Former Farm Sanctuary Interns Share Their Stories
From Philosophy into Practice: My Experience as an Intern at Farm Sanctuary This Summer
by Nandita Shah
Some of you may know and many may not: I am in the process of changing my career. Not because I do not love homeopathy (I do), but it is through homeopathy that I have learned that there is something beyond that I would like to be involved with. Better than to cure disease is to teach people how they can prevent it in the first place. This is the reason for my change.
In the near future, I plan to start a sanctuary near Mumbai to promote animal and environmental protection and healthy living. I have learned that all three of them go hand-in-hand. In order to prepare myself for this, I just completed a month-long internship at Farm Sanctuary in Upstate New York. I would like to share these experiences with all of you. If you are interested, you can read more about this place at farmsanctuary.org.
A website about my project will be online very soon.
Farm Sanctuary has a property of 175 acres near Watkins Glen. They have about 500 farm animals, which have been rescued in cruelty cases all over the U.S. It was a truly amazing experience to spend time with these animals and all the wonderful people at Farm Sanctuary.
We were seven interns sharing a house. All of us were vegan (not eating any animal products, including eggs and dairy), and all of us felt deeply about the work we were doing. This created a special bond between us. I’ve lived alone for years and so, I must admit, I had apprehensions not just about sharing a house but also sharing a bedroom with two other people for a month. I was pleasantly surprised; it was a great experience! These young people were lively, enthusiastic, and, most important of all, good cooks, eating all the time. They taught me that you could make wonderful French toast, pancakes, cakes, pies, and cookies while strictly adhering to vegan standards. I went twice to eat at restaurants in Watkins Glen, but, each time, I had to say that the food was, by far, better at home.
At the farm, we had chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and rabbits. All the animals had their own names, and, as we worked there, we saw that they had individual personalities. I never learned the names of all the chickens (I suspect there were at least 50-60 of them at the farm), but the caretakers could recognize each one and could often tell you something about their histories and personalities, too. Many of them had been rescued from a large Ohio factory farm, which was hit by a tornado. As the buildings collapsed, millions of birds locked in their cages were left to die without access to food and water. Farm Sanctuary representatives went there and rescued as many as they could by prying open the cages.
My personal favorite was a rooster named Mayfly. He came there as the result of a classroom experiment where eggs were incubated and broken open, one each day, to show the children how the chick develops in the egg. At one point, the teacher could not bring herself to kill anymore chick embryos and allowed the last egg to hatch. Mayfly was this lucky chick. Whenever I would pass his barn, I’d call his name and he would come running and start talking. I could never resist picking him up and giving him a hug — and he loved that!
Unfortunately, most chickens are not so lucky. What many of us do not know is that there are two types of chickens that are being raised: those for meat and those for eggs. The ones raised for meat are bred in a way that they grow quickly and weigh a lot. They will typically grow from chick to slaughter size in just six weeks, twice as fast as normal. They are so heavy that they find it difficult to support their own weight. If allowed to live, they can be running and suddenly die of a heart attack because they are so overweight.
With the egg-laying variety, all the male chicks are sorted and discarded like trash. Since male chicks don’t lay eggs, why waste food and space on them? Egg-laying females are kept in wire cages 20 inches wide, five to a cage, with no place to stretch their wings or move or even walk since there is just wire at the bottom. This crowded situation makes them aggressive. To prevent them from pecking each other, their beaks are cut off without any anesthesia soon after birth. The beak is a very sensitive part and many die as a result of this cruel procedure, but this is considered as a natural loss by the industry. The claws on their feet are often cut off for the same reason — and their feet — and are, therefore, often deformed. They are also kept in the dark for most of their lives to reduce the aggression and to make them lay more eggs. These poor chickens have been bred to lay about 250 eggs a year (normal would be 20-30). As a result of this, they lose calcium and their bones become brittle. They do not live long. When their production decreases, in about a year, they are taken to slaughter and used as chicken soup or pot pies where their depleted bodies are ground so that their bruises go unnoticed.
