A New Beginning for Two Pigs (and One Pig Farmer)

By Gene Baur, president and co-founder

Gus is in the hospital right now, wracked by a respiratory infection. The veterinary staff is doing its best to keep him comfortable as he receives the critical care he needs to survive. Luckily, Gus has his friend, Roxy, with him to make all of this much less scary.


We picked up Gus and Roxy from Bob Comis’ farm in Upstate New York last Tuesday. After years of raising pigs for meat, Bob became uncomfortable with killing pigs for a living and decided that exploiting animals for food did not align with his values. He is now in the process of turning his pig farm into a veganic (vegan, organic) vegetable farm. In the meantime, however, he had a sick pig on his hands, whom he sent to Farm Sanctuary. Since pigs are social animals, comforted to be with friends, Bob sent Roxy to the sanctuary along with Gus. Even small, “free-range,” or “humane” farms are unable to provide individual care to each animal and still turn a profit. At sanctuaries, each resident is treated as an individual, and at our New York Shelter, Gus will receive the personal care he needs.

Right now, Gus is exhausted by his illness. Both he and Roxy are a bit nervous and unsure in the unfamiliar hospital setting. But once Gus is better, we’ll bring him and Roxy to our New York Shelter. In their new life, Gus and Roxy will be able simply to be pigs, and simply to be themselves. We are so looking forward to learning their unique personalities.


If you’d like to be a part of the work we do to help animals like Gus and Roxy, become a member today by clicking here.

(Articles by Bob Comis about his decision to give up pig farming can be read on The Huffington Post and The Dodo.)


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:


Spring Has Finally Sprung


It’s been a very long and a very cold winter at the New York Shelter, but a belated spring finally arrived. Here is a taste of springtime at the sanctuary!

Mud Everywhere!

A sudden abundance of mud was our first sign that spring had come. Besides slogging through the mud, we have plenty of clean-up work to do, from clearing sand off the roads to repairing gutters damaged by winter weather. It’s hard work, but after five months of ice and snow, we hardly mind.


Marge splashes in the mud puddle on a warm Spring day.

A Bright, Yellow Orb has Appeared in the Sky

This time of year, you’ll catch shelter residents of all species (including human) standing outside, faces to the sun, just soaking up the warmth.


Tara and Jordan playing in the sun.

The chickens, in particular, are experts at basking, taking great pleasure in lying down and stretching out their wings to make the most of every ounce of sunshine. With the snow finally melted, the flock is also eager to dust-bathe, scratch in the dirt, and explore the entire sanctuary. You’ll often find them under the bird feeders, hoping that one of their wild neighbors will knock some seeds to the ground.


Chickens explore the green grass.

Many Residents Are Sporting New Duds (or No Duds)

Spring means it’s off with winter coats. Some animals, like the cattle, shed their fuzzy winter fur for sleeker summer coats. Others, including our very young and very old ruminants, no longer need the human-made jackets that helped them stay warm through the winter. The sheep started to get toasty in their thick wool, so spring shearing is a big relief for them.


Dara enjoys her new haircut.

And we’ve shed our coats, too — and our hats, and our gloves, and our insulated coveralls. For the first time in months, we’re actually recognizable!


Melody brushes Joey in the warmth of the sun.

The Ground Is Suddenly Covered with a Mysterious Green Substance

It’s been a while since we’ve seen grass, and many of our residents are absolutely thrilled to encounter it again. Our ruminants enjoy hay during the winter, but boy do they love getting out on fresh, green pasture.

Along with the grass, spring brought a profusion of wildflowers, including dandelions, a favorite of the sheep and goats.


Ingrid nibbles the dandelions.

Some Animals Are Really, Really Excited

Our pond freezes during the winter, which means no swimming for our waterfowl. By the time spring rolls around, they can barely wait to get back to the water. Few sights express the joy of the season so vividly as that of the ducks and geese returning to the water when their pond thaws at last. You can hear the joy, too, in the cacophony of honking and quacking as the flock members paddle, splash, and bathe to their hearts’ content.


The geese cool off in the pond.

Springtime Joy is Contagious

You’ll see a lot of running, spinning, and playing this time of year, even among our more “mature” residents. Just like us, the animals feel their hearts soar on these warm, sunny days of spring, and they just can’t help kicking up their heels.

