The Ghosts in Our Machine Part 2

Last time, we sat down with Liz Marshall, director of The Ghosts in Our Machine to hear about her incredible film that examines the complicated, and often cruel, relationship humans have with non-human animals. Now, we take a behind-the-scenes look at the film with Farm Sanctuary’s National Shelter Director Susie Coston and President and Co-founder Gene Baur.

The Ghosts in Our Machine is about to enjoy its theatrical release in the United States, starting in New York, November 8–14, at the Village East Cinema. On Saturday, November 9, we’ll team up with the film for a Movie & Vegan Dinner night to benefit Farm Sanctuary. Following the evening screening, dinner will be held at Candle 79 and Candle Café West. Click here for more information.


Los Angeles area screenings are scheduled for November 15–21, at Laemmle Theatre, Music Hall 3, in Beverly Hills. For more information and show locations, visit the film’s website.

1. Do you think the timing of this film is significant? Is the public ready for a film like this?

Susie Coston: The timing is very significant. Issues of animal rights, veganism, and animal welfare are becoming mainstream, but we aren’t at the tipping point yet. This film really illuminates these subjects in a way that is very palpable for mainstream audiences.

Gene Baur: Exactly. This film will play a role in furthering the public’s opposition to the unconscionable and unnecessary abuse of billions of innocent creatures every year. The public is showing growing concerns about factory farming and other institutionalized abuses, and cruelty-free foods and products are increasingly available. Vegan businesses are rising up to meet the demand for compassionate alternatives, and that’s an exciting development.

2. What moments in the film most struck a chord for you?

SC: I loved seeing the rescue of Fanny and Sonny because they are such a huge part of our lives at the New York Shelter, but what I found most incredible in the film is the range of exploitation portrayed — animals used in research facilities, in the fur trade, for entertainment, and, of course, animals used for food, who are exploited in staggering numbers.

GB: I was especially moved by the scenes with Jo-Anne writing somberly in the Farm Sanctuary Bed & Breakfast cabin, recalling the various painful events she has witnessed and documented. It’s difficult to witness cruelty and violence knowing that you are unable to stop it immediately. You reflect, you regroup, and, armed with evidence, you set out refreshed to create change.


Sonny shortly after he was rescued.

Susie, would you give us a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes process of filming and photographing the Farm Sanctuary animals portrayed in the movie?

SC: They don’t allow cameras or even cell phones at the stockyard, so you don’t see what took place inside. Sonny was down, meaning he couldn’t walk or stand. I spent hours in the stockyard during this rescue and witnessed many abuses — I saw so much pain and fear. The first time I saw Fanny, she looked directly at me as she fell in the auction ring. These are the things that the industry doesn’t want you to see.

Viewers may note the use of the word “it” in the film by the vets. When Sonny was being examined, they referred to him as “it,” which gives the viewer an indication about how these animals are viewed as commodities. “It” allows someone to mentally disconnect and view an animal as a thing rather than as a complex being who is intelligent and emotional and who forms relationships with other animals and people. And they do! Fanny was so sick that first day, but as soon as she heard our voices when we arrived at the vets’ to see her, she mooed. It was like a “thank you,” as if she knew we were all connected now.

Fanny remembered Liz, too. On the last day of filming she licked Liz over and over, which is not a very “Fanny” thing to do. She’s still very shy, but she really connected with Liz and Jo. Both of them got big smooches to prove it. Spending all those hours with Liz and her incredible team — everyone was so wonderful — was such an amazing time. And, Jo-Anne has been an important part of my life and life at Farm Sanctuary for many years. It was just such an honor to be a part of this project.


Filmmaker Liz Marshall with Fanny.

3. How does Liz’s and Jo-Anne’s work harmonize with Farm Sanctuary’s efforts to introduce the public to individual animals as sentient beings?

SC: I think it’s spot on. It’s hard to relate to masses of animals exploited for food who number in the billions, but when you highlight any one of those animals, as Liz and Jo-Anne have done, you start to see who each animal is. Sonny was just one of about 300 calves sold that day. Fanny was one of about 200 “spent” dairy cows sold. And that is just one day of one year. The work that Liz and Jo-Anne have done with this film brings that point into public view.

GB: Liz and Jo-Anne get close to the animals and see them as unique individuals with personalities, just like we do at Farm Sanctuary. They also document how humans interact with other animals, in both positive and negative ways, and encourage people to consider what is ethically acceptable.


Jo-Anne with Fanny.

4. What are your hopes for this film?

SC: I hope millions of people see this film and make the connection between the individual animals featured and the many things we do every day that perpetuate widespread cruelty. The film is not overly graphic so it is likely to reach more people than it would otherwise. The film has a good balance. Just when you are ready to have a meltdown, you get to see the good again. You see the rescued animals at Farm Sanctuary who are loved and thriving. The film sheds light on the beauty and joy that is so evident in rescued farm animals, which most people never get to see. The film also shows how animals should be treated.

GB: My hope is that, after seeing this film, people will think about the “ghosts” who are living, suffering, and dying in our midst to satisfy human whims. And, I hope this new awareness will prompt people to adjust their behaviors to prevent these atrocities. Animals used for food production are abused in staggering numbers and in ways most people would not condone. I am very grateful that The Ghosts in Our Machine addresses this topic. We humans make choices every day about our food, our clothes, our entertainment … often without much thought. Yet these choices have a profound impact on other animals, even when the consequences are hidden from our view. These choices and consequences define whether we have compassionate or abusive relationships with other animals.

