Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Ridiculously Happy Visit

I'd been wanting to go to this wonderland since I'd learned about its existence last summer. 

Ryan took this one and, in fact, most of the pictures on this post. He's a more skilled photographer than I, plus I was so caught up cuddling with the animals, I had trouble noticing anything else.

Farm Sanctuary has three official locations: Watkins Glen, New York (where we went); Orland, California (where we almost went last year but ran out of time); and Los Angeles, California.  It has three missions: rescue, education, and advocacy. You can learn more about their wonderful work on their website.

We went up midweek last week. My husband Ryan is a musician, so his summer weekends are basically spoken for by one of his three bands, my favorite of which -- Field Trip -- often plays his original tunes. (You can hear a sampling here!) So we've been doing a few mid-week minitrips throughout the summer.

Located in upstate New York, about half an hour from Ithaca, the farm is in the midst of such gorgeous landscape, you almost feel like you're driving in one of those calendars with the pictures that look too majestic to be real.

Our first night there, we stayed at one of their three B&B cabins, which I'll talk more about on the next post. (But they were adorable.) After enjoying a light breakfast the next morning, we went on a tour of the farm with our guide, Ben, a most enthusiastic and friendly fellow. We first met in the "People Barn," where we watched a quick film about Farm Sanctuary. Note the wall of signed photos of famous pretty people who had visited. (My favorite was Ellen DeGeneres's. Everyone else had something deep and meaningful written on theirs, and Ellen's handwritten message read simply. "I'm Ellen.")

The People Barn

Ben walking us through the cow pasture.

First we visited the cow barn. The cows were wonderful and incredibly docile and sweet, despite their initially intimidating size. I'm embarrassed to say I forgot the names and even genders of the animals, but not their lovely natures.

This sweetie kept laying her head on my lap. I just fell in love with her.

Who could harm this baby?

One thing that really stood out to me was how clean everything was on the whole farm. Every barn got completely cleaned with new straw every morning. And there were enormous industrial fans in the upper portion of each barn, circulating the air so that each building was wonderfully comfortable, despite the heat outside. In the evening and throughout the night, the whole farm was humming with fans in a very comforting white-noise way.

Next were the goats. They had just been put out to pasture to have their barn cleaned, so we got to spend a lot of quality time with them outside. They were endlessly affectionate! I started snuggling this sweetheart below, who loved having his neck scratched.

A little more to the right...

That's the stuff. Right there.

The mutual admiration society

 And then another came for his share.

And then I realized I had someone literally leaning into my back. They all wanted love. Immediately.

Is it me, or does it look like I'm officiating a wedding?

Then I thought it would be good to remember my neglected spouse, who'd been snapping photos the whole time.

I can speak from experience that Ryan is a GREAT headscratcher. This goat hit the motherlode.

Goats these days are routinely kept both for their meat and for their milk to make cheese. (Obviously these goats were not subject to such treatment.) Like dairy calves, the babies are taken away from their mothers so as to keep the milk for humans. Some of the girls are raised to become "milkers" themselves, but many of the babies (particularly the males) are sold for meat. I can't imagine doing this anymore than I could imagine selling puppies to be slaughtered. And if you hang out with goats like this, you realize how delightful they are. Here is a baby goat named Fern at Woodstock Sanctuary that was rescued from becoming food: (very sweet video)

Here is some information from Woodstock Sanctuary on the farming of goats today.  And on this link, you'll discover individual stories of both goats and sheep who came to Farm Sanctuary. Unfortunately, we didn't get to visit with the sheep on this tour. Next time!

The pigs were busy sleeping off the heat of the day. Again, their area was spotlessly clean, with wonderful-smelling fresh hay for them to snuggle into. Most of them still carried dried mud on them, which keeps their bodies cool and prevents sunburn. Pretty smart! They LOVED getting good scratches, particularly on the belly.

You'll notice how large some of them are. This is because they've been genetically designed to put on weight FAST so that they can be killed when they are only six months young. When they are allowed to live out their lives, they -- like so many other factory-farmed victims -- get to very unnatural weights that cause a variety of health problems. Here is more information from Farm Sanctuary on how pigs fare.

This sweet one woke up and seemed to be appreciating a good scratch.
Then she let out a happy snort. Making a pig happy is most satisfying!

