direction on the way to a concert when she saw Truffles fall and knew that she had to save her. She reached Truffles before any cars could hit her and brought the piglet to her car, where she placed her on a blanket in the back seat. For the first time in her short life, Truffles was safe — and she was on her way to a new life. Continue reading

Videos: Be inspired by these leaders in the animal protection movement

Farm Sanctuary's 2015 Hoe Down

On August 15 and 16, hundreds of animal advocates converged on Farm Sanctuary’s Watkins Glen Shelter for our 2015 Hoe Down. The Hoe Down holds an important place in Farm Sanctuary’s nearly 30-year history, and we think this year’s event was our best yet!

Our speakers focused on topics ranging from effective advocacy to humane education to the lives of Farm Sanctuary’s rescued residents. A major theme: We’re winning! More and more people are becoming educated about the abuses farm animals face, and many of them are making changes to their diets in response. The change is visible. And the industries that profit from animal abuse know it!

Below, view videos of each presentation from the weekend, as well as our Hoe Down Speakers Round Table discussion about where the animal protection movement is headed. (Note to viewers: You will hear cheeping! The speakers’ presentations took place not far from the roosting spots of some of our resident rescued birds.)

Gene Baur

“[T]o me, being vegan is really an aspiration to live as kindly as possible.”

Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary's Hoe DownGene, Farm Sanctuary’s co-founder and president, has been called “the conscience of the food movement” by TIME magazine. For 25 years, he has traveled extensively, campaigning to raise awareness about the abuses inflicted by industrialized factory farming and our cheap food system.

His latest book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day, delivers five tenets for maintaining and sharing a compassionate, vegan life. His previous best-seller, Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, was published in 2008.

Watch Gene’s presentation, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life:

Learn more about Gene’s work by following him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and learn about his upcoming speaking engagements here. Continue reading

Remembering the Rescue Chickens of Katrina

Rescue chickens of Hurricane Katrina

Two of the 725 chickens rescued by Farm Sanctuary in the aftermath of Katrina.

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. As we honor those individuals — human and animal — who lost their lives in the storm, we also pause to remember hundreds of chickens whose lives were saved.

Katrina and Farm Animals: By the Numbers

725: Chickens saved by Farm Sanctuary in the days following Katrina. All of them were brought to our New York Shelter for care. They had a variety of health problems — some caused by the storm’s aftermath, many simply the result of standard industry practice. Their problems ranged from septic joints to severe digestive issues, from gangrene to broken toes. One had a large head wound; another was found with her eyes swollen shut. Many had gone days without food or water. The sick and injured birds received care ranging from treatment with painkillers, steroids and antibiotics to major surgery.

200+: The number of birds that were taken in by other sanctuaries or adopted by private individuals. The compassionate people who took in these chickens not only provided lifelong care for animals who had suffered so much — they also made it possible for us to say yes to many more chickens in need. (If you are interested in providing a permanent, loving home for a farm animal, please consider becoming a part of the Farm Animal Adoption Network!)

635 million: The estimated number of farm animals being raised for food in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi when Katrina made landfall. Millions of them died.

9: Years that KC, the last of our Katrina survivors, lived after her rescue.

6: Weeks a typical “broiler” chicken lives before it is killed for meat.

The Rescue

Hurricane Katrina chicken rescue

Miyun Park, Kate Walker and Peter Wood pull a chicken from a pit

Farm Sanctuary rescuers — working with other groups — traveled to devastated areas, searching for surviving farm animals in need of rescue and negotiating the release of animals from area farms. Rescuers reported mass graves of dead birds, demolished warehouses confining tens of thousands of birds, and fields littered with dead chickens — and live chickens running for their lives.

Sadly, the industry views these animals as commodities rather than living, feeling beings. “Clean-up” crews were sent to bulldoze damaged buildings, with live animals still trapped inside, and to discard the debris and bodies as trash.

“We saw a massive open grave containing thousands of dead chickens… Shockingly, 21 were still alive, huddled in the corner of the pit,” Farm Sanctuary rescuer Kate Walker later recalled of her experience at a Mississippi poultry farm under contract with Tyson. A tornado spawned by the hurricane had completely destroyed one of its warehouses and severely damaged two others. Working tirelessly, our crew pulled trapped and injured chickens from the wreckage, examined them, and prepared them for transport to safety. 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.

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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.

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Ace

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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.

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.

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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.