Friends, not food


Grant Levinson, Staff Columnist

For two and a half months this summer, I worked and lived at two animal sanctuaries, established specifically for farm animals. Both sanctuaries take in abused, neglected, or abandoned farm animals. The animals at these sanctuaries get to live out their full lives, free from exploitation and slaughter. Traditionally, farmed animals in the U.S are considered property, meaning they aren’t afforded personhood. In a sanctuary, however, these animals are treated as individuals and are given the right to enjoy their full life.

Spending time with these animals was truly incredible, and the more time I spent with them and learned their stories, the more I noticed their quirky yet lovable individuality. In this column, I’m going to introduce you to some incredible residents who I have had the pleasure of meeting.

Tai is a female turkey and one of the many residents I had the pleasure of meeting. Tai was rescued in January of 2021 after the Woodstock Sanctuary responded to a severe neglect case at a farm; animals were found living in small, freezing sheds with no access to water. Tai is a broad-breasted turkey—one of the 650 million turkeys in the U.S. bred for meat. Not only was she raised for meat, but she is also the product of selective breeding. She has white feathers because naturally brown feathers leave unappealing marks on the meat, and she has unnaturally large breasts because people enjoy eating them. If she hadn’t been rescued, she would have been slaughtered at six months old, the age when turkeys are heavy enough to be profitable.

If you open her gate in the morning, you will see a beautiful 2-year-old turkey trotting over to you. If you sit down on the grass, she will come right up to you and lie down. If you play some music—her favorite is Ed Sheeran—she will bop her head up and down. If you pick her up, she’ll fall fast asleep in your arms. Instead of being someone’s forgotten meal, she is now living her life and enjoying every minute.

Cliff is one of the more special animals I met this summer. He is a young male calf who arrived at Woodstock this July. Born into the dairy industry, he was only allowed to spend a couple of days with his mother before being stolen away from her. Because Cliff can’t produce milk, he is useless to dairy farms. One of three things happen to males born on a dairy farm: they are killed on the spot, raised for beef, or raised for veal. Cliff was put up for auction to be sold for veal, but rescuers stepped up and brought him to Woodstock. Cliff turned 20 weeks old in August, right around the age when he would have been slaughtered.

Every day since I’ve arrived at Woodstock, I take an hour to spend with Cliff, and he has slowly become one of my favorite animals—including humans. If you sit down next to him, he will come right up to you, lay down, and place his head on your lap. If you scratch his neck, he will eagerly lick your face.

Finally, Tim and Charles are two donkeys who came from a kill pen in the South. Kill pens take in donkeys and horses forfeited typically because of bankruptcy or sudden hardship on a farm. The kill pen holds these animals until they can be shipped for slaughter, usually to Mexico or Canada. Tim was bought by the animal sanctuary instead of being shipped away for slaughter. After a year at a sanctuary, he has learned to trust humans again after being abused at the kill pen. If you sit on the ground, he will place his head on your shoulder, yet his timidness in doing so reveals the trauma from his past.

Charles, on the other hand, was only a fetus when he was rescued. His mother was surrendered by a farm and ultimately sent to be slaughtered. When rescuers arrived, they quickly realized she was pregnant, and she was still able to deliver her baby, Charles, a few days before dying.

Charles’ favorite toy is a small stuffed shark, which he spends the entire day tossing around. Even though Charles never endured the kill pen, he has behavioral issues from losing his mother at a young age.

One thing I quickly realized when working with farm animals is that they are incredibly social, have their own personalities, and if they are afforded a long life, they will absolutely live it to the fullest.