The Ghosts in Our Machine

The Ghosts in Our Machine is a film about a complex social dilemma. As described on the film’s website, humans have cleverly categorized non-human animals into three domains: domesticated pets, wildlife, and the ones we don’t like to think about — the “ghosts in our machine.” During production in 2012, our national shelter director, Susie Coston, sat down with director Liz Marshall to talk about the film. The Ghosts in Our Machine will soon enjoy its theatrical release in the United States, starting in New York, November 8–14, at the Village East Cinema and in the Los Angeles area, November 15–21, at Laemmle Theatre, Music Hall 3, in Beverly Hills. For more information and show locations, visit the film’s website.

This post was originally published on March 12, 2012.

By Susie


Photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur with her pal, Sonny.

I often meet artists who are passionate about animal causes, and I love introducing them to the animals who call Farm Sanctuary home. Over the last year or so, we’ve been especially fortunate to get to know filmmaker Liz Marshall, and I want to share her upcoming project, The Ghosts in Our Machine, with you. Ghosts, as we often call it, is a documentary that follows the work of photographer and animal advocate Jo-Anne (Jo) McArthur, and it features some Farm Sanctuary residents. Here’s what Liz had to say when I asked about her work and Jo’s:

Susie: What is The Ghosts in Our Machine?

Liz: Well, with the exception of our cats and dogs and a few wild and stray species within our day-to-day living environments, we primarily encounter animals as food, clothing, research, and entertainment.

We don’t fully realize how and where our lives intersect with animals, and that makes these animals “ghosts” in our modern world. The Ghosts in Our Machine is a feature-length film that illuminates the lives of these “ghosts” — individual animals, hidden from our view, living within or rescued from the consumer-driven machine.

Through the heart and photographic lens of animal rights protagonist Jo-Anne McArthur, we become intimately familiar with a small cast of animal characters. These individuals represent just a few of the countless animals we too often unknowingly affect in devastating ways. We hear from a spectrum of voices about the cognitive and emotional complexity of animals and about globalized animal industries — scientists, doctors, and industry representatives also contribute to the story.


Filming at our New York Shelter.

Susie: How did you and Jo decide to work together on this project?

Liz: Working with Jo is a natural fit since we are both longtime documentarians committed to social justice. Jo’s photographic body of work, We Animals, initially inspired me, and then I quickly realized it would make an interesting story to feature Jo-Anne as the main human subject of a film.

I approached Jo in early 2009 about the possibility of collaborating on a feature documentary, but it wasn’t until later in 2010 that things fell into place. In this project, Jo’s lens is an intimate, honest portal into the lives of these “ghosts,” and she is at a critical juncture in her own activist–photographer career. While Jo’s work is celebrated within the worldwide animal rights community, it’s a treasure not known to a wider audience.The animals’ stories involve struggle, and Jo’s does too.

Part of the story follows Jo as she works with her photo agency in New York City to pitch her work to mainstream publications. Her work is happening at a time when issues pertaining to animal rights are in the public eye — there is a groundswell of consumer interest in health and compassion. But, while we’re seeing these issues gain a foothold in popular culture, the animal rights movement, itself, is often misunderstood and marginalized. People still do not want to “see” how their consumer behavior affects billions of animals. The film reflects this wave of consciousness and conflict and is also part of it.


Filmmaker Liz Marshall with Fanny.

Susie: How did your connection with Farm Sanctuary come about?

Liz: We (Ghosts Media) are so excited about our growing relationship with Farm Sanctuary. My introduction to the sanctuary was a very magical, unforgettable visit in 2004. It naturally inspired one of the stories featured in the film: the rescue and rehabilitation of Sonny.

This story highlights the realities of the dairy and veal industries and the very special work that Farm Sanctuary does. Jo is a close friend of Farm Sanctuary — as she says in the film, “It is my home away from home.” It’s thanks to Jo that we’ve had such access to the sanctuaries and the animals.


National Shelter Director Susie Coston with Sonny shortly after his rescue.

Susie: What do people most need to know about farm animals and our food system?

Liz: I love Bruce Friedrich’s [Farm Sanctuary Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives] ongoing Facebook messaging — he posts an image of a farm animal and says “Someone, not Something.” This about sums it up for me. The animals we use for food, research, clothing, and entertainment are individuals who possess emotions and intelligence; they are not inanimate objects. Like many social movements, animal rights can feel like an upward battle, but it is helping to expand compassion in our world. Slowly but surely, these “ghosts” will become known in the consciences of many, many consumers.

Watch the trailer below or visit

What Did You Do?

By Gene

I became a vegetarian immediately, and two years later, I became vegan.”
– Emily Deschanel

[I decided] to raise as much awareness as possible.
– Taryn Southern

I wrote to Congress. I became a member of Farm Sanctuary.”
– Evan Ferrante

These are some of the responses we got when we asked our celebrity supporters, “When you learned about the cruelty endured by animals on factory farms, what did you do?”

Now we’re asking you. Launched on September 23 and running through October 2 (World Day for Farmed Animals), Farm Sanctuary’s What Did You Do? campaign will educate and empower people across the country, so that, collectively, we can answer, “We changed the world.”