2014_06-03_FSNY_Maxie_Delilah_Susie_Coston_DSC_2706_CREDIT_Farm_Sanctuary_2100x1391_300_RGB (1)

Maxie and Delilah scamper in lush green pastures with National Shelter Director Susie Coston.


No one enjoys a watermelon treat more than Ellen.




Postcards from the Road: Maine, the Good Life

By Gene Baur, President and Co-Founder
I recently visited Maine to speak at the VegFest, an annual event organized by the Maine Animal Coalition. Being surrounded by others who are interested in a more compassionate world was positive and inspiring, and it’s so good to see the community growing. Like other VegFest events I’ve attended, this event illustrated a burgeoning awareness about the benefits of plant-based foods and the need to reform our current food system.

I also visited The Good Life Center, which was founded “to perpetuate the philosophies and lifeways of Helen and Scott Nearing.” The Nearings were vegetarians and pioneers of the modern “back to the land” movement. In 1932, they left urban living for rural Vermont before eventually settling in coastal Maine in the early 1950s. Helen and Scott wanted to be self-sufficient and healthy, and, in Helen’s words, to “liberate and dissociate ourselves, as much as possible, from the cruder forms of exploitation: the plunder of the planet; the slavery of man and beast; the slaughter of men in war, and of animals for food.” Scott lived to be 100, and Helen died in a car crash at 91.


The “back to the land” movement, which focuses on environmentally sustainable foods, is thriving in Maine, with various small farms occupying the landscape. In both urban and rural locations, concerned citizens are seeking to be more connected to nature as well as to be more resilient and self-reliant. Part of this movement often includes growing one’s own food. Sweet Dog Farm in Brooksville, Maine, close to the Nearings’ farm on the Blue Hill Peninsula, is an example of the kind of farm that grows food in a healthy, sustainable way. They produce organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs without using animal manure, blood, bone meal, or any slaughter industry byproducts. Instead, they use plants, including seaweed that is plentiful in the nearby ocean, to enrich and build up the soil. They market their products directly to customers who can visit and purchase goods right on the farm. This type of community-oriented, organic, vegan farm is the wave of the future.


Sweet Dog Farm is run by Bob Jones and Doris Groves, who host participants from World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) (http://wwoof.net/) to lend a hand. WWOOFers volunteer their time in exchange for the chance to live on a farm and learn about rural life. During my visit, I met three WWOOFers who work at Sweet Dog Farm, one from Michigan, one from New York, and one from Alabama. They made a delicious lunch that we all enjoyed together, along with a group of neighbors who joined the meal and conversation. I am inspired to see so many people living mindfully and working to create a better world through healthy food systems and communities.

The WWOOFers at Sweet Dog Farm remind me very much of the interns at Farm Sanctuary — people who are involved in making a positive difference in our world. (For information on Farm Sanctuary internships, click here.) Since 1986, our interns have helped to advance Farm Sanctuary’s mission. Interns play an integral role at our shelters, and they continue to advance our cause when they return home and share what they learned with friends and family. I’m sure WWOOFers do the same.

The food movement is evolving, and it’s encouraging to see more and more people take an interest in growing their own food and embracing ideas that the Nearings’ promoted decades ago when they said: “We believe that all life is to be respected — non-human as well as human. Therefore, for sport we neither hunt nor fish, nor do we feed on animals

Leather: Cruelty in the Name of Fashion

By Bruce Friedrich, Director of Policy and Advocacy

A couple years ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a glowing cover profile of fashion designer Stella McCartney. The piece focused on how down to earth she is and how incredibly hard she works, but I was particularly interested in the sympathetic coverage of Stella’s animal rights activism and her refusal to use leather.

The successful designer reasons that, “Using leather to make a handbag is cruel. But it’s also not modern; you’re not pushing innovation.”

I suspect that this comment took many readers by surprise. Most people don’t realize how horrible leather is for the environment or that it’s devastating for tannery workers, nearby communities, and animals.


As I read the article, I was reminded of Joe Wilson’s and Valerie Plame’s appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher when the couple was promoting Plame’s book. During the segment, Maher gives Wilson a hard time for appearing on his show wearing a leather jacket. His response to seeing Wilson in leather is not surprising because Maher is vocal about his support for animal rights. Watching it, I was impressed that Maher, who is clearly supportive of the couple and respects them, was nonetheless candid about his disagreement with Wilson’s choice, pointing out that leather supports egregious cruelty to animals.

