I turned 30 a few weeks and I decided to celebrate by visiting Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres. I had been wanting to make the trip up there ever since hearing Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talk about her visits to animal sanctuaries on her podcast, which I’ve enjoyed listening to almost daily since becoming vegan. I could think of no better way to spend my big day, than to get some quality time with pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and goats! And, as it turned out, a llama!
To be honest, I don’t think I knew a place like Farm Sanctuary existed before, nor had I ever had a prominent desire to visit farm animals. As many of us can probably relate, I had never had much contact with the animals, many of whom I considered “food” for most of my life.
I’ve always considered myself an animal lover and since going vegan have felt my kinship to the animals in my life deepen in a way I didn’t think was possible. The way Colleen speaks about turkeys, cows, chickens and goats in her podcast really piqued my interest. I decided that I would like to get to know some of these non-human animals, whose stories have struck such a deep chord in me over the eight months, as I learned about the cruelty of the factory farming.
Animal Acres is located in Acton, which is located just a short 45-minute drive north of Los Angeles. Me and my husband and my friend/bandmate, Lisa, made the trip on a warm Sunday morning.
We were initially greeted by a friendly llama as we drove in the gates. Though the sanctuary’s objective is to provide shelter and care for animals rescued from the farming industry, as we later learned during our tour, this llama was in a need of a home, so they took him in.
While we waited for the hour-long tour of the facility to begin, we took some silly photos…
First up, the pigs! These amazing creatures are smarter than any other domestic animal and despite common cliches, they are actually one of the cleanest as well. Pigs have more in common with me than I thought. According to this list of ten fascinating facts, pigs like to listen to music, receive massages and eat slowly to savor their food. Turns out that anyone who ever claimed I eat like a pig was 100% correct.
“I know of no other animals [who] are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.” – Lyall Watson, biologist and Johannesburg Zoo director
For more information about pigs, check out Colleen’s podcast episode about pigs: Peace For Pigs – Food For Thought Podcast
After visiting the pigs, we rounded the corner to see a few cows grazing in the pasture. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a cow this close before and I was stunned by their size. But that’s not so surprising after learning that they drink about 30 gallons of water and eat about 95 pounds of feed per day!
Cows form close friendships and choose to spend much of their time with 2-4 preferred individuals. They are also very maternal, and have a strong desire to protect and nurture their young. Just one of the reasons that I chose to go vegan – cow’s milk is not for me, it’s for baby cows 🙂
Cows naturally live about 25 years, but unfortunately, cows who are bred and raised for food are typically killed within one and three years of life. Luckily for these sweet-natured cows at Animal Sanctuary, such a place exists where they are free to graze and live out their lives in peace!
Click here for more facts about cows.
Next up on the tour, were the turkeys and chickens, with their own newly-built aviary. The first turkey to greet us had a LOT to say. He was clearly well acquainted with our tour guide and ran right up to her, making many noises as if he was telling her a story!
Turkeys are intelligent animals and form strong social bonds, as we witnessed through our vocal friend who greeted us. Benjamin Franklin even said he would have preferred a turkey to be the emblem of the United States rather than a bald eagle, calling it a “bird of courage.”
While these turkeys have a wonderful home to roam around in and live out their lives in peace, many turkeys are forced into tiny cages and tortured by having their toes and beaks removed, without anesthesia. All of this in order to feed human appetites. 300 million turkeys are killed each year, including more than 46 million for Thanksgiving alone!
Farm Sanctuary actually has an “Adopt a Turkey” project where you can help save the lives of these magnificent birds. In addition to not eating turkeys, I plan on participating in this project this year in hopes of saving a few more lives.
For more information about turkeys, check out Colleen’s podcast episode, Talking Turkey – Food For Thought Podcast.
While inside the aviary, some off the birds let us pet them and we witnessed others who were busy going about their daily lives. According to this website, “In nature, chickens form friendships and social hierarchies, recognize one another and develop a pecking order, love and care for their young, and enjoy dust-bathing, making nests, and roosting in trees. Chickens raised for meat and eggs are unable to engage in any of these activities.”
While we visited with these beautiful birds, our tour guide explained some of the awful truths about the egg and “poultry” industries. I decided to become vegan the day I learned about what happens to male baby chicks in the egg industry. Because male chicks are unprofitable to an industry that exploits the female reproductive system of chickens, around 200 million male baby chicks are killed on their first day of life in a process called “chick culling.”
It’s facts like these that led me down my path to being vegan. Seeing these birds in person and interacting with them only serves to reinforce the compassion that drives me further down this path.
The last part of the tour was visiting the goats. I met a few goats, who were all delicate and sweet. One even gave my hand a lick!
Goats are also very intelligent creatures. Mothers and their babies (kids) can recognize each other’s calls soon after giving birth. They are also very curious and inquisitive.
For more info, listen to this Food For Thought episode, Grateful For Goats.
After the tour, we enjoyed a picnic I put together with lots of delicious snacks: tortillas with roasted marinated eggplant, artichoke hearts, olives, red pepper walnut hummus and pesto. And of course, no picnic is complete without fresh fruits and veggies!
Overall, my day visiting Farm Sanctuary was a blast! I’m sure there were people on the tour who were there simply to visit the animals, who possibly considered the facts about the farming industry unnecessary. I understand why many of us do not want to learn these facts, but avoiding the truth does not make it less real.
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.”
– Philip K. Dick
While it was uncomfortable to hear the gut-wrenching facts about factory farming again, and now mentioning them in this post, I believe in the importance of remembering why I went vegan in the first place.
These are some of the reasons that I choose not to eat animals, or anything that comes out of them. My goal, by being vegan, is to avoid taking any part in the atrocities of a system that exploits, tortures and murders billions of animals each year.
Visiting these pigs, cows, turkeys, chickens and goats, and seeing them face to face, firmly reinforces what I already believed to be true. Though their physical appearance may differ from ours, we share many characteristics with non-human animals which we, as human animals, deem intelligent and admirable.
Forming strong friendships, desiring to nurture our young, solving problems, vocal communication and cleanliness are all examples of instincts and abilities common to both human and non-human animals.
Recognizing these similarities brings compassion to the forefront of my heart and mind. When I saw Pablo the cow, I didn’t have the desire to hurt or kill him for food. I saw a beautiful creature whom I would never want to harm. Intrigued by his demeanor and stature, I stood in awe of him as I inched closer, hoping to feel the texture in the tufts of fur around his ear. His stories struck a chord in my heart and I felt grateful that he was now safe.
There are many ways to get involved to help the animals such as volunteering, learning about and being vocal about federal legislation and contributions to support the sanctuary and similar movements. Learn more by visiting the Farm Sanctuary website.
Have you ever visited an animal sanctuary? Tell me about your experience in the comments.