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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Rescue Me: The Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California

Written by Jennifer Anthony
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lilyOn a warm Sunday afternoon in October, Lily the pig lies flat on her side, eyes closed, snaggletooth poking out from a wide, peaceful grin. The enormous fans trained on the bevy of sows combat the heat and ruffle their short, wiry hair. Lily grumbles just a little when the pig leaning on her back shifts position, but soon settles down again, snorting into the hay. Lost in daydreams, she doesn’t so much as twitch when I reach out to tickle her wrinkly pink neck.

Lily may seem like a porcine pacifist, but her snaggle-toothed grin hints at a secret past of intrigue and rebellion. As a youngster, she jumped off the back of a truck headed to a slaughterhouse and literally saved her own life. A car behind the truck screeched to a stop and brought the pig to what they thought was safety at a farm. But when they heard word that Lily was indeed being fattened for slaughter, she was rescued once again and transferred to another 300-acre farm in northern California.

A Farm Sanctuary, that is.

The Farm Sanctuary, founded in 1986, strives “to combat the abuses of industrialized farming and to encourage a new awareness and understanding about farm animals.” Its founders began by visiting farms, stockyards and slaughterhouses, where they found many animals that had been left for dead. Since their inception, the Sanctuaries in California and New York have rescued thousands of animals, placed many in homes across the United States, and educated millions of people about their plight.

Fall sunshine pours into the pig barn at Orland’s Farm Sanctuary, where I have come to visit for a couple of hours. Grassland stretches for acres in every direction and troupes of feral sheep march in formation over a distant hill and out of sight. Turkeys chortle. Sheep bleat. A cow moos softly and rather nonchalantly. It’s tempting to secure a pile of hay. And. Just. Drift. Off.

But while the pig before me has earned her right to peaceful napping, I can’t say that I have done anything so momentous as to jump off the back of an overcrowded, moving truck to save my own hide. And I can’t sleep just yet because I am lucky enough to be offered a private tour by an employee who somehow knows the personal story of nearly every animal on the farm.

robertiOur tour begins in the corral for the elderly cows who suffer from arthritis. They are purposely separated from the younger, nimble bovines that are allowed to roam across the farm’s many acres. As pack animals, they would be tempted to follow the youngsters far and wide and aggravate their joint pains. But even in this small herd of cows basking in the glow of their golden years, they have a leader named Roberti – an enormous male dairy cow who has assumed the role of protector, a rather ironic circumstance because male dairy cows usually don’t make it to old age. Roberti was on his way to becoming veal before being rescued.

When we stroll up to the cows, their sideways cud chewing doesn’t stop. They regard us with big brown eyes, swat a few flies with their tails, and allow us to give their necks and backs a hearty scratch. Several of these cows were rescued by the Sanctuary because they were so sick or old that they wouldn’t sell for a dollar at a farm auction. A couple of them were left to starve just outside their farms. Here, they live and thrive and somehow, somehow trust the very species that mistreated them.

The sheep and goats are next. The feral sheep that I spotted cresting a nearby hill were saved from Santa Cruz Island. They were introduced to the island by people and thrived, and their subsequent overpopulation meant a green flag to shoot at them from the air. Many of the goats were bought as residential “lawn mowers” who didn’t quite work out; they just didn’t do their job as well as expected or the neighbors complained about the noise. One sheep, still in quarantine to test for contagious diseases, was found wandering at a nearby construction site, apparently deserted by its owner.

Another barn hosts a gaggle of tame white female turkeys. Honing in on anything shiny and lustrous, they nip delightedly at my silver rings and car keys. They were de-beaked prior to being rescued, so their pecking doesn’t hurt. When I crouch down on my knees, compact white orbs of feathered bodies, curious and sociable as small children, surround me. The turkeys were rescued from an overcrowded plane and turned over to the Farm by the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA. The birds were among 11,500 others that were being transported from Detroit to San Francisco; 9,000 had perished during the flight. Approximately 1,900 of the surviving birds were sent to their final destination to become “breeder” birds whose offspring would be sold for food. The Farm was able to rescue eleven of these remaining birds.

The subsequent visit to the chicken coop is difficult; while I don’t eat lamb or pork, and am making strides toward cutting beef out of my diet, I do still eat chicken. It is hard to reconcile my guilt with the joy I feel as I watch the white chickens before me skittering around. It is certainly easier to be in denial about a chicken sandwich’s origins in a restaurant than nose to beak on a farm.

I confess my omnivorous tendencies to my vegan guide. She is neither militant nor judgmental. She says, simply, “Every little step matters.” When I ask her if it’s hard to be a vegan, she explains, “Yes. Sometimes. But I can always find something to eat. And not everyone’s that lucky.” She is calm, and subtle. She knows the animals’ stories speak for themselves.


Carrie is one of several staff members at the Farm, but interns also provide support. Many of the interns are in their twenties and are students of veterinary medicine or other related fields. Others, like a recent seventy-year-old intern, just love animals and want to help out a noble cause. Internships range from one to three months, and involve caring for animals, cleaning barns, and assisting with health checks. For those who choose to help out in other capacities, internships are available in administration, campaigning, development, education, and communication. Housing is offered at no charge for all Farm Sanctuary interns at the Orland facility.

The Sanctuary asks that all staff and interns be vegan while on the premises. This Vegan lifestyle includes diet (no meat, dairy products, eggs, honey, or other animal byproducts), personal care items (cruelty-free and no animal byproducts), and clothing (no leather, silk or wool). An internship is thus a commitment of time and philosophy.

The Sanctuary also accepts support through donations. A contribution of $20 or more entitles a donor to a Farm Sanctuary Membership for one year, receipt of a quarterly newsletter, discounted bed and breakfast rates, and the opportunity to visit the farm year-round. Such donations constitute 90 percent of the Farm’s annual budget.

By the end of the tour, I have had the opportunity to pet a gaggle of turkeys. Scratch some geriatric cows’ necks. And tickle a smug pig. Unfortunately, I can’t take a month off work for an internship just now, but I can make a donation and spread the word about the Farm’s valiant work.bliss

Meanwhile, I’ll try to be as courageous and strong as that pig who jumped off a moving truck in pursuit of a better life.

The Farm Sanctuary in Orland California:

19080 Newville Road

Orland, CA


Guided tours of the Farm are held on Saturdays, every hour from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., from April 1 through November 30.

© Jennifer Anthony

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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