For this campaign, Farm Sanctuary has created a resource, forum, and launching pad for action. On, we provide the facts about factory farming and eating animals. We also share powerful animal stories and videos from our celebrity supporters, and we introduce some of the amazing pigs, turkeys, cows, and chickens we’ve rescued from the factory farming industry. Additionally, site visitors will find some awesome vegan recipes and tips on compassionate living — and of course some important ways to take action for farm animals.

Now we’re calling on farm animal advocates everywhere to get involved. We want to know: What did you do? And what will you do now?

One of the most important and effective things you can do is spread the word. So use Facebook, Twitter, and email to share the campaign with your friends and family.
You can also team up to make a difference. Through our Crowdrise site, we’re raising funds with our star-powered teams: Team Oink, Team Cluck, Team Gobble, and Team Moo. Leading them are Russell Simmons, Emily Deschanel, John Salley, Fred Willard, Ashlan Gorse, Leona Lewis, Matisyahu, Mayim Bialik, and many more. Participants can join one of these teams or start their own. Thanks to our wonderful sponsors and celebrity partners, donors will also be able to compete in prize challenges (for instance, a chance to win a “JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS Greatest Hits” CD, signed with a thank you note by Joan herself).

To kick off the campaign, a group of generous donors we’re calling our “Animal Angels” has issued a challenge: For each of the four animal teams that reaches $25,000 in donations (or, for a combined total of $100,000 among all four teams), our angels will double the total. This challenge presents an opportunity to generate tremendous resources for our education, advocacy, and rescue work. Just $18 could buy a month’s worth of pain medication for a rescued turkey; $30 could provide a month’s worth of food for a pig. Imagine the impact of $200,000!

Also kick-starting the project are Fred Willard, Russell Simmons, Shannon Elizabeth and Ashlan Gorse, who pitched us their ideas for a farm animal awareness PSA. Now it’s your turn. We’re asking participants across the country to send us their videos about what they did when they learned about animal cruelty. Details here:

Stay tuned for updates and challenges throughout the campaign by checking in on Twitter, Facebook, and — and remember to share!

We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, ‘What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?‘” — Jonathan Saffron Foer, Eating Animals


3,000 Miles to Refuge

By Susie

At almost 6:00 a.m. on September 5, I stood on the tarmac of Elmira Corning Regional Airport with 17 Farm Sanctuary staff members and volunteers waiting for a cargo plane to land. 1,150 rescued hens who had just traveled nearly 3,000 miles were inside. As soon as the plane safely landed, we sprang into action.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_2774_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurWe had been preparing for this moment since mid-August, when Animal Place, a rescue organization in Grass Valley, California, contacted us. They were set to save 3,000 hens scheduled to be gassed to death at an egg factory. All chickens used in industrial egg production are gassed or slaughtered once their productivity declines, typically at about two years old. These particular birds had been kept in battery cages, the most common egg production method in the United States and the system for confining more than 250 million hens each year. Their cages were housed in giant sheds and stacked several rows high. Inside, the hens were crowded together so tightly that they couldn’t even stretch a wing. They were forced to stand and lie on wire floors without relief. Feces from the hens above fell upon them constantly. The air they breathed was thick with dust and ammonia. Every day was a torment. Now, though, relief was finally in sight for these few hens.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_0420_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurAn anonymous donor, who paid for the birds to be flown from the west coast to the east coast, made this transport possible. Chickens who have been used for egg production are very fragile, so we were anxious about them making such a long trip. Considering the loading of the birds into crates, the trip to the airport from their original location, the flight time, and then the unloading and driving to our Watkins Glen Sanctuary, the birds spent well over 16 hours in transit. They were exhausted and in need of fresh food and water. Because they traveled in a cargo plane, the hens could not be viewed during the flight, and we were concerned as we waited to see them. As soon as we could reach them, we were delighted to learn that all had survived the trip, and we carefully removed each crate from the plane and loaded the hens into trailers and our transport van.

To Sanctuary
We rushed the birds to our New York Shelter, where we had converted a building into a barn for the main flock and made space in our Rescue and Rehabilitation Barn for any hens who needed special care. We had lots of fresh, cold water and plenty of food waiting for the hens, and many drank and ate as soon as we released them into the barns. Others, who were weak from the transport and clearly more dehydrated, were given fluids to help them recover from the flight. As the hens settled in, we got to work checking each individual bird to identify who would require special care.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_3267_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurThe evidence of the hens’ ordeal in industrial production was everywhere: lice infestations, respiratory ailments, prolapses from laying so many large eggs, impacted oviducts, peritoneal fluids, pus filled cysts, bumble foot infections, and mangled toes, which probably occurred when their extremely long nails became caught in the cage wire. It is so painful to think of these chickens, not only miserably crowded and frustrated, but also suffering for weeks or months with these painful, untreated ailments as parasites crawled all over their bodies. Sadly, these health problems are common in chickens at industrial egg farms, where individual attention is unheard of. One-hundred-and-fifty birds were identified with health issues requiring special treatment that would prohibit them from traveling to other sanctuaries right away.

