Dec.17.12: My second week interning at www.farmsanctuary.org (FS) in Acton California brought a new awareness of facts about goats and sheep – not the least of which is that goats are one of the largest exports for the US: exploited for dairy, wool and meat products worldwide (thanks Alex Caswell for education). Goats were the first animal to be domesticated, and their meat is the most eaten in the world over all other animals. The cruelty inherent in live trade, the treatment sheep are subject to by mulesing (docking of tails without anesthesia – we’re talking every single sheep here), and the hideous facts about their transport and slaughter to the world markets, should give us all pause and propel us into action and greater compassion for goats and sheep alike.
Happily, I learned some very sweet facts this week, including that goats and sheep are really no different to domestic pets: they have the same range of personality characteristics, physical behaviours & cues, individual quirks, inherent jobs, needs and interests as cats and dogs. No surprises here, I found it impossible not to love them… at least, for this Capricorn! I relate like crazy to the goats!
Aengus, a Suffolk cross sheep, was born at FS in December 2005, after his mother was rescued from a slaughterhouse. Now six-seven years old, Aengus is very friendly, and actively seeks out/approaches humans. I couldn’t tell you how many times last week I stopped to scratch his beautiful neck and stare into his eyes. Violet, another Suffolk cross, was born at Animal Acres to mother Madonna, rescued from the same slaughterhouse. Violet also is very human-friendly. If you sit beside her in the barn, she’ll lay her head in your lap and soak up all the love you have to give, just like a dog would.
Lucky, an American Blackbellied sheep, was found as a lamb running the streets of Los Angeles. A kind woman saved him, and eventually brought him to FS’ Animal Acres so that he could have more company. Lucky was probably one year old on arrival in July 2007. He is not altogether bonded to any of the other goats. Caretakers at the farm say he is more comfortable with dogs – suggesting the woman who saved and sheltered him shared her environment with dogs. I swear at first glance I thought he was a goat, until I felt his coat! This is a photo of Lucky … he’s not being sweet here, he’s actually eating alphalpha off the neck of fellow barnmate. :)
Mary, a Katahdin sheep was found in the streets of LA’s “Koreatown” in July of 2007. Caretakers at FS suspect she came from the live markets – sometimes sheep and goats escape from the live markets – it’s not unheard of, and indeed, this one darling sheep who got herself to safety.
Maria and Elle are goats that came from a backyard butcher in November 2009. Maria has quite a distended abdomen. When I asked about the nature of it, one of her caretakers laughed and said they’re not unlike humans. With age, they put on weight and muscle mass becomes loose around the abdomen! Elle is a “Saanen” breed – a type of tall, skinny goat (like Prince below). Shortly after arriving, Elle gave birth to twins, Coco and Nilla. Elle has had two “beau(s)” during her time here: Randy and Harvey. Elle, Coco and Nilla are clearly a bonded family. There is a suspicion that Maria could be a sister to Elle – some even suggest mother – not because she’s maternal towards Elle, but because she displayed overt maternal behaviours towards Elle’s twins. And Coco, looks very much like Maria. They all hang out together in the barn and yard, as a family. Within days, Maria would automatically seek me out when anyone entered the yard, as she knew I would hand-feed her – she wouldn’t have to compete with the others. Nilla, had a different approach. Nilla sat right in the bin. She climbed up into the bottom of the feeder and lay down, and ate. Coco was always on top of the feeder – he’s always on top of everything. Has to stand on it, or in it. Here’s a photo of Maria being hand-fed, and a photo of Coco, which shows him climbing a tree in downtime.
Prince – The LA County Sheriff’s department discovered Prince (and two chickens) in a burlap sack in the back of a car on a road check. Prince, who was just a baby, had pneumonia on arrival and was bottle-fed for some weeks. Because Prince was found with two chickens, there was the suspicion of ritual sacrifice. Forms of sacrifice are practiced within many religions around the world and have appeared historically in almost all cultures. The caretakers at FS were unclear as to how the Sheriff’s department got him away from the driver of the car. But thank god they did. Prince loves to interact with goats as well as humans. He is always up to some trouble, explores everything, races around more than most, seemingly hoping not to miss any farmyard action. This is Prince – he’s most famous for his toothy grin.
There is also a small clan of special needs goats on the farm, who can’t live with the main herd. Many of these goats were underweight/ starving, had horrible teeth, and most were feral. Dennis arrived in January 2010. The “rescue” he came from had almost 200 animals who were left behind when the owner was arrested. Dennis has only three legs – back right is missing (as are most of his teeth) – which made it easy for me to relate to him as I’ve worked with many handicapped animals. Jonathan has deformed legs/hooves, most likely from past trauma, though he could have been born with deformities. – all the goats from this rescue exhibited poor hoof care. Jonathan has a brace coming, as caretakers are afraid his ankle will snap. Hattie is painfully shy and terrified of people. She has thickening shin bones. Usually problems with front legs are attributed to improper hoof trimming, which causes deformations in the bones of the legs. Older goats frequently walk on their knees, as Hattie does. Molly is lacking horns and teeth, but not spirit! This week, Molly became aware of newly arrived goat Freddy, who is kept in a separate yard away from the herd while he recuperates from his neuter and passes medical screenings for safety. We couldn’t figure out why Molly was climbing the fence of her yard, until we realized she was staring straight at Freddy across the yard making bleating sounds, and Freddy staring and bleating, straight back.
The first picture is of Molly, staring down Freddy across the steer yard. The second photo is of Molly and Hattie. If you zoom in or click on the picture, you may be able to see Hattie cocking her head sideways, processing what I was doing as I took the photo – still too shy to come forward tho interested in what was happening. All the special needs goats are very shy.
Freddy is a pygmy goat, approximately two years old. He is as inquisitive as the day is long, very vocal, very friendly, and is quite the escape artist. One day this week, he got into the cow yard (a fun idea), later in the day he got himself into the horse yard (not such a fun idea)! Freddy has a deformed horn mass. Apparently, a heat rod is used to burn their horn buds off – kind of like cauterizing, which is frequently botched and quite painful. Freddy was surrendered because his owners had trouble containing him. Goats need homes with other goats – they cannot live alone. The third photo is of Freddy. He’s sooooooo beautiful!
This experience at Farm Sanctuary is really helping to educate me as a consumer about the impact that I can have in further reducing the suffering of animals – simply by making better choices about what I buy and what I eat. As Animal Australia has pointed out, the outrage at what goes on in faraway lands with live trade is genuine, but still responsibility-free. What’s more important is to identify the serious contradictions in our relationships with animals, to start critically thinking about our consumer choices, and ultimately, to vote with our feet – straight out of the supermarket.
Why? Look at the pictures below. These youngsters on a local farm are being raised for live trade. When I figured that out, I shed some very sad and frustrated tears for the food products they would produce, and ultimately become. Little ones: just living out their lives, not knowing how and when the axe would drop – but it will. Babies, all of them.