Farm Sanctuary has been providing lifelong care to cows and other farm animals for nearly three decades, and we can tell you from experience that cows are interesting individuals. They each have distinct personalities that range from playful to reserved. They form strong, loving bonds. Every day, we see that cows share the same qualities people admire in the dogs and cats millions welcome into their homes.


Michael running free at our New York Shelter.

And science validates our experiences. Cows interact with one another in complex and collaborative ways. They learn from each other and make decisions based on altruism and compassion. They even form “grooming partnerships,” just like chimpanzees. The Sunday Times (UK) science editor Jonathan Leake explains that “cows have a secret mental life in which they bear grudges, nurture friendships, and become excited over intellectual challenges.” There’s much more, too, which we’ve distilled on the Someone, Not Something pages of our website.

Jane Goodall explains that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.” For these reasons, Farm Sanctuary values all life. We would no more kill and wear a cow than we would a kitten or a puppy. And my guess is that people who wear leather can’t come up with a convincing explanation as to why these animals should be treated differently.


The sweet and curious Jay.

Besides dying for leather, cows in industry are abused throughout their short lives. Their bodies are mutilated without pain relief, they’re fed a diet that keeps them in chronic pain, and they’re transported for days at a time through all weather extremes. That’s just what happens in the United States. In China and the developing world, where most animal skins originate, the abuse of cows exceeds our worst nightmares.

Animals aren’t the only ones who suffer to produce leather. What most consumers don’t know is that even if a leather garment is expensive and made in the United States or Europe, the actual leather is probably still cheaply produced in China or the developing world.

leather tannery

In order to stop a cow’s skin from decomposing as it would naturally, it is treated with highly toxic chemicals, turning it into something that defies nature: an animal’s corpse that will never rot. These chemicals are horrible for the environment, for the workers in the tanneries, and for the populations living downstream. In the New Scientist, a lawyer for China’s Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims describes conditions on one river poisoned by waste from a nearby tannery: “A few years ago, villagers could swim in the river. Now they get blisters on their hands and feet from touching the water. … When you stand close to the river you can smell rotting flesh because the leather factory dumps its sewage, made up of animal skin and meat, untreated into the river.” Is a leather jacket, belt, or pair of shoes really worth that?

This PETA investigation video, narrated by Stella McCartney, shows what animals and workers suffer for leather (this video contains graphic images):

Every time we choose what we’re going to wear, we’re also sending a message about who we are in the world. Wearing dead animals does not send a message of compassion. Instead, wearing leather carries a message of cruelty to animals and the poisoning of workers and communities. Who wants to be part of that?

Thank You

By Susie Coston, National Shelter Director

Thanks everyone for your love and support. We’re touched by all the sweet comments from everyone who has met Ivan. I’d like to share one more picture of him since so many of you have asked. Here he is in his signature pose, leaning against the jungle gym.


“Milk Life”: It’s No Life at All for Cows

By Gene Baur, President and Co-founder

For 20 years, the U.S. dairy industry asked consumers, “Got Milk?” Despite the industry’s highly visible marketing campaigns and huge government subsidies, today many consumers are saying, “No, thanks.” With milk consumption on the decline in the United States, the industry’s marketing branch, the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), has launched a new slogan: “Milk Life.”


The “Milk Life” campaign seeks to promote dairy as fuel for an active lifestyle. Using images of ordinary people performing athletic and energetic feats with the declaration, “What eight grams of protein looks like,” “Milk Life” is portrayed as fun, active, and family-friendly. But when we view these ads featuring, for instance, a young girl jumping into a pool, propelled by wings made of milk, let’s ask ourselves: what does “Milk Life” mean for a cow?

The confident and carefree lives of the everyday people shown in these new ads take on a dark hue when compared with the existence of the everyday dairy cow who is pushed to her biological limit, commonly producing ten times more milk than she would naturally. Dairy cows don’t get to run freely and explore outside, although they would love to. Cows are naturally playful, curious, and energetic, but in the dairy industry they are confined, frustrated and exploited.

