Jan.06.13: Epiphany with the birds at Farm Sanctuary, Acton, CA

The first surprise at Farm Sanctuary was  that we had house chickens. Knowing the crowd I was getting in with, I suspected there would be rescue animals stashed hither and thither. But I never imagined we’d have house chickens, and it just so happened we did. From day one, three little birds nestled their way straight into my heart – as well as everyone else’s at Intern House. Hazel and Piper were two tiny chickens, enjoying attention and care every day with 150 other farm animals. One of the first things we learned was how to catch, hold, carry & negotiate fences with two birds in hand, always keeping them facing away from each other!

Hazel (brown hen) & Piper (black hen) could not stay in the regular chicken barns because the others would pick on them and they were too small to adequately defend themselves. Tho, to be clear, neither had any problem pushing back. They were just outweighed by others and they, and the others, knew it. In the morning, we’d let them out of their kennels to peck around the kitchen floor for an hour, then we’d round them up and carry them down to the chicken barns … (Hazel & Piper’s limo service …) Hazel was hilarious because she didn’t like to be caught, let alone be carried anywhere – you had to corner her and be quick!  Piper was easier. All you had to do was dangle a piece of spinach or grape in front of her and she’d gladly run over and be caught. Even the smallest pieces of grape were huge in their beaks. Hazel knew the spinach/grape trick and would run in the opposite direction!

By the time we got down to the barns to start the day, all the regular chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were already let out of their barns, and the little ones could then go in the barn, and peck, and be regular chickens for the day. At night, we’d bring them back to the house. They’d roam around the common area for an hour or two, before being kenneled for the night. During those evenings I found out how loving, curious and interactive they could be.  It was fun to watch them spend time with humans, wonderful to have them perch on the spine of the couch behind you staring you down, cocking their little heads when you spoke to them. Sometimes they’d let you cuddle them, if you gave them enough time to settle into your lap or your arms, but only on their terms.

One of the goals of spending time with Piper & Hazel was to socialize them to humans, so that they could be adopted out.  Who’d have ever thought of adopting a chicken as a house-pet? Not that I’m encouraging any new pet fads by any means,  but in my experience as a rescuer, there’s always a chicken or goose in need somewhere, and it’s a wonderful option to consider just taking one in, as opposed to searching for a rescue farm with room, etc. (NTD: Can I have one? Just a little one?)

A week later, we acquired another little house chicken named Ramona. I must say if Ramona had been able to endure the flight to Toronto, I’d have brought her home – she was just such a darling little girl.  She was picked up from a local shelter and was probably a “garage chicken” – chickens that people keep in their garages to slaughter for food. Incidentally, Toronto has thousands of garage chickens. I’ve called in many such homes in my day (and encourage others to call Board of Heath too!)   Ramona’s personality was quite calm, she took everything in stride. On the first night, she accidentally flew into the garbage can in the kitchen … I mean, flew right into it, sank, and couldn’t get out.  She wasn’t even ruffled. I just went in, and picked her out, and put her back on the floor and closed the lid.   There is no feeling on earth that compares to holding a bird in your hands. This is Ramona being retrieved from the garbage can. 

Perry and Andy are two honkin’ male turkeys, about 50 lbs each.  And they are not nice turkeys! Perry lived with Chico, a white rooster, who was also a nasty piece of work. We all had good reason to fear them.  I was ok to get in their pen and clean, as long as I had an extra large plastic rake in hand to block them with. You’d not be surprised to see a rooster fly at you, but I’ll tell you, seeing a fifty pound turkey take flight and aim directly for you, is quite another thing!  Perry especially liked trying to bite you as you undid the chain on his pen. He knew exactly where and how to hit your hands with his beak. Premeditation was Perry’s game! Here, he’s just waiting on you to enter his pen, with Chico as defenceman. 

So, yes, there were some difficult birds, just as there were difficult cows and pigs (but not the goats, they were perfect!) :) There were also some stunningly sweet birds: chickens, geese, turkeys – every color, shape, size and personality you can imagine!