On the road again
We spent a very long first day performing examinations, treating injuries, dusting for lice, and trimming extremely overgrown nails. At 4:30 the next morning, a team from Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ohio arrived to pick up 240 hens who were healthy enough for travel. The day before, we had marked the birds to identify them easily in the sea of white feathers so they could be loaded into travel crates with minimal stress. Next, a team from Michigan sanctuary SASHA Farm came to pick up 100 of the girls, who were also marked to ensure the correct birds went to the correct shelters. Once these transports were off, the health checks, medical treatments, and trimmings continued for the remaining birds.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_hen_transport_FS_Sept2013-1044_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurOn day 3, Mike Stura (who rescued our friend Michael) arrived to pick up 400 hens who were headed to upstate New York’s Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Then, it was time for more examinations and health care. By this time, we caretakers were stiff, sore, and exhausted, but, I can tell you: there is nothing more rewarding to us than seeing how happy these hens are to be safe and comfortable at last.

We worked to prepare more hens to make the trip to new homes at the Humane Society of Greater Rochester’s Lollypop Farm, Virginia sanctuary United Poultry Concerns, Vermont sanctuary VINE, and Coming Home Sanctuary of Ithaca, New York, as well as to adoptive homes in several states. About 200 hens who need additional vet care and treatment will remain here with us.

Throughout all of the transport and health care and through every loading and unloading involved in this massive rescue, Farm Sanctuary staff members and volunteers have worked with amazing diligence, efficiency, and care. In addition to those who worked directly with the chickens, our remaining staff members continued the work of caring for more than 500 other individual animals living at our shelter. They kept normal operations running smoothly, providing the same level of expert care they always do. I am so thankful for our wonderful team. I am also grateful for the award-winning photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur who was with us every step of the rescue to capture the hens’ amazing journey.

2013_09-05_FSNY_Hen_rescue_hen_transport_FS_Sept2013-0854_CREDIT_Jo-Anne_McArthurJust this week, the state vet came out to perform blood tests on those birds traveling to Virginia. Our health-care team drew blood on 50 of the hens who were banded with official state leg bands for legal entry into that state. These birds will be going to United Poultry Concerns, before the end of September, we hope. Twenty more hens were re-tested as well and will be heading to VINE Sanctuary in Vermont today.

A hopeful future
We continue to pay close attention to the hens here as they are rehabilitated. It is incredible to see their personalities emerge now that they feel safe and well enough to relax. I’m getting to know more and more of these wonderful characters as I work with them every day. Each of these hens is a unique individual. Each one has survived so much and still has so much living left to do. It’s almost inconceivable that any one of their lives could be thoughtlessly extinguished.

Yet millions of chickens were killed the very day that these girls made it to sanctuary, and millions more continue to be added to a system filled with suffering. For every bird who was saved as part of this rescue, another is born to take her place in production. Our job now is to ensure that people learn about how wonderful each individual bird is so that they are inspired to change their eating habits. And when that happens, hens who lay eggs will truly be free.

Our rescued hens are ambassadors now, and I have so much hope for the lives they will live and the people they will inspire here at Farm Sanctuary and at all the other sanctuaries, shelters, and homes that have welcomed them.



Speciesism: The Movie May Change Your Worldview

By Bruce

scale-and-title-282x300Every now and then a movie comes along that has the power to fundamentally change the worldview of its audience. Speciesism: The Movie, a documentary directed by Mark Devries, is that kind of film. It premieres in key cities next month.

The word “speciesism,” which has been popularized by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, refers to the assumption that a vast gulf exists between the value of human interests and the value of the interests of all other animals.

Speciesism is, of course, a fundamental principle of human life, as humans view most other animals not as individuals, but as sources of food, clothing, and entertainment — or as targets. Similar to those who have grown up unaware of overt racist or sexist beliefs in their worldview, speciesism is so thoroughly assimilated in most of us that it is invisible and unquestioned.

Yet, in order to view other animals as biologically and cognitively unsophisticated, we have to ignore the scientific fact that other animals possess the same five physiological senses that we do, as well as the capacity for a wide range of emotions. In her introduction to The Inner World of Farm Animals (author Amy Hatkoff), Dr. Jane Goodall writes 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.”

And Dr. Temple Grandin, in Animals in Translation, writes that “When it comes to the basics of life … [other] animals feel the same way we do.” She explains that both humans and other animals share the same core emotions of “rage, prey, chase, drive, fear, and curiosity/interest/anticipation,” and the “four basic social emotions: sexual attraction and lust, separation distress, social attachment, and the happy emotions of play and roughhousing.”

Although prominent philosophers, legal scholars, and scientists have criticized speciesist assumptions for many years, these questions have never before been the centerpiece of a film. Not only does Speciesism: The Movie ask these paradigm-challenging questions, it does so while taking viewers on an adventure that is tremendously entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny. Devries’ interview with a Nazi reminded me of the hoods scene in Django Unchained.

Preordersecond-150x200Along the way, Devries meets and questions a remarkably broad range of people, including Peter Singer (who The New Yorker named “the most influential philosopher alive”), Richard Dawkins (the most influential evolutionary biologist of the past century), Temple Grandin (designer of the animal-handling systems used by more than half of the slaughterhouses in the United States), factory farmers, anti-factory farm advocates, various other folks (including me!) on both sides of the issue, as well as people on the street.

For those unfamiliar with speciesism, there may be no more enjoyable introduction to this fascinating subject than Speciesism: The Movie. For those already familiar with the speciesism and searching for a way to introduce friends and family to the subject, Speciesism: The Movie may be a perfect overture.