Sweetie fast asleep.

This was right before she rolled over so I could pay proper attention to her belly. It was a very dog-like gesture!

This mama started lifting her front legs up to give me better scratching access.

The turkeys were mesmerizing with all their trilled vocalizations. They can be very curious and affectionate and some of them love cuddling on one's lap. Turkeys are also bred to be unnaturally big with abnormally large breasts. As a result, they are too big to mate with each other. The males can crush the females to death with the effort.  All the turkeys are bred to be white to make their flesh  lighter and thus more pleasing to consumers. Here is more information from Farm Sanctuary on how turkeys are raised in factory farms.

Here are where the girls were kept. The males and females have to be kept separate.

And here is the one male I saw. He was adorable and very into getting attention. When we crouched down next to him to hang out, he stared right into our eyes.

As you'll notice here, turkeys typically have their toes cut off when they are babies. (It is also standard for the industry to burn off the top of their beaks with a hot blade.) No anesthesia is used, despite the amount of nerve endings present. As a result of their malformed feet, they can't walk correctly -- which is hard enough with their abnormal size -- and their toes often get large and infected at the ends. The wonderful folks here do rounds each morning, checking their toes and other previously mutilated parts for trouble.
Chickens. I love chickens. They're so fascinating to watch. Chickens are said to have it worse than any of the factory farmed animals. Here is a post I did on the egg industry and here is some information from Farm Sanctuary. In the United States alone, 287 chickens are killed every second. (This figure is from the USDA.) And perhaps more shocking is that they are bred to grow so fast, that they are typically six to seven weeks young when they are slaughtered. Those animals that we see in the supermarkets, in other words, are still chicks.

Here are some heartwarming stories about some of the chickens at Farm Sanctuary! :)

Is there anything cuter than a chicken's butt? So cute.

Interestingly, I spotted a garter snake in this little area with the chickens. I asked if they bothered the chickens, and learned that the chickens would often surround the offending snake and make their feelings known.

Garter snake. I think.
There were many more lovely animals we met and adored. I could spend weeks at this wonderful place.

Visiting Farm Sanctuary and taking a tour is such an uplifting experience. It gives you a glimpse of what the world could be. And perhaps more important, it puts an individual face to the unfathomable numbers of animals that we kill each year. Almost every animal here was part of the factory farm system, and you see how each animal is so unique. If you've had a number of companion animals throughout your life, you know this to be true. Each of them was different, just as every human animal is different.

If you visit, you won't be beaten over the head with the cruelties these animals faced. Instead it's just a very peaceful yet exciting experience where you can connect with animals individually. After you've scratched a pig's tummy and had her snort with pleasure, bacon loses all allure. When a cow who lost all her babies puts her head in your lap, you start to question if eating cheese is really worth the cost of what she's had to endure. And again, our tour guide never admonished us at any time, saying, "Maybe now you'll think twice about eating eggs, folks!" Rather, he led us through, explaining where the animals had come from, what they liked, how they behaved, etc.  If you eat animal meat, eggs, or dairy, you'll feel very welcomed here and not judged in any way.

Oh! AND I got to meet one of my heroes, quite by surprise! Susie Coston, a powerhouse in the animal sanctuary world and Farm Sanctuary's National Shelter Director, happened to pass by us during our tour. I punched poor Ryan's arm and whispered excitedly, "Do you know who that was??" We saw her later in the cow barn and I went up, completely sappy-eyed, and professed my great admiration for her. Being the sweetheart she is, she gave me a big old bear hug, and Ryan quickly jumped in and asked if she'd mind a picture together. She quickly agreed, laughing, and then confessed that she didn't photograph well. Which I told her was perfect as I always look like a complete dork in pictures.

I. Love. This. Woman. You just meet some people and want them to be your best friend. She was one of those people. Just genuine, energetic, and happy. Who cares about all the Hollywood stars when you've got Susie Coston in the world? I think People magazine should start covering magastars like Susie, who make a positive difference in the world, rather than Tom Cruise, who likes jumping on couches.

It's hard not to look like a dork when you're standing next to your hero.