Look at this golden beauty!  Does anyone remember Peter Gabriel’s song called “Excellent Birds”? That kept recurring in my head as I would watch them.
These gorgeous “domestic fowl” come from all walks of life: they are pulled from shelters, dropped off at farm gates, fall off slaughter trucks, get turned in for stupid behavioural reasons (usually unmet needs), get bought for cash and “saved” at Thanksgiving (controversial topic in rescue circles), and if they’re really lucky, they get saved by (a) farm sanctuary.  At Farm Sanctuary, every bird lives a good, stable, needs-met, happy, healthy life. They bond with others, they hang, they do their chicken, goose and turkey things. I couldn’t quite get over how, when you’d clean their waters and pools in the morning, the second you were finished 2-3 of them would jump straight in and dirty all the water up again. When you dumped the dirty water from the night before, they’d go crazy sucking it up and crunch any ice. What was particularly endearing, was that small bowls were always laid upside down beside the pools, so the smaller birds could get in using the bowl as a step stool.

In factory farms, to quote my new friend Alex, … ‘they suffer from ”standard practice” abuse. They have their beaks and toes cut or burned off and are inbred to have unnaturally large breasts. Even “free range” turkeys live in disgusting, confined spaces, often developing respiratory problems from the feces, urine and overall squalor that they are forced to spend their short lives in. When turkeys are slaughtered, they are malnourished, diseased, exhausted and stressed.’ Broiler chickens like these “Southern Belles” pictured with Mari, are the most abused animals of them all in factory farming. Read:  Kentucky fried cruelty.

Two of the most precious turkeys, Leopold and Russell, were, like Andy and Perry, 50 lb males, but they had much better attitudes. (You gotta wonder what was going on with Andy and Perry, if Leopold and Russell could be so nice…) Russell was especially endearing – he has serious trouble walking. His breasts are so large, he’s absolutely overbalanced, and to add insult to injury, his feet were badly, and intentionally, maimed by some human, as a job spec in factory farms. Such a sweet boy!  In the morning, he was always the last to leave the barn, as he was the slowest. But he was given all the time in the world he needed to negotiate his own way in or out of the barn.  He even had his own little ramp. Every caregiver, and all the time necessary. Each day. Always with respect, and genuine love. Compassion in action.

This is a batch of absolutely gorgeous turkey ladies who were dropped at the farm gates last year just before Thanksgiving. Someone obviously had mercy on them. There’s about 10 of them. I’d have given anything to decipher their language.  Especially the “pa-pa-pa-pa” sound they make. Cause they made it a lot and I wasn’t sure if it was good or bad! They seemed to enjoy being sung to. Their playlist included the “birthday song” in honour of one of my sweet friends, and a perennial favourite, “Don’t Fence Me In”.  If you took the time to sit with them, they’d come over and explore you, peck you, sit quietly beside you. Some would let you hold them.

Isn’t this girl beautiful? Sweet, fragile little lady. I’m so glad she didn’t end up as a meal. It seems a fundamental thing, that everyone has a right to keep their life. It’s all any of us ask. They are no different.



And what of laid eggs? Eggs offered up by the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys were all taken to intern house to be boiled and brought back to the shelter office. There, the eggs are smashed up and fed back to the birds, as birds have been bred to the degree now where they are chronically calcium deficient. Sometimes eggs were used to entice animals to take their medication as well. This is a pink egg that one of the interns found. At least once a week you’d see someone with their front pockets soaked. Usually you’d pick up an egg, and put it in your pocket and forget about it. Within minutes if you didn’t deliver it to office right away, some other animal would bump into you and smash it in your pocket. Wet pockets are “standard practice” with rescuers – rather more humane take than Alex’s earlier reference with regard to “standard practices” of factory farms.

I was in the supermarket tonight, picking up some food. I do have to say that thanks to this recent exposure at Farm Sanctuary, my eyes seem to have developed a new acuity and my central nervous system has a fresh, absolutely visceral response to dairy sections and meat bins. I stopped for a moment and looked at the frozen turkeys. With my hands over my heart, I said a mental prayer, and came home to publish this blog.


Excellent birds, and one hot mess!


