A Visit to Farm Sanctuary
September 7, 2011
Early this May, Pete and I took a special trip with two of our good friends to the Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California. The timing was nice, almost one year exactly since we decided to adopt a 100% plant-based diet. We had read about Farm Sanctuary a lot in the last year, participated in their fundraising walk, and told many of our friends about this special place where farm animals get to live out their lives in peace. Now, we can finally share our own stories from this oasis for farm animals.
Let me begin by saying that those sweet animals melted my heart! Before our visit, I had been reading a lot of books about how mistreated farm animals are in the factory farming system that now produces 99% of America’s meat, eggs and dairy products. So when I finally arrived at the Farm Sanctuary, I was relieved to feel some of that misery fade away.
We decided to stay in the one cabin at the farm that they rent to visitors since our drive up to Orland from the Bay Area was about three and a half hours. In the morning, we were given a guided tour of the farm where we got to go right in and meet the animals face to face, hand to fur!
Before our tour began, we were able to walk around the farm and say hello to the animals from outside their areas (I hesitate to say pens, because they all have such wide open spaces to roam). We were immediately greeted by a black cat named Blaze who proceeded to walk the grounds with us for the next hour! What surprised me the most was how interested the animals were in us. The turkeys gobbled so loudly we couldn’t tell if they liked us or wanted us to go. We learned later that they wanted us to come in and pet them – which, on our tour, we did! Two of the pigs got up from their naps and wandered over to meet us at the fence so we could pet them and say hello. Most of these animals have certainly forgiven the brutal lives they left behind before coming to the sanctuary. Lives that were made brutal, for the most part, by the hands of humans.
The tour included visits with chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats and cows. Highlights included time with Noel the goat, pictured above. It turns out he’s from Silicon Valley too, but his story started in the trunk of a car last Christmas when his “owners” were pulled over by the police. He was found hog-tied in the trunk and in bad shape. He was lucky to be rescued by the police and eventually made his way to Farm Sanctuary, where he hangs out most of the time with Justin (the other young goat in the main goat herd). Many of the animals at Farm Sanctuary have “best friends”. I love that.
We also met Olive the turkey. She was with the “geriatric” birds…older chickens and turkeys who do better with a slower pace. While the main group of turkeys were quite bold in their interest in us, coming right up and asking for pets and walking around quickly to visit each one of us repeatedly, Olive took a different approach. She just quietly walked over to me and sat down right next to me. We sat like that for awhile as she let me pet her soft feathers. She reminded me of my cat. I would never eat my cat for Thanksgiving, and I’m glad I’ll never eat Olive either! I was sad to see her beak, which had been clipped back (very likely with a hot knife and no anesthetic) to prevent her and other industrial birds from pecking at each other in close quarters. This condition makes it really hard for her to eat. I’m glad she now lives at Farm Sanctuary, where her caregivers make sure she gets enough nourishment.
Before arriving at the farm, I was particularly interested in meeting Oliver (pictured below with me) and Elliot (pictured here with Pete, about to lick his leg!), two calves who we had read about before arriving. We knew they had likely grown over the winter since their arrival at the farm, so we expected to see them with the main herd of cows. When we didn’t see them with the main herd, the guide reassured me that they had their own special area since they were still on the young side.
When we got to their area we entered and looked into the barn. They must have heard us come in, because a moment later, sweet little Elliot’s head shyly poked out as if to say “who is coming to see me?” He wasn’t timid for long as he began licking us and nuzzling us with his big head. Oliver soon followed and the two of them greeted us like old friends. The sort of friends who are likely to scratch your head and pet you a lot! I could have stayed and visited with these boys all day. I can’t wait to return to the farm again soon to see how they have grown.
When you start to learn about industrial factory farming in America, and the sheer numbers of animals affected (10 billion a year!), it’s hard not to question why it matters to rescue so few. But when you go to the farm, and meet the animals, you realize why most visitors walk away changed. Many pledge immediately to stop consuming animal products, and others are determined to cut back and work towards the eventual goal of adopting a plant-based diet. Farm Sanctuary also does much more than rescue animals. They work tirelessly to promote the wellfare of farmed animals through education and advocacy. They reach out to businesses and legislators and they have made a huge difference in the 25 years since they were founded. Pete and I plan to participate again this year in the annual Walk for Farm Animals to raise money for this great organization. And we’re hoping to attend the Celebration FOR the Turkeys in November. I hope to visit my good friend Olive and share some squash and vegan pumpkin pie with her!