The turkeys, too, are bred to grow to many times the size of a wild turkey and have difficulties with walking because they are so breast-heavy. They are bred to have only white feathers because the dark feathers leave spots on their skin, which consumers don’t like.
Someone had rescued a box of baby turkeys and left them at Farm Sanctuary’s doorstep. We watched these birds grow and could observe the rapidity of their growth during our short stay. Unfortunately, few people ever get the chance to meet turkeys and learn what wonderful pets they can make.
Like most people, I was surprised at the size of the pigs at the farm. The pigs grow to weigh 600-800 lbs. I have never seen pigs this size in India, but, in the West, they are bred to grow bigger and faster. They are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs. Once again, these poor animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer arthritis and deformities in the limbs. They spend a lot of time lying in the hay. They love to pick up the hay and make their own beds. They never excrete in their sleeping area; they are extremely clean and friendly and have the IQ of a six-year-old child. They know their names and have their own best friends who they hang out with regularly. We had fun feeding the pigs treats — carrots, apples, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They would grunt in gratitude. Pigs need to roll in mud because they do not perspire and, so, it is their only way to cool off. One day, when it was really hot, we gave the pigs the option of showers. The only hitch was that they had to walk to the hose. Most of them didn’t bother to get up, but those who did had a ball!
Unfortunately, pigs, too, are abused in factory farms where sows are kept in gestation crates all their lives with no room to move. They are just machines producing piglets. They are allowed to nurse their piglets while still confined for two weeks, after which the piglets are torn from them to be fattened for slaughter. The sows are immediately impregnated to begin another four-month cycle. The sad thing is that normally these animals form strong bonds with their young for two years, but they are deprived of this natural bond by the industry. Many of these pigs raised in this captivity go crazy, but, as long as they produce piglets, this goes ignored. When their bodies are worn out — and it doesn’t take long — they, too, are dragged to slaughter, often too weak even to walk. If allowed to live out their life, these animals can live up to 20 years.
The sheep at the farm were timid creatures. They always preferred to be in a group. When we entered the barn, they would run out in the field, although they knew that we came to clean their barn every day. In nature, sheep shed their wool seasonally, but these sheep have been modified to produce so much wool that they cannot shed it themselves and must be sheared. This abundance of wool causes them to have folds in the skin, which are prone to abscesses, which, if left unchecked, can lead to death.
The goats, on the other hand, were a friendly lot — they would come up and let you pet them and really enjoyed it. My favorite was Simon, a friendly potbellied pygmy goat who loved to eat. Another favorite was Juniper, who was rescued in winter from a barn where he was left to die without food and warmth. Due to frostbite, he lost a limb, but he is now bravely walking with the help of his prosthesis.
There is not a big market for sheep and goats in the U.S., so most of them are shipped to the Middle East or other countries, though some are killed locally in Halal markets.
The ducks and geese were a crazy lot — loud and busy, but beautiful. Geese mate for life and, so, there were all kinds of love stories in their barns. Samson and Delilah were an inseparable pair of geese. Samson would fight with any goose that came close to Delilah, so they had to be separated and had to have a private pool instead of the big pond to prevent too much drama. Another famous pair was a duck that was in love with a goose. They, too, had to be given their own private place.
These birds are sometimes raised to produce foie gras, which literally means “enlarged liver” in French. They are force-fed two to three times their body weights daily by placing a tube in their stomachs, which causes their livers to enlarge.