Jan.01.13: Week 3 Internship at Farm Sanctuary, Acton CA – Time to Meet the Pigs!

Jan.01.13:  More animal tales from Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, CA…

Postscript on cows:  I recently learned about “269” tattoos.  I had no idea a worldwide movement to confront slaughter exists. Animal activists who are unaware of the practice are encouraged to reference www.269life.com. Apparently November 1st is now both Global Vegan Day and World 269 Day. It was most heartening to learn of this group, and get a measure of the heavy lifting they are doing in animal activism.  Note to readers: content can be disturbing, depending on your level of awareness…

TIME TO MEET THE PIGS!  We all think we know how intelligent pigs are. After all we’ve heard it, we’ve read it, it’s a cultural norm.  But to witness it is another story. Pigs are as astute as dogs with regards to time and daily routines.  When it comes feeding time, it’s as if they are all wearing invisible wrist-watches: they gather at their fence screaming for you to get on it already!  Twice a day you’d see the caretakers at the farm running the gauntlet through the gate, across the yard, from one trough to another to another to another, quick as they can with a huge bowl of feed. They’d drop a scoopful into a trough and race to the next – but it was the speed at which they ran – they had to! The pigs race with or behind the caregivers, and race against each other, around and around and around until they all settled on a trough and everyone is assured that no one is getting any more, or better, than anyone else! Whew. They are really intense about feeding.  Thankfully I never had to actually feed them, I’d have been quite afraid.

Good news: of all the animals, the pigs kept their barns the most consistently clean. Questionable news:  they regularly drink each other’s pee. Note to self, ask a veterinarian about the merits of that particular behaviour!

Pigs form strong bonds with each other and can also exhibit intense dislikes of other pigs: they are selective, hierarchical and vehement about it!   They recognize and acknowledge illness/otherness, check on each other during the day, regularly visit one another and other pig friends who may be sequestered for medical or behavioural reasons. They bed down together in small packs glued to each other, day and night alike. Pigs know fear, and experience it just as  greatly as humans.  I saw no difference between the anxiety a human can experience and witnessing the anxiety a pig can experience. When threatened, they absolutely stand up for themselves and each other, and express themselves quite capably. They fight hard. They’re not taking any shit, that’s for sure.  It’s really too sad that factory farmed pigs have to take so much. Learned-helplessness, especially when brutally forced on you, is not a nice place to be. If pigs are as definitive in thought and intent as they are in their day to day interaction, it’s more than a crying shame that they are forced to live on factory farms and in gestation crates, at the mercy of not-so-evolved humans.

Because they’re so intelligent, they can be quite industrious! They make exquisite beds in their barns. I know, because I picked more than one of those beds and they’re really mashed!  Essentially the pigs work and work and work on the straw, chewing it, moving it, packing it down and all around their bodies, resulting in perfect imprints of a full-bodied 800 lb pig in the straw. You have to see it to believe it. Sadly, I never got the photo I wanted of their handiwork on the beds. I really liked the environment they all shared. The terrain they occupy is on a central part of the farm, where there’s always human/animal activity, and their yard has small hills and dales to climb, the ability to check on other animals, and a pond to bathe in. There was some talk of getting them safe toys to play with.

What’s that? Can I have it?  Can I eat it?  When awake, pigs like to play – they clearly need mental stimulation and/or “industry” as all animals do, humans included. On the farm, when cleaning animal waters in the morning, interns are encouraged to let the water run and let the main trough and pond fill themselves while you carry on and clean the small troughs in the barns. I soon came to realize that if you stayed at the main trough and filled it, the pigs would come over one after the other for a drink from the hose!  From there on in, no one would deny them their fun at the fountain each day.  Really, such a tiny gesture to allow another measure of quality of life into their days.  They also like to grab a bucket and kick it around, stomp on it, push it, argue over domination of it, toss it, squat on it, crumple it. All this while clocking about 18 hours of sleep each day, preferably in the sun.  This is Sophie drinking from the hose (you should see her smile, it’s just beautiful – she always greets you with a smile), and the main clan having a siesta together.

