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Farm Animal Care Conference 2013

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It’s been a long time, but I’ve finally found time to update my much missed blog. The reason for such a huge gap in updates in June is because my  summer was brimming with events, and the events did not stop. Camping, birthdays, a trip to Vancouver (and Seattle, where I had the worlds best vegan donut, Homer Simpson drool), a cruise to Bermuda. All of these things were so fun, and I was glad to go, but I’m happy that autumn is almost here and I can find some peace of mind at home with my rabbits.

My sporadic journeys ended two weekends ago with one final trip: Watkins Glen, New York, for the Farm Animal Care Conference at Farm Sanctuary. I was looking forward to this conference all summer and I can say I am still grinning from the wonderful weekend I had at this event. If I could go again, I would. But once was certainly enough, and the event is well worth your time if you have any interest in learning about farm animal care.

This two day conference is an introduction to those interested in learning what it takes to run a sanctuary, or have any interest in opening a sanctuary. It’s also of interest  to those who just want to know, who want to learn, who want to be more involved maybe at their local sanctuary where they volunteer. Just being behind the scenes to listen to the animals stories, what they endured, and what kind of present medical problems they have because of their treatment, was eye opening and educational.

And there is nothing wrong with just knowing about farm animals and their needs, because as a vegan its important to just know.  While not as in-depth as I envisioned the conference being, we were given 1-2 hours with each species to go over all information, ask questions, and just have a more in-depth look at the state of the animals, signs from their previous traumatic incidences. It was a reminder to me what insanely disgusting, saddening things they endure.

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

Susie Coston talking about turkey care

My own personal interest in originally going to the conference was to someday run a small sanctuary. At first I thought that yes, this is something I definitely want to do. I thought that someday I could work hard and maybe give refuge to a handful of animals at my future home – not a huge operation like Woodstock or Farm Sanctuary, but small, and manageable. Attending this conference helped me realize that this is not a calling to take lightly – its hard, hard work. It requires time, money, energy, even the smallest of animals can be a workload depending on their health and needs. Farm animals, especially those rescued from the industry, are absolutely fragile – mentally, physically, and they are bred in ways that make them incapable of defending themselves, and they are subject to dozens of sicknesses and diseases. Something as simple as their hooves need to be trimmed but they can no longer naturally run them down (same with the tusks of a  pig). They need guidance and protection, and unless you’re able to supply them with the care you’d give someone like your dog, then you should refrain from considering having a farm animal rescue.

Are my visions changed? A little. I still want to help, someday I want to, but I realize the conference gave me the tools I need to make an educated decision, one good for me and for the animals, and skills that help me to be a better vegan and volunteer. Steve and I took a realistic step back and thought about what we are capable of – but one thing this conference made us realize is we really, really have a strong inclination towards the well-being of rabbits.

During the rabbit session we found ourselves blurting out information we knew, answering peoples questions, educating other attendees on rabbits. Farm Sanctuary intends to phase out rabbits because they have an outdoor barn for rabbits and found rabbits don’t do well outdoors (this is mostly true), and Susie Coston (farm operations director) said there is a real need for rabbit rescues. This is absolutely true – while all farm animals suffer equally, I cannot think of an animal more abused than a rabbit – there is an industry for rabbit meat, for fur, for pets/entertainment, and experimentation and medical/cosmetic testing. Rabbits are abused in multiple industries and are seen as disposable, as unintelligent, as plain and happy to just sit in a box or hutch all day. I think if we began some kind of effort, it would absolutely begin with rabbits. It’s something we both agree and feel so strongly about.

But as I said I learned so much, I feel fortunate to have such advice before jumping in. Some major themes and points I found especially important, which I’d like to share:

  • Have the ability to say no. Many sanctuaries fail because they cannot say no and take on too many animals at a time. It’s hard to say no to all animals that need a new home, but if you do not have the energy, time, staff, resources, to take care of a lot of animals, then you are going to burn out and fail. You should focus on making sure the quality of life is good for the animals you do have, rather than have too many and end up giving them a life that is just as neglectful as their previous life.
  • From the beginning, put your absolute best effort in to every possible facet of your sanctuary. Research everything and buy only the best of the things you need: safe heaters, safe medical equipment, the correct kind of barn for each animals, the correct fencing for each species. Don’t do something because its easy, do it because its right, and you will prevent mess-ups later down the road.
  • Prepare from the beginning for pests. Build a barn that will prevent a rat population from building up (concrete floor, rat wire in the walls).
  • Try to find a local vet who you can work with who has knowledge about farm animals, and build a relationship with them based on respect and trust.
  • However in some cases, a vet may not always be right – sometimes if they suggest an animal should be put down, it may not always be for the right reasons. Its important to also use your judgement about if the medical condition can possibly be treated and not just solved by simply putting an animal down.
  • Know your state’s laws and what is required. Some animals like chickens require testing for avian flu. Crossing state lines need to be cleared, and animals that come in sick should be quarantined until they have a clean bill of health.  Have an extra barn or space for quarantined animals, and wear the proper equipment.
  • When caring for an animal, it isn’t worth it to worry or scare them. If they absolutely do not want to be handled or touched because of fear, its safer to let them be. It’s also better for their mental health, because you do not want to make them sick with  fear and worry.