More to come in the next two posts. I'm dying to show you the cabin we stayed in, a beautiful memorial at Farm Sanctuary, the other Bed and Breakfast we stayed at, our fine dining at a rather well-known restaurant in Ithaca, a pretty gorge, and my sweetie's literal moment in the spotlight.

Before I close, I wanted to let you know that I'm doing the Walk for Farm Animals in Boston on September 8 to raise money for Farm Sanctuary so that they can continue to do this incredible work. There are walks all over the United States and Canada, if you'd like to participate in this as well and raise funds. If your city isn't listed, you can do the Sleep In for Farm Animals.

I'm trying to raise $1,000, and as of this writing have received $325 in online donations with another $50 coming by check. If you'd like to contribute -- and a couple of readers already have! Thank you! -- please go to my page. Any amount -- $1, $5, $1000 -- would be make a huge difference. Thank you!

I'd love to hear back from any of you who have had experience at an animal sanctuary or who are planning on going! (You can comment on other things too, of course!)


  1. Oh my goodness, my dream vacation is going to Watkins Glen to spend time at Farm Sanctuary -- plus their cabins have always looks so cute and quaint. I've never been to an animal sanctuary before, and Farm Sanctuary is the first one I became acquainted with after going vegan. I'm loving scrolling through your pictures, and I'm glad you had such a great experience (but really, how could you not, with all the lovely company hanging around?)! Looking forward to reading more about your trip :)

    1. You would LOVE it here, Bobbie! And the B&B is perfect. Plus there's a lot to do around the area. We regretted only going for two nights as there were many other things we wanted to do up there. (Plus I would have liked to have taken several tours in a row, which many people do!) Let me know if you go there!

  2. Oh, my gosh! What a wonderful trip! It looks like you had the BEST time (although, the goats, pigs, and Ryan were clearly enjoying it too)! I used to volunteer at Animal Acres (now part of Farm Sanctuary) and had one of the most wonderful weekends at their Orland location (It's gorgeous beyond words). So I'm dying to add their East Coast location to my list.

    It is such a salve for the soul to spend time with animals who have escaped the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Living, as I do, in farm country, it can be incredibly sad to pass fields of sheep, goats, and cows and know what comes next for them. (Ironically, it is "pork country," but you never see pigs here since they live their lives in large, enclosed confines.) While it surprises some meat eaters, I am the most saddened when I see baby animals. I hate to think of someone so vulnerable facing the pain I know they'll endure. That's why it is so healing to go to Farm Sanctuary (and other sanctuaries) and meet animals who were rescued from animal industries. Like you said, to spend time with massive steers and cows and to feel dwarfed by them, it is so humbling. It's a moving experience just sitting quietly in their giant and peaceful presence.

    I love your pictures with the goats! They have to be one of the best surprises as far as animals are concerned. Like sheep, they are incredibly affectionate, funny, and inquisitive. They are an absolute joy.

    I look forward to reading more about your trip and to live vicariously through your adventure, until I can have one of my own! xoxo

    1. That's wild, Cadry! What kind of work did you do when you volunteered at Animal Acres? I do want to go to the Orland location when we go back out there. I remember seeing some of your pictures from there, and the size of the steers was unreal. And yet they also looked so gentle.

      Last night I was showing my husband your video with Gulp, and we both laughed at the interaction between the two of you! :)

    2. In addition to volunteering at their big events for the public (i.e. for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, etc.), I helped with the humane education at Animal Acres. When school groups would come for tours during the week, we'd introduce the kids to the animals, talk to them about what the animals had experienced, and generally try to foster the natural compassion that children have for animals. I wrote about it on my blog here: http://cadryskitchen.com/2009/06/20/day-twenty-panini-with-lemon-basil-pesto/ It was a good fit for me, because I love children and getting to spend time with the animals.

      I'm so glad you and Ryan enjoyed Gulp! My husband and I have so much fun working on projects together, and it was a real treat getting to do a claymation project with him since that's been a love of David's since he was a child. I enjoyed working with Gulp too, of course. He can be a diva, but once you get to know him, he's just your average dinosaur-variety monster like anyone else. ;)

    3. What a great volunteer position! (And post!) I love that the animals came to greet you every time. How amazing to introduce kids to this. It all appeals so naturally to their inclinations for fairness.