Tour de Farm: A Conversation with Farm Sanctuary Tour Guides

By Samantha

Summer is more than half way over, but Farm Sanctuary visitor season is in full swing. At all three of our shelters, visitors can interact with rescued cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys on guided tours. Tour guides are an excellent source of up-to-date information on animal intelligence and personality, as well as factory farming. They develop close relationships with the animals living at the sanctuaries, learning everything from their unique rescue stories and health needs, to their favorite places to be scratched. Every tour provides visitors with a special glimpse into the lives of Farm Sanctuary residents. Here, three of our fabulous tour guides give us the scoop on the extraordinary experience of introducing people to farm animals.

Which of the animals at your location are most eager to greet tour visitors?

Wendy (New York Shelter): So many! To name just a few: Our new calf, Michael, is very curious about guests. Cash, the sheep, will lean against your legs until you pet him. Daisy, the turkey, happily sits alongside visitors who stroke her feathers. And Patrick, the goat, absolutely loves attention.


Wendy with the turkeys.

Kelly (Southern California Shelter): Prince the goat — he was featured on our website when he was a baby and a lot of people have come to the shelter to meet him. He’s pretty spoiled and thinks that every guest is here just to see him.

Becky (Northern California Shelter): Our sheep and turkeys seem to be the most excited to meet visitors. I think this surprises most people!

Becky with Ms. Foreman.

Becky with Ms. Foreman.

What else about a Farm Sanctuary tour takes visitors by surprise?

Becky: Most visitors are surprised by the pigs — that they are so friendly, clean and large. People either don’t know what to expect or carry some misconceptions about farm animals — you know, that pigs smell and are dirty or that turkeys won’t let you touch them. The moment a person really connects with a pig and gives one a belly rub, you can see the surprise and delight light up their face.

Wendy: Many visitors to our New York shelter are familiar with the issues surrounding factory farming and want to make more compassionate food choices. They often choose cage-free eggs, organic milk, and other supposedly “humane” alternatives intending to help animals. Unfortunately, this type of labeling is a marketing ploy, not a guarantee of humane treatment. We talk about and show the truth behind labels during the tour. Time and again, I’ve seen the dismay on visitors’ faces when they meet debeaked hens who have come from “free-range” farms. Visitors are taken aback to see that these hens suffered the same abuses as the birds in battery cages do.

Kelly: Most visitors are shocked to learn that the veal industry is a byproduct of the dairy industry. I’ve seen a lot of people who might already have eliminated meat products become vegan on the spot after meeting a calf and hearing this information.

Have you seen a visit to Farm Sanctuary change someone’s mind about animals and food?

Kelly with Li Mu Bai

Kelly with Li Mu Bai

Kelly: Definitely! Especially when it comes to our birds. Visitors will comment on how amazing it was simply to hold a chicken or pet a turkey under her wings and how the interaction changed their view of who these animals are and what it means to eat them.

Wendy: Every visit changes someone’s mind. I’ve seen visitors moved to tears by animal rescue stories. I’ve seen skeptics who start the tour making jokes about loving bacon and end it with their arms around a pig while declaring they’ll never eat bacon again. Even if they just go home and think a little deeper about where food comes from or try out a vegetarian recipe, we’ve helped them take a step towards more compassion for farm animals.

Is there a tour experience that you’ll never forget?

Becky: In the spring of 2012, I was taking a couple and their young son to meet the special-needs cattle. A group of young calves who were new to the herd (Sonny, Tweed, Milbank, Arnold, Orlando, and Conrad) started walking toward us. The closer the calves got, the more timid they were acting, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that this was the first human child they had ever met, and they didn’t know what to make of him! Conrad started sniffing the little boy, then licking him, and the boy just started laughing and laughing. Pretty soon the other calves who were brave enough came closer and started licking the young boy too. To see the calves in their discovery process, and to see this magnificent openness between the boy and the calves, was really beautiful.

Wendy: I had the chance to take author Peter Lovenheim out to spend time with Samuel, the steer who was the subject of his book, Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf. In his book, Peter describes purchasing two calves with the intent of watching them move through the meat industry from birth until slaughter to document the process (the other cow, Samantha, also lived at Farm Sanctuary but passed away a few years ago). He begins the experiment thinking he will have them slaughtered when the time comes, but as he gets to know the animals as individuals and learns more about the industry, he struggles with what to do. Eventually, he decides to bring them to the sanctuary rather than to slaughter. Getting to know Samuel changed Peter’s entire outlook on animals, which is what we’re trying to do at Farm Sanctuary every day. Seeing Peter’s response when he greeted Samuel – as a friend – was unforgettable .

What have you learned from being a Farm Sanctuary tour guide?

Wendy: You can read a million pamphlets and websites and still turn a blind eye to how animals are being treated. But, when you have the chance to really connect with another living being face-to-face, it’s hard to ignore that meat, milk, and eggs mean suffering for billions of real animals.

Visitor meets Cash.

Visitor meets Cash.

Becky: At Farm Sanctuary, we get visitors from all walks of life. They have a variety of experiences when it comes to animals and food, and we understand and accept that. Farm Sanctuary emphasizes this acceptance on our tours, and I can’t even count the number of times visitors have commented on how much they appreciated our kindness and willingness to meeting them where they are.

Kelly: I’ve learned that anyone can make positive changes for farm animals and lead others to do the same. On one tour, a 14 year-old boy was so moved after meeting the chickens and discovering that birds have feelings too and want to live just as much as any other animal, that he told me he was never going to eat chicken again. And he was going to tell everyone he knew not to eat chicken either! We can all make these changes for farm animals.

