This past weekend we went to a farm sanctuary. It was such a fun experience for all of us. The kids fell in love with a goat that seriously thought it was a dog. It was so incredibly adorable; the way it came bounding over to us and stayed part of the group for the whole tour. There were also horses, miniature donkeys, cows, sheep, turkeys, ducks, geese, other goats, including a couple kids, pigs, and even a llama.
The most interesting part of it, for me, was not necessarily getting to see all of the animals (even though I loved that), but more hearing their stories and seeing the incredible differences from what you (okay, I) would expect to find in a farm.
Some of the animals came from pretty sad backgrounds. There were horses that had come from an animal testing facility and some that had come from a horse breeder, but the latter were in a different pasture as they were not able to interact appropriately with humans yet. There were ducks people had gotten as Easter presents (people still do that?). Once they were no longer cute little chicks and the owner could no longer care for it, they (hopefully) drop it off at the sanctuary. One pig had been spared from the slaughter house by a sensitive class of elementary school kids and their living teacher. I loved seeing these animals seem to be happy, well adjusted, and able to even have healthy interactions with us humans for the most part.
There were a good number of differences between what one would expect to see on a farm and the farm sanctuary. Now, I have to be honest, I have only been on a farm once in my life and I was very very young. All I remember was holding a lamb. That was like my Lisa Simpson moment so it stuck in my head. Therefore, I guess I don't have a good basis for comparison beyond the ideas that are in my head, but that is what we are going to go with for now.
So one thing I expected was to see the animals more separated. The donkeys, cows, and horses all hung out together and ate from the same hay pile, ran around together in ample space, and seemed to get along so well. Even the llama was in a pen with goats and other animals. I've seen a llama at the zoo before and they were always kept separate from other animals sometimes even from each other.
The animals also looked much different than you normally would see on a farm. This was actually confirmed by other people. Farm animals are normally fattened up. These animals were healthy, not lean, but muscular and well built. It was nice to see what a 500lb pig should actually look like - not like a barrel.
Also, the animals here could live longer than they would in another farm. Most cows are slaughtered at the age of 2. One of the cows that was there was actually 22. And still looked good!
I thought it was amazing that the workers there could actually tell us about rituals the animals have shown. Things like funeral-type rituals were interesting to hear about. It kind of reminded me of when a goose died crashing into the window at my work. I wasn't there at the time, but the way my coworkers explained it to me, the geese were mourning in a very anthropomorphic manner. The workers were telling us about what the pigs did as another was dying-a ritual in which they gather around and take turns pressing their snouts upon the dying pig. This is not seen very often in other farming environments because of the way dead and dying animals are dealt with.
All-in-all, this was a very interesting and educational trip for myself and the kids.