Hooked up to milk machines

In order to maximize milk production, cows are subjected to a relentless cycle of impregnation, birth, lactation, and re-impregnation. I’ve been to dairy farms and seen babies taken from their mothers within hours of their births, which is standard practice. I’ve seen thousands of those lonely, frightened calves confined in wooden boxes, while their mothers are hooked up to milking machines. Cows are social animals who form close bonds with friends and family members, yet most mothers and calves in the dairy do not get to spend even a day together. Mothers are heartlessly separated from every baby they bear. Young female calves are raised to replace their worn-out mothers. The males are commonly sold for veal or beef.

A veal calf

A calf chained in a veal crate.

Cows can live to be more than 20 years old in a healthy setting like Farm Sanctuary, but the life of a dairy cow in production is short. At around four years old, dairy cows are considered “spent” and sent to slaughter. “Milk Life” for a cow is defined by strain, fear, and loss. It is not a life at all but a sad existence and premature death.

The dairy industry is cruel and destructive, and drinking cows’ milk is completely unnecessary for humans. Mutilations (e.g., cutting off cows’ tails), infections, the use of growth hormones, and the casting off of male calves to veal crates are all hallmarks of a system that ignores the interests of the living, feeling animals it exploits. And, we need cow’s milk no more than we need pig’s milk, or dog’s milk, or cat’s milk. Cow’s milk is for calves.

I am heartened to see that consumers are drinking less cow’s milk and that plant-based milks, including coconut milk, soy milk, and almond milk, are now widely available in mainstream grocery stores. At health food stores, there are even more options, such as hemp milk, oat milk, and flax milk. These alternatives are packed with nutrients and provide great fuel for all of the activities humans enjoy. Soy milk, for example, contains nearly as much protein as cow’s milk and even more vitamin D; almond milk contains more calcium than cow’s milk and only half the calories. All of these products can be directly substituted for cow’s milk for drinking, cooking, and baking. It has never been easier to make the switch.

As consumption declines, the dairy industry will continue spending millions to market cow’s milk to consumers in the United States and around the world. It will push to exploit export markets, just like the tobacco industry and other industries whose products came to be recognized as obsolete or otherwise undesirable. The dairy industry also realizes, however, that there is money to be made in plant-based milks, and they are beginning to invest in these types of products.

We each vote with our dollars when we make choices about what to eat and drink. By opting for plant-based alternatives to dairy, we vote to stop supporting a system where millions of cows suffer short unnatural lives in industrial settings that are rife with cruelty. We vote to stop tearing mother cows away from their babies. And we vote to support a more humane, sustainable agricultural system. In other words, we shun the “Milk Life” and simply vote for life.


Michael running free at Farm Sanctuary.



The Truth about Foie Gras: Part 2

Interview with Susie Coston, National Shelter Director
-Staff writer

In Part 2 of our look at foie gras production, we talk with National Shelter Director Susie Coston about the animals rescued from the industry.

How have rescued foie gras ducks found their way to Farm Sanctuary?    
The majority have been dropped off in boxes or cages with notes stating that they are from a foie gras facility. We’ve also taken in many female ducks rescued from duck-meat operations or found in trash cans outside of foie gras facilities after they survived gassing. Only males are used in foie gras production, and, currently in the United States, the females are raised for meat. Years ago, producers most often gassed female ducklings and discarded their bodies in trash bags.

What are the telltale signs that a duck has come from the foie gras industry?
All of the foie gras ducks we’ve taken in have very pale bills because of the way they’re housed. Typically, ducks in foie gras production facilities are confined in cramped pens or cages inside dark sheds with no access to the outdoors, fresh air, or natural light. But after a few months at the shelter, where they are free to spend time in the sunshine, their bills regain their natural, vibrant pink or red color.

Monet and Matisse shortly after rescue.

Monet and Matisse shortly after rescue.

Foie gras ducks, especially those who have already been force-fed, are also the most frightened ducks we take in. Obviously, this is a response to being manhandled and having a tube repeatedly shoved down their throats. These ducks have never experienced kindness in human hands. Newly rescued ducks from foie gras facilities usually flee to the corner of their pens at the mere sight of a human.

The duo Harper and Kohl, who were left at the shelter in boxes, are an example of what we typically see in ducks rescued from the foie gras industry. Harper was missing an eye, and Kohl had multiple fractures on both legs that prevented him from standing upright. They had sores on their bills, wounds on their faces and bodies, and broken feathers. The force-feeding had induced hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver syndrome), and both ducks were experiencing respiratory distress because their abnormally large livers were putting pressure on the surrounding organs, which in turn were pressing on their lungs. Kohl and Harper were terrified of humans when they arrived, and, although they grew comfortable at the shelter, they never overcame their fear of human contact.