It was a delight meeting Alicia, a Yorkshire Cross who arrived in August, 2008 along with several others.  She was used as a “farm model”/educational tool for farming communities to help (farm) children learn about livestock. Once done their service as would-be “ambassadors” (“?!”)  in their farming communities, they are sent to auction and inevitably to slaughter.

Jimmy the Snout, arrived with a congenital defect: a deformed nose.  There were a lot of stories surrounding Jimmy’s arrival at the farm, but the short of it is that a homeless man owned him and couldn’t take care of him anymore at the junk yard where they were living. The man was afraid of Jimmy, and surrendered him. (Good thinking!) This is Jimmy. He’s very bonded with Christina – seeks her out all the time…

Jumper, a Yorkshire arrived in March 2009, at just few weeks old. She came directly from a breeding facility. She was a runt.  Whenever runts are born they usually don’t survive: they aren’t expected to grow and thrive, so they are often violently killed. Jumper was a really tiny pig that one of the employees at the breeding facility felt sorry for, and smuggled to safety. Jumper is blind. A nice, intelligent, curious girl, with strong boundaries.

Jorja, a female Yorkshire Cheshire pig, was found in a central California stockyard in October 2005 by a truly courageous rescuer, who would frequently go out and grab animals at auction or slaughterhouses that were sick, or dying.  Apparently Jorja was badly beat up – there is some speculation as to whether the beating came from a human child or another pig.  She was unable to stand. Photos showed she was in heavy shock, extremely battered, bruised, and scarred and bloodied on arrival. Today, Jorja is a huge, engaged, happy pig living a decent life, on her terms.

Christina came from a college where she was used as a model to show children how pig products were used, in this case for, of all things, pizza products. NTD: you can’t make this stuff up! Christina is unpredictable, moody, and does not suffer fools.  Interestingly I was there one day witnessing her allowing a perfect stranger, a human fellow, to help her. This person is the strongest (both physically and mentally) person I’ve ever met – amazing individual whose mission is to just put his shoulder to it and save animals.  His compassion, calmness and strength were very clearly well-received by Christina, as these attributes were by all the animals he worked with. Thanks to this rescuer, one of my 2013 goals is to be able to clear a four-foot fence using just my hands, just like he can!  Caboose and Macy are part of this pig clan too – I never got to know much about either of them, but I remember making a mental note of how Macy handled herself. She had a nice way about her – she got along with all pigs in the clan, all humans on the farm.  This is Macy, getting a drink from Mari, an excellent, hard-working intern from Texas.

In speaking with the caregivers and administration folk at the farm, I found it really heartening to learn of so many more humans helping so many more animals, worldwide.  Obviously rescuers can only get to a small percentage of those in need – usually each individual animal is sorely in need by the time rescue is involved.  I derived a lot of strength from seeing the actions and knowing the numbers of people saving them. Almost always the rescue was without question – rescuers and activists just get in there and save them, no matter the cost, no matter the amount of complexity, nor the risk.  Beautiful, brave, committed human souls saving beautiful, broken, distressed animals – all over the world!

BTW, please be warned about current “trend” for purchasing micro-pigs as pets. “Micro-pig” is a misnomer, as well as a completely unnecessary ordeal for the rescue community to clean up behind:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmNR7giTLGI.

The last lady whose story I want to share is Sabrina’s, a beautiful organge-ish coloured pig. Sabrina was taken from a backyard butcher. This man had a “pigs for sale” sign on the highway, and he would slaughter and sell pigs to anyone who wanted one on the spot. Sabrina arrived at Farm Sanctuary with a recent batch of young – eleven piglets at the time, four of which didn’t make it. She had been used as a breeder for this backyard butcher.  Because this was the first batch of piglets she was allowed to keep, she was extremely protective of them, and initially quite aggressive. Sadly, Sabrina probably witnessed or heard her first few batches of piglets being killed on the property she came from – there’s no way a mother would not recognize her child’s cry and vice versa.  Happily, she is safe today at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres, fulfilling her role as matriarch of her family, with seven of her only living children, “the dwarfs” … Doc, Happy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, etc. I have lots of video of Sabrina and her family, but haven’t yet mastered capturing stills from video…

While advocates, rescuers and activists continue to fight to abolish the use of ultra-cruel gestation crates, and world-wide activists are actively work on exposing the horrific realities of factory farming, we still need regular citizens to understand the plight of all pigs born for human consumption. The meat pigs that go to slaughter (7,000 a day in Toronto – you know, those eyes peeking out of the truck at you at the CNE gates), are usually only six months to a year old.  Gestation pigs are only allowed the 3-5 years that they will produce viable offspring. They shit all over each other in these trucks and experience extreme distress from hot and cold weather, and traffic effects, along with their individual fears and the generalized anxiety of the entire group being transported.

