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

Dec.09.12: week one of my internship at 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, 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.