And there just more, just so much more. But that’s why I highly recommend attending this conference if it interests you.

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There is just so much to say about the conference, what was learned and what was said. Luckily the group provided a very thick packet of all the information that was given. And by the end I had made many friends which, all who are passionate and I’m sure will do great things one day.  Overall I would recommend this conference in a heart beat. If you want to see an in-depth look at some things we saw and experienced, click below for more.

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Give Thanks(giving) To The Turkeys

Herschel, a resident of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

Thanksgiving, despite its title and the purpose behind its occurrence, is just like Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas  a commercial holiday. And like all holidays, it occurs every year, creating a need and demand for product. The difference is that the product Thanksgiving demands a need for is turkey, a typically kind hearted creature who, when given the space, can exude an extremely beautiful personality and character.

Most do not consider that a large number of turkeys need to be bred and raised to meet the demand of the millions of homes in the US who celebrate Thanksgiving. That one single day can produce a lot of turkey: numbers from 2011 show that at least 48 million turkeys were bred just for Thanksgiving. 48 million, a little less than the entire population of the country of England. That is a lot of little lives to exist for a single American holiday. And when you consider how much is possibly wasted, since most people believe that a Thanksgiving table is not complete without an entire 30 pound turkey, the numbers seem to seem that much more dramatic.

A lot has been said about the modern day farmed turkey, as well, but it constantly bears repeating.  From birth, turkeys, despite being social creatures, are kept in separate small metal cages. Young turkeys, although they prefer to be close to their mother for the first five months of their life, are immediately taken and put in one of those separate cages.  From that point, they also endure two acts called “de-snoodling” (cutting off the decorative red flesh that hangs from a turkey’s chin) and “de-beaking” (a hot blade cuts off the tip of a turkey’s beak, in order to prevent pecking in tight knit cages). These acts are always performed without anesthesia, despite the fact that these body parts contain sensitive nerves. An estimated 300 million turkeys go through this system in the US yearly.

In 1970, only around 100 million turkeys (with an average weight of 17 pounds) were raised by farms for US consumption. But turkey “products” became more in demand (especially as a “healthy” alternative to red meat), and the number of turkeys being bred and raised became higher. Worse, their average weight grew as well, from 17 pounds to a now average 28 pounds (this immediate obesity, so soon in their life, leads to a short life of lameness, skeletal problems, and heart problems. This weight also makes it impossible for the turkeys to naturally breed with one another). Producers expect these animals to have more weight (meat) on their bones in a shorter amount of time, for quicker profit and consumption: most turkeys gain this weight and are then slaughtered for product between the ages of 4 to 6 months. Short, breathless lives in small cages, with no sight of green grass or affection towards another of their kind.

Just recently, in October, Mercy For Animals, not a year after releasing a similar video, unleashed another undercover video illustrating the abusive behavior of Butterball employees towards turkeys. You can find more here (forewarning, the video, which is graphic, immediately starts).

What is most frustrating about the release of this news is how you may see it reported by other news outlets, but there is very little said about the country’s behavior as a whole. We are upset at these kinds of abuses that occur to such unassuming and caring animals, but we would never give up the symbol of turkey on the table for Thanksgiving. The demand seems to always remain the same, especially for the arbitrary sake of “tradition.” Even as people turn to “free range” or “organic” farms, the need and market begins to grow as well. Nothing changes the fact that turkeys are not throwing themselves to be the center of a holiday table.

Fortunately, there are options open for those who wish to disengage from the industry. There are meat free options like Tofurkey, Gardein, Field Roast, and, in general, home-made options that are probably just as meaningful as a turkey. Locally, in New Jersey, places like Good Karma Cafe, Sweet Avenue Bakeshop, Veggie Heaven, and The Cinnamon Snail offer meat free/vegan options and catering. New York City, of course, also has such options at Candle Cafe, Blossom and other locations.

But why not do more than just merely consume?

Beatrice and Boone enjoying their own personal Thanksgiving at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in October

Within this post, if there is one thing I’d most like to stress, is that we should look towards giving thanks not by just consuming food, or products, or things that have been marketed to be desirable around this time a year. Following Hurricane Sandy, you can certainly help out your community by donating to a food bank so others may have a meal at all, or volunteer (you can find opportunities at the most basic level by checking out InterOccupy).

I also want to stress the need to help those turkeys who were able to escape their conditions. You can help by sponsoring or “adopting” a turkey through a local farm animal sanctuary. All farm animal sanctuaries run on donations and fund raising. You can help, and make it personal by helping a specific animal in need. It’s a wonderful way to help out a specific animal, and that way, when you visit, you can interact with them and even maybe bond!

Here are some animal sanctuaries within the New Jersey and New York area where you may choose to adopt:

Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (Woodstock, NY): Pictured above is Beatrice and Boone, from the Thanksliving event in October. I sponsor Beatrice, who was rescued from a factory farm. She has very obvious scarring, including a clipped beak. You can learn about the farm’s turkeys here. You can sponsor a turkey for as  little as $15 a month.

Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary (Poughquag, New York): Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary is a smaller scale sanctuary tucked neatly away in a small mountain in Poughquaq, New York, on the eastern side of the Hudson River. Here is a list of their residents. Sadie, Roslyn, Ducky and Emma are the resident turkeys, and they are all beautiful. When I first met Emma, I had a special connection with her. To sponsor an animal, you can e-mail them (safehavenfarmsanctuary@gmail.com) with your choice and arrange a payment option.

Here is Emma, the first turkey to ever steal my heart!

 Catskill Animal Sanctuary (Saugerties, New York): You can sponsor one of the resident turkeys here for only $18 a month. You can help make their good life on this 100-acre land even better! Learn more here. May I add Saugerties is a lovely little town? You can visit your turkey, then do some holiday shopping at a local, non-chain store, to help a local business, as well!

Farm Sanctuary (Watkins Glen, NY): The OG animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary now also has locations on the West Coast, so you can choose to help sponsor no matter your location! They currently have an Adopt-A-Turkey project, so you can help make their program a success, and raise awareness about how much you really do care about turkeys.

For The Animals Sanctuary (Blairstown, NJ):  For The Animals Sanctuary is a lovely little sanctuary in northwest New Jersey. They do not currently have any residents turkeys, but they are in dire need of emergency funds to help replenish funds used for sudden medical situations. Please visit their site here and see what you can do to help!

You can also check out the website Pardon A Turkey, by Mercy For Animals, which informs the general public about turkeys, and why it is meaningful to let them be, rather than use them for a meal.

Once you meet a turkey in peaceful bliss at one of these farms, it is hard to think that any harm would ever deliberately be done to them, and about how they are just one lucky escapee out of 300 million. Turkeys are full of vibrant life, love and look to live their natural lives the way we do. Beyond my own thankfulness of where I am today, and the health and prosperity of my family and friends,  I see no other reason to take away happiness from any other thing. That is why we should give thanks to all living things, and give Thanksgiving to the turkeys, rather than take it from them.

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ThanksLiving 2012

Beatrice & Boone wolf down a buffet of amazing food

Every week I say it’s time to update the blog, and on this rainy Friday I finally have found some time. It’s of course perfect timing because now I can share my experiences from attending ThanksLiving at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary last Sunday, October 14!

If you are not familiar with ThanksLiving, its a very lovely concept: each year Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary hosts a banquet fundraiser which also acts as an event to celebrate the continuation of living for those animals who are fortunate to live at the sanctuary. The event focuses most adorably on the turkeys, who get their own little feast before every else gets to eat.

I had always wanted to attend ThanksLiving but never quite found the money or time – but this year I made a concerted effort to make sure I could go, and it was every bit worth the money. The event is always sold out, and with good reason – its extremely fun! A days worth of hanging out at the farm, in Woodstock in the autumn, with gorgeous weather and beautiful animals and people. The food, a full vegan Thanksgiving meal, was prepared by Kevin Archer,  along with desserts from the greatest bakery ever, Vegan Treats!

Along with food, there was a lot of wonderful things to do within the tent set up for the event. There was a silent auction, where you could bid on such things as VIP Daily Show tickets, a Vitamix, and vegan shoes. There was also an amazing raffle, including giftcards to amazing stores & restaurants, a Lush boxset, cook books, etc. The Woodstock Farm Sanctuary store was also set up, and so I bought a really nice t-shirt.

Inside the dining area for ThanksLiving

It was also wonderful because I bumped into Emily from Jersey City Vegan! Emily’s blog is one I admire a lot. Emily is extremely passionate about animal rights activism and her bubbly personality and enthusiasm is inspiring. She was volunteering there all weekend – something I’d like to try next year, as I am now becoming more and more familiar with the sanctuary! And I’d like to mention that with the event, each attendee receives a goodie bag of vegan gifts. Inside each bag also included an adorable mini Thanksgiving cookbook, with recipes by Emily! I am definitely going to try making these recipes for my family this year.

Emily, who was volunteering at the raffle table, was there to celebrate with me when I found out I won something!: a $50 giftcard to Turquoise Barn in the Catkills, an all vegetarian/vegan Bed and Breakfast retreat. I don’t normally win things, so this was wonderful. But even more rewarding was the fact that earlier in the day I had lost a necklace in Woodstock that meant a lot to me. I was upset in the morning but ended the day feeling a lot better. Especially after having attended ThanksLiving!

What is most important to remember about the event however, beyond the raffles and wonderful food, is that it is a fundraiser to help Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary continue to function throughout the year and take care of its 200+ residents.  Jenny Brown mentioned in her speech that it costs over $600,000 to run the farm yearly. Every little bit counts, so please consider sponsoring an animal or donating or buying a $50 membership, so that the residents of the farm can continue to live out their natural lifespans in peace.

For more photos (taken by Steven Matarazzo), click below!

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