Kohl healthy and splashing at our New York Shelter.

Kohl healthy and splashing at our New York Shelter.

What is the rehabilitation process?
Each group has been different. We have taken in babies who simply required basic care like any other rescued ducklings. In fact, we recently welcomed four ducklings, Ellen, Carrie, Emily, and Kristen, who were rescued from the foie gras industry when they were only days old. Fortunately, these sweet ducklings avoided the horrific abuse that occurs in production facilities. So the main concern with them is to provide adequate nutrition while managing their weight since obesity is common in this breed used for meat production and pâté.

Adjusting to life outside of production is slow and difficult for the ducks who have been subjected to force-feeding. They don’t want to eat and usually have trouble doing it on their own in the beginning. We had to hand-feed Harper and Kohl for the first few weeks. And rescued foie gras ducks commonly require treatment for sores, abrasions, broken bones, and other wounds. Harper and Kohl underwent months of treatment before they were fully healed and able to live like normal ducks.

Many of these ducks require special care as they get older, too. The foie gras industry uses Moulards (also called mule ducks), a sterile hybrid of Pekin and Muscovy breeds. Female Moulards are prone to reproductive tract cancers. And because they are bred to be large and heavy, both males and females tend to experience arthritis as they age.

Besides improved health, what changes do you see in rescued foie gras ducks as they are rehabilitated?
They come to life! Ducks in foie gras production are very sick animals that live in constant fear. Over the course of force-feeding, they feel progressively worse and have increased trouble walking, breathing, and even standing up. They are not afforded the basic comfort of a body free from pain and safe from violence, let alone the freedom to enjoy any of the activities that fulfill their natural instincts. Once rescued ducks begin feeling better and settle in at the shelter, you see just how happy these birds can be.

When we took in Monet and Matisse, another pair left at our door, they were very quiet and subdued. Whenever a human entered the room they would cower in the corner. Then one day, Monet stood up tall and flapped his wings! It was the first sign of happiness from either of them. Since then, they’ve become much more confident, and their spirits have really lifted. Together, they are a strong pair. Now, they even approach people who enter their barn. Monet and Matisse are also stunning, with beautiful feathers that no longer show any signs of the cruelty they endured.

Monet at our Melrose Small Animal Hospital where he was finally given the space to spread his wings.

Monet at our Melrose Small Animal Hospital where he was finally given the space to spread his wings.

Being with their family and friends is very important to ducks because they form lifelong bonds. Our ducks sleep close together every night and communicate with each other constantly. Best friends Harper and Kohl were never more than a few feet apart from each other during their entire lives at the shelter, and Monet and Matisse are also inseparable.
Moreover, ducks are clean animals who need to bathe, but they are denied this natural behavior in production facilities, leaving the birds to suffer as they are covered in old feed and fecal matter. One of the first things these ducks do when they arrive at the shelter is to take a bath in their water bowls, eagerly dipping their heads in and splashing water everywhere. When they are well enough to go outside, we immediately take them to the water to enjoy a swim for the very first time. It’s amazing to watch rescued ducks get out on the pond or a pool because their joy is so obvious. Even Kohl, whose legs were permanently deformed due to the fractures he suffered before his rescue, swam like a maniac. Our rescued ducks really enjoy sunbathing, eating grass, and filter-feeding in the mud. They just love being ducks!

Monet and Matisse regained their health at our New York Shelter.

Monet and Matisse regained their health at our New York Shelter.

2013: Moving into the Mainstream

By Gene

We often refer to animal protection work as a “movement,” and I believe that idea of movement is fitting as we reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. Movement suggests that we are defined by our actions, by what we are doing — like protecting farm animals from harm and promoting compassionate vegan living. We made tremendous strides toward creating a more just and compassionate world for farm animals in 2013 thanks to our committed and compassionate supporters, advocates, and friends — and I believe the momentum will just keep building.


Making Headlines
Nearly every week over the past year, articles about animal welfare or plant-based diets could be found in major, national publications, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, TIME magazine, and many more. Just this month, Rolling Stone ran a damning exposé entitled, “Animal Cruelty is the Price We Pay for Cheap Beef.” Last month, our Celebration for the Turkeys event was featured on Good Morning America, showing a compassionate holiday tradition to a national audience. Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary’s Senior Director for Advocacy, made headlines on several fronts, including a lively discussion about the ethical and environmental implications of lab-grown meat and the impact on factory farm animals on MSNBC’s program “All in with Chris Hayes.”