A compassionate world begins with you and me: no matter how small the reduction, if we take one tiny step, any step, towards reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products, it helps enormously. Every individual who chooses not to eat meat literally saves 31 animals a year. If we reduce meat consumption by a simple half, we save 14-15 animals per year.  Imagine if everyone did that.  This human remains hopeful. If you’re not ready for dietary changes, but still want to do something/lend your voice, there are a few new groups to join: Mercy for Animals (Canada), Toronto Pig Save and  Toronto Cow Save amongst other established rescue groups, and small Canadian sanctuaries for farm animals.

Email c4p@mediaintelligence.ca or skype nadonc4pmi,  if you would like to chat about any area of interest you have in animal advocacy.

Here’s hoping 2013 is the year that consciousness and compassion for animals get some real traction.


Dec.17.12: 2nd Week Interning at www.farmsanctuary.org in Acton California

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.

Here is Violet’s baby shot, and what she looks like as a mature female. Beautiful eh? Such a gentle soul!







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!

The greatest takeaway from my recent exposure to farm animals is that the only difference between them and domestic pets is cultural perception.

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.








Dec.09.12: Week One – Internship at Farm Sanctuary, Acton, California

Dec.09.12: week one of my internship at www.farmsanctuary.org in Acton, California is now complete, and I cannot thank Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary founder, or his dedicated staff more for this incredible opportunity and learning experience.   Stiffer than stiff, and sorer than sore, I’m enjoying two days off. I took a small road trip to Santa Barbara, to have some time to myself and assimilate all that’s happened since I left Toronto in late November, not to mention give my body a change to recuperate from the strenuous farm work.  Now that I’ve had time to acclimatize to the time zone, geography, location & climate, the sanctuary & intern house, the pace of the day & workload, the vegan lifestyle, the animal caretakers, and of course, the staggeringly beautiful animals, I’d like to introduce you to www.farmsanctuary.org, and it’s incredibly beautiful mandate.

As you can imagine, it’s difficult to learn the names of some 150 animals on the fly. But each has a personality, a history and a new reality, needs, wants, and likes and loves of their own.  I’ve found it easiest to break them down by groups: cows & steers, pigs, goats & sheep, horses, hens, roosters & geese, and the turkeys. There are also currently three resident cats and a beautiful new rescue/foster dog too (who’s looking for a home)…This is the sanctuary courtyard where all the birds hang out all day and where tours start on Sundays and Mondays – come on down, meet this precious crew of animals and caregivers, and learn about how you can help farm animals!

We’ll start this week with the cows. Having a terrible soft spot for cows, I wondered which of them I’d be the most enamored with. There are seven steer in the front yard who live as a family unit: Big Ed, the patriarch of the group, Paolo, Bruno & Pinto (the adults), Coco & Peanut (juvies) and William & Harry (babies). All but Ed are neutered. It takes two people two full hours and some to clean their yard and stalls. There are an additional seven in the back lot – four neutered steer: Larry, Curly, Moe & the oh-so-precious Little Boo, and three gals: Rosie, Mask and Babe (also known as Baboo). Rosie & Mask are a bonded pair, as is evidenced in this photo where they are just hanging out, nuzzling each others’ faces on a quiet, sunny afternoon.







Big Ed is an intact Brahma bull who can be quite dangerous. He’s a giant of a boy weighing 2500-3000 lbs. Big Ed serves as father/leader to this group of steer.  Ed is not human-friendly – he deals with his caretakers well enough if no one pushes it with him and respects him, but everyone knows better than to challenge him. He’s the boss. Yet, for all his quirks and obvious power, he’s always on guard for his family, and is seen to caregive the youngsters on an ongoing basis, every day, all day.