For sanctuary tour times, please follow the links below.
New York Shelter (Watkins Glen)
Northern California Shelter (Orland)
Southern California (Los Angeles area)
For more information on tours, area activities, and overnight stays in our on-site cabins (New York only), check out our visitor program page.


Postcard from the Road: Lake Placid Ironman

By Gene

People often ask me about the health benefits of a vegan diet. They want to know: How does a vegan diet affect your energy level? What do you eat to fuel your running? Do you feel hungry most of the time? These questions were in my mind when I signed up for the 2013 Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York, an event that requires swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a 26.2-mile marathon. Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) is one of the most challenging Ironman courses, with a total elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet in its 140 miles. Actions speak louder than words, and I wanted to demonstrate how healthy plant foods are, not only for everyday activities but also for intense athletic feats.


Gene focused on the bike course.

Just Doing It
In the weeks leading up to IMLP, I followed a training plan and focused on good nutrition to prepare for the grueling event. I ate protein-rich quinoa, beans, and tofu, and loaded up on performance-enhancing foods such as arugula and beets.

During the race, I drank coconut water for hydration and electrolytes and paced myself for the long distance. Crossing the finish line in just under twelve hours, I was very happy to be officially named an “Ironman.”

Athletes are bombarded with marketing campaigns promoting meat, milk, and eggs for health and athletic performance. These are myths that continue to be promulgated, and, in fact, at IMLP the milk industry was out in force as a major sponsor of the event. Dairy promoters target athletes with messages that drinking cows’ milk helps the body perform and recover from vigorous exercise and physical activity.

Just after the finish line at IMLP, athletes were given chocolate milk and draped with a blanket that said, “got chocolate milk.” I refused the cows’ milk, but I took the blanket and turned it inside out to avoid advertising a cruel and unhealthy product.

Plant foods fueled me during training and on race day, and my vegan diet was responsible for helping me make a swift recovery. The day after the race, when some other IMLP finishers were limping around Lake Placid, my legs and body felt good.


Gene finishing the 26.2 mile run of the race.

Away from the athletic field, health experts are also weighing in on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, including doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and Colin Campbell who are featured in the groundbreaking film, Forks Over Knives. Recently, Harvard School of Public Health Director Walter Willett, M.D., stated in a lecture to students at the Institute of Integrated Nutrition that milk does not prevent fractures and is not a calcium solution. He added that too much milk might be harmful, especially in causing prostate cancer in men.

Go Vegan Go!
I completed the final leg of the triathlon — the 26.2-mile run — wearing a shirt that said “Going the Distance for Farm Animals” on the front and “Go Vegan Go” on the back. When I felt sore or tired, I thought of the animals suffering on factory farms, and my resolve would strengthen. I was there representing them and demonstrating that humans can excel without consuming animal products. The run is my strongest leg of the triathlon, and I passed many competitors who saw the word “vegan” on my back as I ran ahead.

I have been inspired by other athletes who are actively promoting vegan living including Rich Roll, Rip Esselstyn, Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Matt Frazier, the No Meat Athlete. During my training and at the event, I also met many athletes who were not vegan but who expressed curiosity and interest in how I prepared for the race in order to perform so well. It is my hope that, by example, I might motivate them to explore plant-based eating.

A strong connection is emerging between the ethically oriented and fitness-oriented vegan communities today. We share the common goal of living healthy lives, both emotionally and physically, without causing pain or harm to any animal. Together, I believe we can inspire even more people to stop and think about how (and who) they eat and why it makes sense to ingest plants instead of animals.


Ironman triathlon: mission accomplished.

Walk with Us

By Gene

Each year, Farm Sanctuary’s vital work is supported by funds raised during the Walk for Farm Animals, which stands as a testament to the value of positive, grassroots activism. The Walk for Farm Animals started with a small group of volunteers walking and raising enough money in 1989 to make a down payment on what is now our Watkins Glen sanctuary. Today, it has spread across the United States and Canada to more than 35 regional Walk events supporting Farm Sanctuary’s mission to end the abuse and suffering of farm animals and to provide life-long refuge to the individuals we rescue.


Portland, OR Walk.

When you think about becoming a farm animal activist — of speaking out for the voiceless animals suffering in factory farms — the enormity of our challenges can feel daunting. It can be hard to know where to start. The Walks are a perfect way to begin advocating for animals and allow participants, quite literally, to take their first steps in speaking up for farm animals.

Taking part in a Walk for Farm Animals allows advocates to shine a light on factory farming’s cruelties, while raising funds to combat this inhumane industry. Taking part in a Walk provides an excellent opportunity to educate others and to communicate a message of compassion by reaching out to friends, co-workers, and family members for sponsorships. And each city’s event is an opportunity to connect with other animal advocates and to build support for creating a more compassionate community. Walking together, enjoying the food and entertainment each event offers — from music to yoga to face painting — all for the sake of farm animals, is an inspiring and uplifting form of activism that reaches people in cities throughout North America.


Live music at the San Francisco Walk.

The Walk for Farm Animals would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of local event coordinators and volunteers who donate nearly eight months of the year to organize and promote their city’s event. From larger cities like Los Angeles to smaller ones like Albany, coordinators work tirelessly to create events that make an enormous contribution to Farm Sanctuary’s rescue, education, and advocacy efforts. Each coordinator and walker helps to improve the lives of animals everywhere by getting active in his or her own community.