By far, the highlight of the internship for me was Harold, a baby Jersey calf. He was rescued from a stockyard when he was just two days old by one of the Farm Sanctuary staff at the beginning of my second week there. He was lying, covered in his diarrhea, and was being given electric shocks to see if he could stand. He was a “downer” — a term used for those animals that cannot stand up. Since the BSE scare, these animals are exempt from being used for meat. He was left to die a slow death but was fortunately rescued. He was thin and unwell when he came and was kept in quarantine. I felt so sorry for him that I would sit in his room with him in my free time, just to give him company and talk to him. With the help of medicine and a lot of love, he recovered and became a beautiful and lively young calf. I had the luck of spending a lot of time with him for his first three weeks, and it was fascinating to see his little milestones — his first soft moo, his first attempt at eating grain, his first run, and his first introduction to the other calves who accepted him so lovingly even though he was a bit timid. I was happy to see him run with joy when he was finally united with the other calves on the last day of my stay. I would feed him with a bottle, and he would always crave more — he could never have enough! I still miss Harold a lot. He looked like a little deer. He would often look out for me and come running as I approached the barn. When I would leave, he would keep staring quietly at me as if to say, “Can’t you stay?”
These little calves are the byproducts of the milk industry. Dairy cows are repeatedly impregnated since they produce milk for only their young (and not continuously, as many people believe). They are bred to produce 10 times the normal amount of milk — even so, male calves are deprived of any milk since they are useless to the industry. Dairy cows are kept in small spaces in barns most of their lives since it is more productive to milk them without letting them move around and having to usher them back to the barn all the time. Most cows suffer mastitis due to their unusually large udders, and the average glass of milk contains seven drops of pus! Antibiotics are a part of the feed of these cows to prevent a fulminating infection, and this is also excreted in their milk, along with large quantities of dioxins, since there is no regulation on pesticides for animal feed. Got milk?
The male calves are sold often on the very day they are born to the veal industry, where they are confined in crates so that their muscles do not develop and fed an iron-deficient feed for six weeks in order to produce tender white meat known as veal.
In India, where veal is not so popular, these calves are torn from their mothers and tied outside the dairies to starve to death. This slow, painful death takes about seven days.
We were taken to a stockyard where we saw hundreds of newborn calves being sold. We were forbidden to take any photos there. It would not be a good advertisement for the industry. Most places would not allow visitors. It was heartbreaking to think that these helpless babies didn’t have even one day to spend with their mothers. The mother cows suffer from sadness, too, and can often be heard crying for days. One of the rescued cows at Farm Sanctuary, who gave birth there, rejected her calf, Robin, when she was born. We thought that it was probably because she had been deprived of so many calves that she didn’t want to get attached. In a span of a week, once she saw that her calf was not taken away from her, she began to care for her in the most loving way.
So, what about the cows that we see in the fields? These are beef cattle. If anyone saw the dairy cattle, with the enlarged and swollen udders, they would think twice about the milk they drink, but these animals are safely out of view. As with chicken, there are cows that are bred for milk and cows bred for beef. The beef cows are bred to grow extra fast and fat for slaughter. They are fed various hormones and growth enhancers to quicken the process. Their last feed before they are sent to slaughter is a different feed called finishing feed. It contains cement dust and such, to increase their weight, as they will not have to digest it anyway. Those extra pounds give the broker a few dollars more as these animals are sold by the pound!
I know I haven’t written about the rabbits; I’ll leave it to you to go there and find out more about them.
Most of the days we interns had to clean the barns in Farm Sanctuary, and this was great because we had direct contact with the animals and got to know them. Some days, we worked in the administration office. One of our assignments there was data entry of slaughterhouse records so that Farm Sanctuary could assess them. It was appalling to see the high percentage of animals with terrible diseases, ranging from mastitis to cancer, that were used as food.
How does all this affect the environment and our health? I’ll be brief and explain a few things. First of all, 12-16 lbs of grain (that humans could eat) give only one pound of meat on average. Forests are cleared to make way for grazing grounds, sending other species to extinction. So, you can save the wildlife habitat, too, by being vegan. Animals need a lot of water for their care and produce large quantities of excreta. In fact, many factory farm businesses in the U.S. are quick money-making operations. Owners know they cannot be in the business for long, because the manure accumulates and the neighbors complain about the smell. High levels of gases in the environment cause respiratory diseases. One investigator from Farm Sanctuary took photos of deep pools of excreta at an abandoned farm. He noticed cattle skeletons in the manure. He suspected that the cows were left to die in their own manure when the owners had made their money and fled to a tax-free zone. Factory farming causes pollution of water, land, and air, too, because of the large quantities of methane gas produced. Slaughterhouses add to the pollution of water used to clean out the streams of blood and other visceral parts.