The young steer Harry first captured my heart.  Harry and William, I’m told, fell off a veal truck. They were literally dying when they arrived as young babies – emaciated and in desperate need of medical attention, fluids, food and loving care. Today, they are 1.5 years old; their withers at eye level. Apparently, in their first months on the farm, one of the caretakers here spent a lot of time wrestling with them to engage them, teach them how to play, and how to accept and interact with humans. Problem is, now that they’re a healthy 800 lbs or so each, they still want to wrestle. They’ve chased many an intern out of the yard looking to play wrestle!  William can be seen regularly kicking up his heels, dashing around with youthful energy, charging at unsuspecting interns wanting to play, taking a sign off the gate, or running off with a plastic bottle or your jacket, should you be silly enough to leave one lying around (note to newbie interns, don’t leave gear anywhere…) William is just like a young, extra-extra-large puppy.

While William kicks up his heels, Ed quietly grooms, guards and guides William’s brother Harry and watches over the rest of the family. Harry doesn’t often leave William’s side. He’s a gentle little soul. Harry loves to stretch out his neck and get a scratch under his chin – a good solid scratch – you can’t be wimpy about it. When you do it the right way, he holds his head high and he stares straight through your soul with his beautiful baby brown eyes and will offer his nose to you. It’s impossible to resist kissing him. Everything about Harry is perfect. Even at 800 lbs, he’s still quite obviously just a baby.

Coco & Peanut are older than William and Harry by about a year. They also are refugees from the veal industry. The same caregiver also taught them to wrestle when they were young – they are formidable when they attempt to play with you. Coco and Peanut still enjoy the protection of Big Ed, and are the stars of the show on farm tours.

Bruno, is an extremely large but gentle black steer (about 2,000 lbs). A beautiful boy about 6 years old, who fell off a slaughter truck with another small calf. Bruno made it, but the other calf didn’t. Paolo, is another full grown male, equally large, jersey colored with gorgeous black face markings. Pinto is also extremely large – his withers are well over the average human’s head. By the way, the reason they are so big is because they were lucky enough to live, to grow to their full height. The cows & steer you might see on road trips are only 1.5-2 yrs old – then they go to slaughter.  Pinto’s pretty friendly and steady. I confess I don’t know much about Bruno, Paolo and Pinto. Yet. This is the only good pic I have so far of Paolo…a gorgeous jersey steer.

On the other side of the property, there is another group of cows & steers called the “Bovine Beyond”:  Larry, Curly, Moe & Little Boo (a tiny, timid little steer … by comparison to the others) and the girls:  Babe (18 years old with a few older lady challenges) and Rosie & Mask (one of many bonded pairs).  The first day I met this group, five of these giants were running up and down the road in somewhat of a frenzy. One of them actually bit off a piece of tree about 4 inches thick right in front of me. None of us could figure out quite what they were doing or why. It was pretty daunting. We never saw them do it again.

The best cow/steer event of the week:  Wednesday afternoon near sunset, one of the caregivers told me to run to the top of the ridge behind the pig yard, because something special was going on.  So I bolted up the hill as fast as my exhausted legs would carry me. The “bovines beyond” had made their way all the way across the back to the bottom end of their pasture, where it meets the top end of the steer yard. It turns out, Rosie, the leader of the girls, is currently in heat. So she, and her bonded friend Mask journeyed to the other end of the property, to call out and lure the boys over in the steer yard. All the them:  Big Ed, Bruno, Paolo, Pinto, William, Harry, Peanut and Coco trudged up the hill in a large group in response to Rosie’s low mooing … There they were, all standing by the fence, hoping to get some action!?!?  Rosie had quite the admiring audience!  Good thing that fence was locked tight and that Ed had no idea he could bust it down in very little time, if he so chose! I do have video of this event, but no photos (bear with me while I get organized blogging…)

Through this, I noticed the smaller steer Little Boo making friends with Pinto the large steer through the metal fence. It is absolutely heartwarming to watch them interact with each other. Pinto was sniffing and nuzzling Little Boo’s face, and licking him.  I must find out if they’ve met before or have any history, connection, possibly family or group ties?  Not sure. When I asked the Yard Head about it, he was quite surprised at the interaction, because these two groups don’t normally mix. I thought it was fascinating.