San Francisco Walk

Many coordinators started as walkers themselves. Some, like Walk coordinator Becky Fenson of San Francisco, work to promote Farm Sanctuary’s important work in the community. She says of the event, “I’ve discovered, not surprisingly, that Farm Sanctuary is a well-loved and well-respected organization in San Francisco.” In 2012, the San Francisco Walk grew to become one of the top three Walk events, and it promises to be even bigger this year with three guest speakers, a professional caterer providing delicious vegan fare, and a huge online raffle leading up to the event.

Other coordinators, including Cindy Lemoi in Providence, Rhode Island, responded to a need in their city: “I first participated in a Walk for Farm Animals in Connecticut. The event was terrific, though I was disappointed that the small state of Rhode Island didn’t have one yet! After completing that Walk, I instantly thought, ‘I can do this for Rhode Island.’ So, the next year, I did. I have met like-minded folks and feel great that even in the small state of Rhode Island we come together, speak up, and raise funds for our farm animal friends. It’s a cause that is close my heart.” Now, the Providence Walk is a vibrant community event with a vegan potluck, speakers, raffle prizes, and live music.

Will you Walk with us this fall? Cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and other animals suffering in factory farms don’t have the ability to move freely, but we do. Let’s step out in a positive direction — sharing our strength and our commitment to end farm animal suffering and promote compassion for all. To participate, please visit:

Providence Walk.

Providence Walk.

Farm Sanctuary Interview with John Corbett

By Samantha Ragsdale, Senior Director of Education

John_Corbett_JTO-000115_CREDIT_PRPhotos.comWhen Farm Sanctuary reached out to John Corbett’s agent about our Animal Tales project, we promptly received a phone call back from the friendly West Virginia native himself. John said, “I LOVE The Doctor! And, I would love to record a video to help raise awareness for farm animals.” His famous voice was the perfect match for The Doctor’s charismatic personality.

Audiences have been charmed by the actor as “Chris” in Northern Exposure and “Aidan” in Sex and the City, and they’ve heard his familiar voice on TV commercials like Walgreens for years. But, most people didn’t know about his love of animals and the special place he has in his heart for pigs.

Thanks, John, for lending your voice to The Doctor’s story — and for spending a moment with me to talk about animals, growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia, and one life-changing hamburger 25 years ago.

Farm Sanctuary: What is one of your earliest experiences with farm animals?

JC: When I was in high school, a guy paid me and a buddy of mine to feed his pigs. We would drive to his farm, about 15 miles outside of Wheeling, West Virginia. He had 100 pigs there. I was always surprised by what we had to feed them. The local dairy farm would bring old moldy bread and sour milk, and we’d pour it into these vats for the pigs. The farmer said they liked it. They would eat it, but it never made sense to me that this is what pigs should be eating. Those pigs were friendly and sweet. I just really remember feeling awful about that sour stuff.


Click on this photo of The Doctor to watch his video.

Farm Sanctuary: Is that how pigs came to have a special place in your heart?

JC: I’ve always had an affinity for pigs. Pigs are kind of like dolphins to me. They have that permanent smile. They’re just sweet creatures. When I was on Northern Exposure, we did this episode with a big 700-pound pig. They guy who owned the town, Maurice Minnifield, brought in the pig for an annual festival to win a truffle hunt. They told me he was Arnold Ziffel from the old Green Acres TV show, but they were pulling my leg. So, on the show, the pig’s name was Wilbur. And, Wilbur was depressed, so I read him Charlotte’s Web.

I have this big scar above my eyebrow, and it always reminds me of a funny pig story. I was on a guy’s farm playing when I was a kid. I was climbing around in the pig pen, because I loved the pigs. There was one big pig in this pen. He was really friendly. So, I was climbing around and fell off of this fence. I cut my eye and then ran into the house. It was a bad cut, and blood was running down my face. I kept yelling “the pig, the pig,” trying to tell my mom where I had been, and she thought the pig bit me! That pig was sweet. He wouldn’t have bitten anyone.


Farm Sanctuary: What has inspired you to help animals?

JC: When I was a kid, I got a BB gun, like all little kids in my town. So did my buddy. But, when my buddy and I were out and he shot a bird with his gun. I remember I was so upset. I was 10 years old and had always been a guy who had rescued turtles, fish, a duckling in the bathtub … you name it. Once we took the duckling to a place called Wheeling Park where they have a big lake, and we set him free. I had hamsters. I had frogs. I had never seen any animal cruelty. But, my buddy shot this bird. It took a minute to die, he was flapping around. It was the first time I had seen an animal get hurt or killed or suffer. I can still see that in my mind today.

Being in West Virginia, all my friends liked to fish. Everybody’s dad was a macho-man hunter. I never did that. I went fishing with my stepdad, but I couldn’t handle watching the fish gasping for air when they were out of the water, their life source.

2010_06-18_FSNY_The-Doctor_pig_003_CREDIT_Farm_SanctuaryI guess I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I’ve always had animals in my life. I grew up with a lot of hillbillies who would keep their dogs in the backyard on a six-foot chain and didn’t keep them warm. I always wanted to set them free. I always felt like that. I still do. I can’t even look at the Farm Sanctuary newsletters half the time because it kills me that animals are in cages on farms, animals like The Doctor. And, they’re not being taken care of. In The Doctor’s video you show a couple of pigs looking out from their cages. The pigs that died in the flood are better off than those that are stuck in those cages. I really do think that all creatures have a thought process and on some level are thinking “why is this happening to me?”