This media coverage represents an increasing interest in farm animal issues and growing concerns about where our food comes from. More and more people are questioning whether we should be eating animals. I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate, arguing for the motion, “Don’t Eat Anything With a Face.” I am happy to say that my partner, Neal Barnard, M.D., and I were declared winners of the debate.


Bringing attention to the benefits of a plant-based diet this year was a slew of prominent figures in entertainment and politics, among them newly minted vegan Al Gore and power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who have publicized their goal to try a vegan lifestyle for 22 days. Casey Affleck and Ryan Gosling lent their voices to our cause by speaking out against the use of intense confinement systems for farm animals and reaching millions with a message of compassion.

Farm Sanctuary’s work made headlines in 2013, too. We were named “Nonprofit of the Year” by VegNews editors and voted “Favorite Farmed Animal Sanctuary” by VegNews readers for the sixth consecutive year and “Favorite Nonprofit Animal Organization” for the first time.

Art Imitates Life
Books, poetry, painting, and films increasingly are challenging cruelty and inspiring change. The 2013 documentary Blackfish exposed abuse at Sea World, provoking a public outcry and prompting several musical acts to cancel shows there. The film has raised awareness about the tragedy associated with holding animals in captivity and denying them their basic needs. Filmmaker Liz Marshall released The Ghosts in Our Machine, a documentary examining the complicated relationships humans have with other animals and the ethical challenges we face when we exploit them. The film features Jo-Anne McArthur, photojournalist and longtime friend of Farm Sanctuary whose book on the same subject, We Animals, came out this month, as well as Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston and some of the rescued animals at our New York Shelter.


In the popular genre of animated movies, we celebrated the release of Free Birds, a major motion picture about getting turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. 

Serious Business
Ambitious entrepreneurs and innovative technological developments brought positive movement to the food industry in 2013. Companies like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods have been among the ventures creating game-changing alternatives to meat and eggs. These companies are flourishing and enjoying recognition in business communities and mainstream media — including Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg, NPR, and The Huffington Post — for making plant-based meat and egg substitutes widely appealing and accessible.

Changing Hearts and Minds
Traveling around the country this year, I participated in many galvanizing festivals, conferences, and celebrations filled with energy and enthusiasm. People who care about animals are coming together to inspire and empower one another.

The interest and enthusiasm I witnessed at these events reaches far beyond those who identify themselves as vegans or activists. Opposition to factory farming and changing attitudes about eating animals are quickly becoming mainstream. Schools across the United States are offering more vegan foods, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, which recently instituted “Meatless Mondays” in its cafeterias.

Scientific studies on animal sentience continued to make advances in 2013. This body of research typically has studied species such as apes, elephants, and dolphins and is now expanding to include farm animals, who have not been as well understood. Farm Sanctuary is participating in this important work. We launched our Someone, Not Something project to share unique insights about farm animal emotions and intelligence with the public. The more we help others learn about animals who are exploited for food, the harder it will be for society to condone that exploitation.


Pushing Forward
In 2013, we were part of a coalition that successfully defended bans in California prohibiting the sale of foie gras and the use of cruel confinement systems against agribusiness challenges. Our success at passing laws to protect farm animals in recent years has prompted defensive maneuvering by agribusiness. Seeking to keep cruelty out of the public eye, industry forces campaigned for “ag-gag” laws to criminalize the documentation of cruelty at factory farms. This year, “ag-gag” bills were introduced in 11 states across the nation. Happily, all 11 were defeated.

With increasing awareness about the abuses animals experience in the food industry and with growing availability of plant-based options, there is much reason for hope. Our movement is growing and gained strong momentum over the past year, and I’m very optimistic about 2014.

Together, we are making a difference. With your ongoing support, we’ll continue building on this momentum to create a more compassionate world for all.

Remembering Valentino

By Kerrie Wooten*

Feeling the Love
At our most recent Celebration for the Turkeys in Orland, California, I was on the lookout for a certain guest who has been coming to our events for the past several years. At an earlier Farm Sanctuary event this summer, she told me that she had been photographing her daughter with Valentino every time they visited so she could look back and see her daughter growing up with her cherished friend. But Valentino, Farm Sanctuary’s oldest steer, was now living with the special-needs herd, which wasn’t part of our scheduled Celebration “shelter time,” where guests visit with the animals. So I said I’d make sure that she and her daughter got their photograph with Valentino again this visit. She was so grateful she hugged me.