So that’s my introduction to the animals on the farm. If I manage to get as far as to upload photos without losing my copy, I’ll consider this first blog a real success, and will be ready to blog much more about Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres, in Acton, California – of which I’m so privileged to participate in, however briefly. Watch for more over the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to the pigs, the goats and sheep and the fowl. They are all absolutely priceless.

These animals have all been rescued from various cruelty, neglect and factory farming situations. William and Harry, Coco and Peanut, were all taken from their mothers at birth, and denied their mother’s milk so that humans can have it. The mothers were denied the chance to bond with their offspring, and watch them grow and thrive. The young calves were taken with the full intention of putting them in a veal crate where they cannot move, to live until they can be slaughtered to provide veal for human consumption.  The mothers were never allowed the chance to mother, as they are in constant service to the dairy industry – forcefully impregnated again and again, to provide milk for human consumption. That milk, incidentally, is absolutely unnecessary to human survival – calcium and protein can be found from many other sources. Eventually the mothers are violently slaughtered to provide meat for various food chains.

There are many ways to help: reducing meat and dairy consumption is a good place to start – or annihilate it completely. A plant-based diet is much healthier and you’ll be contributing to saving the planet, not to mention so many of these deserving souls. Get informed. Volunteer. Advocate. Donate. Support. Take a tour. Tell your friends. Instead of visiting theme parks, bring your children to farm sanctuaries and educate them about compassionate living. Commitment is a lot easier than you think, once you’ve made an informed decision about no longer contributing to the meat and dairy industries.



Dear Animal Lovers, Animal Advocates, Animal Rescuers:

Readers note, next Sunday, November 25th, is our last C4P newsletter until the new year.  Please watch the Huffington Post Canada IMPACT Section for my blog posts from Farm Sanctuary  http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/ – just search my name and you’ll see the posts – gone Nov. 29th to Jan.8th or so.


The Marineland nightmare goes on, with Madeline Meilleur most recently saying they’ll introduce legislation in the spring: 


As of Sunday, November 11, 2012:   After having no gas for a week we finally waited on line three times in one day to fill up all our vehicles and yesterday, headed out to Far Rockaway with enough prepared hot food for about 100 people and, thanks to the ASPCA, food for about 100 of man’s best friends.  What we saw was not surprising. No dogs and cats running in the streets as was the case for months after Hurricane Katrina’s hit in Louisiana. However, there are people and animals in need of food for themselves and their best friends. Stores are closed for the most part but amazingly there are some who are open, though they have no electricity. Thankfully, the police and national guard did not threaten to shoot people’s pets if they did not abandon them and leave, which is what the politics of Louisiana permitted. In Louisiana, in the low income area of St Bernard Parish, police even assured folks that their pets would be taken care of if left behind and they shot dozens of dogs and cats forcibly left behind (at St. Bernard Parish High School). Consequently, people for the most part did not leave their pets behind in NYC, whereas in Louisiana many people, especially low income folks, were forced to leave their pets behind by  despicable police officers. I even had to drive two hours into St. Bernard Parish to rescue the dog of a police officer who had gone AWOL. Poor dog had gone without food or water for two weeks in 120 degree heat by the time I got to him. We thank our staff who volunteered their day.Garo <garo@companionanimalnetworktv.org> (Ed note: congratulations to Garo & Team  – always such excellent work)


Expect to see more instances of this as the racing industry buckles:



Micropigs being sold on Kijiji for Christmas, for hundreds of dollars. Folks, please keep your eyes out, and politely confront this issue in any way that you can.



Thanks to everyone who responded re: cruelty charges in Canada post from a couple of weeks ago. While it is good that a (very) small handful of cases charges have been laid, I was really hoping we’d see MANY more instances of charges being laid. … Oh, Canada :(  ….