Farm Sanctuary: Do you have animals at home today?

JC: Yes. I have three horses: Pety, Gaiata, and Lola. And, a donkey; he’s a little white donkey named Chito. His full name is Machito, but we call him “Chito.” I also have a 150-pound Irish Wolfhound named Scarlett, who was rescued from a place where he was living in the garage. And, a 10-year-old German Shepard, Asko, who is a retired trained protection dog. I also have a 300-acre farm in West Virginia, where I have 80 cattle and a barn that looks like a giant church. The cattle are pets, of course.

Farm Sanctuary: You became vegetarian more than 20 years ago?

JC: I did. It was 1987 or 1988, and I got E. coli after eating a hamburger. I was 26 years old, and I was on death’s door. This girlfriend I had at the time (now Patrick Dempsey’s wife) saved my life. She carried me down three flights of stairs. She took me to the hospital, and I was there for 10 days. I was fighting for my life. I stopped eating meat right there – and I’ve done my best to maintain a meat-free diet since.


A Day in the Life of a Lamb

By Tara Oresick

On January 21, two lambs began their very first day at our Northern California Shelter — and they began it very early. Twins Elizabeth and Zuri were born at about 4:30 a.m. (read about the rescue of their mother, Dolly). Each entered the world in very different ways, and so life itself is unfolding differently for them. But for both, each morning promises a busy day of learning and growing.

Getting to Know You: Zuri


Zuri had a rough start. On the morning of her birth, she was rushed to the hospital after caregivers found her clinging to life, lying still and wet on the floor of the barn with the birth sack still encasing her head and aspirated fluid in her lungs. Dolly, already inseparable from firstborn Elizabeth, seemed unaware of her second lamb. It was caregivers who cleaned, dried, and warmed Zuri in her first moments.


Like many other prey animals, sheep are keenly aware of their own and their babies’ vulnerability. Determined to keep their young alive, ewes are sometimes compelled to make a wrenching decision to devote their energy to a stronger lamb at the expense of one with a slim chance of survival, lest both die. We think this was the case with Dolly, who is one of the most fearful sheep we have ever rescued. She used the strength she had to protect Elizabeth, perhaps not even realizing that Zuri was alive. When Zuri returned from the hospital, Dolly did not appear to recognize her as her daughter and was reluctant to nurse her.

Zuri quickly took to the bottle, though, and she currently lives in our shelter hospital, where she has no less than five human moms and dads (her caregivers). Confident and carefree, she adores us and follows us everywhere like a tiny assistant.

Zuri with Northern California Shelter Director Tara Oresick

Zuri with Northern California Shelter Director Tara Oresick

At the first sound of the doorknob turning in the morning, Zuri is up and bleating. And she’ll let you know if you’re running late! Along with her breakfast, Zuri receives a morning health check and gets her temperature taken. Over the course of the day, she’ll be weighed, her umbilicus (where her umbilical cord was attached) will be cleaned to prevent infection, and she’ll have a few more meals, too. Zuri gets sleepy as the day wears on, but she’s reluctant to take naps because she always wants to be part of the action.

After breakfast, it’s time to play and explore.


Zuri frolicing with caregiver Luke.

Zuri loves to run outside…


she checks in with the neighbors…




and, most of all, she loves to scramble to the top of anything she can — and then leap off! Straw bales are pretty much her favorite things.


Getting to Know You: Elizabeth

Elizabeth gets her meals from her mom instead of a bottle. Unlike her gregarious sister, Elizabeth is shy — she’d rather hang out with Dolly than socialize with visitors. But she, too, loves leaping off straw bales. Both Zuri and Elizabeth are super happy lambs who just want to run around and kick up their heels.


Elizabeth and Dolly love each other more than anything. The two live together in a private stall and yard — their own little studio apartment — and they stick to each other like glue!

2013_02-03_FSOR_Dolly_sheep_and_Elizabeth_lamb_DSC_7477_CREDIT_Farm_Sanctuary (2)

Wherever Elizabeth goes, Dolly is right behind, “baa-ing” for her to be careful. When we perform health checks on Elizabeth, her mom is with her the entire time, uttering a series of guttural sounds — a special language that exists only between ewes and their lambs.

The relationship between Dolly and Elizabeth epitomizes the incredibly tight bonds that form between mother and baby sheep. Ewes are on alert for anything that might be a threat to their babies. Lambs, in turn, take their cues from mom’s behavior, learning from her what’s safe and what’s not.


The protection, comfort, and communication forged through the ewe–lamb bond are also expressed on a larger scale among the close-knit members of a sheep flock, something our two new lambs will experience when they get bigger.

And they are getting bigger! Elizabeth and Zuri are growing by leaps and bounds.

Now that Zuri and Elizabeth have grown some and mom is beginning to feel more at ease with us, the twins have daily play dates. Elizabeth is coming out of her shell and will now run up to caregivers in order to be with her beloved sister. Even though Elizabeth and Zuri started out apart, they will definitely be growing up together. They spend hours waging jumping contests and resting their heads on each other.


When night has fallen, it’s time for lambs to go to sleep, but they’ll be up in a few hours for their late-night snack. Bedtime is just a short break in the midst of their excitement. A day in the life of a lamb doesn’t really end; it just flows into a new day of wonders and fresh bales of straw.