Later that day, I led the mother-daughter duo and some more of Valentino’s biggest fans down to the lower pasture where he was standing, peacefully chewing his cud and drooling. At almost 20 years old, he didn’t have a lot of his teeth left — thus the drool that sometimes hung from his mouth in long strands that swayed in the breeze. This was just part of his charm. Valentino carried out his days without a care in the world. Our party arrived at his pasture and showered attention on him, making this day extra special for all of them.

A Shelter Veteran
Valentino came to our Northern California Shelter long before any of the current caregivers did. It was Valentine’s Day, 1994, the year after the shelter opened. He was only two weeks old, tiny, sick, and very weak. He had suffered damage to tendons in his front legs, which made walking painful for him. Physical therapy was important for Valentino’s recovery, and caregivers worked with him as many as five times a day, gently walking him through the nearby pasture.


Diane Miller, the new farm manager at the time, recalls how her puppy Sunshine became involved in Valentino’s healing, “helping out” during his therapy walks by pulling on his lead rope to encourage him along. “They played lots of this tug-o-war,” says Diane. “Although they were both growing like weeds that spring, Valentino began winning these games more often as he grew stronger and heavier, and as his legs healed.” Diane, Sunshine, and Valentino became best buddies, beginning each day with breakfast together and ending many evenings snuggling together in Valentino’s stall.

A good Samaritan rescued Valentino — he was one of thousands of calves each year who are found down, injured, weak, and left for dead. Holsteins are common in the dairy industry, where producers keep cows lactating by subjecting them to a relentless cycle of impregnation, gestation, and birth. Female offspring often replace their mothers in the herd, but the male calves are considered useless. They are taken from their mothers immediately and typically auctioned off for cheap beef or veal, killed, or abandoned. Valentino’s first weeks of life must have been miserable, but we made sure that his next nearly twenty years were wonderful.


Susie Moo and Valentino

I got to know Valentino in his middle and old age, when he was a gentle giant. A few years ago, when he started to show stiffness in his hind legs, we moved him to live with the special-needs herd. Arthritis and hip degeneration are common in elderly Holsteins, because they have been bred to grow so large that it puts a strain on their joints. Valentino lived with arthritis for years, but, with treatment, we were able to help him remain active. He still had fun with his buddies and had no trouble moving fast when he saw food coming. Sometimes when he got excited, he seemed like a goofy, young steer again.

Looking through old photos of Valentino, I see him with many different members of the herd. He was everybody’s friend. In later years, he became particularly fond of spending time with his friend Joni, who is a mother figure in the special-needs herd. He was never more content than when Joni was grooming him. Life was sweet for Valentino, right up to the end.

Time to Say Goodbye
On the evening we discovered Valentino on the ground our hearts fell. The position he was in indicated an injury to his back legs and possibly to his spine. Due to his extreme old age and the fragility caused by arthritis, his leg had broken at the joint and probably caused him to fall, causing further injury. We called our vet immediately. He gave us the diagnosis that we already knew deep down — that the broken leg, compounded by his advanced age, the weakness of his other legs, and his hip degeneration, meant that his condition was irreparable. Shelter staff gathered around as the vet euthanized Valentino. He  slipped away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.

Valentino’s Memory
“No other single animal has done more to teach me the intrinsic beauty and value of each individual life, particularly those lives who are cast off as ‘byproducts,’” says Diane. “Valentino triumphed over this bleak introduction to the world and grew into a legendary giant, in stature as well as pure heart, grace and love. Not a bad, rough, or mean bone had he…. as attested by the thousands of hearts he stole over his long years at the sanctuary.”
The special needs herd has been subdued in the days following Valentino’s passing, and the pasture feels empty without him. This benign, loving steer was a friend to many, and he truly epitomized the spirit of sanctuary. Valentino was a beloved part of this shelter for two decades. And he always will be.

View more photos of Valentino here:


*Kerrie Wooten is Animal Care Manager at Farm Sanctuary’s Northern California Shelter. Kerrie has been a caregiver for Valentino and all of our other residents since 2006.