How does all this affect our health? The healthiest diet for any species is what nature intended for them. From our anatomy and physiology, it is clear that human beings are predominantly herbivorous. We have caused many diseases for ourselves through wrong eating. We are the only species in the world that consumes the milk of another species, (besides our pets). Milk is meant for the young of mammals. After infancy, milk is not required. In fact, there is a lot of medical evidence to prove that milk causes many diseases. You can read more about this at www.notmilk.com.
It is true that man is an omnivore, but it is also true that he is predominantly herbivorous. We have more molars than canines; we have long intestines, like herbivores, as opposed to the short intestines of carnivores. Humans gulp water like other herbivores. Carnivores lap water. The fact is that we need less protein than is commonly thought. Human milk contains far less protein than cow’s milk because our rate of growth is much slower. Cows reach full size in a year, humans in 18 years. In fact, it is excess protein in the diet, which often causes disease. For more on this subject, I’ll refer you to several books:
- Diet for a New America by John Robbins
- The Food Revolution by John Robbins
- Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond
- Natural Hygiene: The Pristine Way of Life by Herbert Shelton
There is another interesting book — Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, which is a general interest book on food culture in the U.S.
I left Farm Sanctuary with more enthusiasm than ever to start my own sanctuary in India. Conditions for farm animals in India are a little different. The situation with the chickens is, however, very similar, and rural India is now dotted with “poultries” — factory farms for chicken. Most of our other animals are not so genetically modified as in the U.S., but they face other forms of abuse. Many cattle, goats, and pigs are left to fend for themselves for food, and often end up eating garbage and plastic bags on the street.
Living in Auroville has been an eye-opener for me, because it has exposed me to rural India. Most animals are slaughtered in front of each other — no stunning. Many animals are tied outside in the hot sun for hours without water. Bullocks and horses often collapse of exhaustion carrying their loads on hot summer days without food and water. And baby male calves are left to die of starvation. Their carcasses are picked up and used by the Kora Kendra to be used as ahimsic leather. Do we really need this harvest of shame? Is our pain any more significant than the pain of other species?
Some vegetarians who would like to go vegan worry about where they would get their protein and calcium. Soy is one answer, but the truth is that we do not need as much protein and calcium as you may think. Every single cell contains protein and calcium; some plants have more than others. Cows who produce protein- and calcium-rich milk get these from grass, don’t they? In fact, all Asian countries, besides the Indian subcontinent, traditionally never had a dairy industry nor did they use milk. Even Sri Lanka, our neighbor, does not have a history of a dairy industry. For centuries, children were brought up in these countries on a no-milk diet.
I have to say that I am impressed by my friends at Farm Sanctuary and the staff there who are strict vegans, having given up flesh and dairy for the sake of the animals. Most vegetarians in India, including Jains, would have difficulty to give up dairy despite ahimsic ideals. My goal is to change this trend with my new centre, where I hope to have a gourmet vegan restaurant.
There is a lot more I would like to write, because my internship at Farm Sanctuary was the highlight of this year for me, but I will stop for now. I hope to have my website for the sanctuary up soon, and start a newsletter. If anyone is interested in working with me in any way (you may be a good writer, a website designer, a fundraiser, or a veterinarian — it doesn’t matter), I would welcome the help. It will be hard but exciting, and I can send you more details of the plans. If you know someone who is interested, I would be happy if you could put me in touch with them. Anyone who knows any donors: We will be registered soon and we will have income tax exemption. Please pass this on to anyone who you think may be interested. Thanks a lot, and I would be happy to hear your comments.