Most farm animals never get to know their families. In today’s animal agricultural systems, farmers instead profit on keeping them apart. They take calves like Dixon away from their mothers in order to sell the milk that was made for them. Other animals, like Grace goat, lose their babies to slaughter and eventually face the same fate themselves. But families like “the Bakersfield Four”—Kevin, Katie, Josie, and Maple—are an anomaly. Instead of facing separation and slaughter, they came to Farm Sanctuary together … and they’ll remain that way for the rest of their lives.

Kevin and Katie began their lives at a breeding facility raising lambs for meat—operations that thrive on tearing families apart. To generate profit, farmers continuously breed their sheep and sell the resulting lambs to slaughter.

Hair sheep like Kevin (a Barbados Black Belly) and Katie (a Katahdin) were prime candidates for this industry. Unlike their wooly brethren, they don’t typically require shearing, as they’ll shed their coats naturally. Farmers favor these breeds for meat, so that they don’t have to spend the time or money to remove the wool before sending them to slaughter.

While sheep’s meat—“lamb” when babies and “mutton” as adults—is not the top source of “red meat” in this country, consumption is on the rise worldwide. In 2016, more than 550 million sheep lost their lives to the meat industry—making them the third largest group of land animals slaughtered, after chickens and pigs. Kevin and Katie’s “owners” hoped to spare them from this fate, so they purchased the pair from breeders to keep as pets. Despite their good intentions, though, they lacked the knowledge and resources needed to give their sheep the lives they deserved.

First, we advise against purchasing farm animals for the sake of rescue; this supports those who carry out abuse, and perpetuates the mistreatment of individuals like them. Instead, we take in animals who are freely relinquished to our care. In this way, we can help farm animals without also helping those who hurt them. With so many in need, we unfortunately can’t save them all; but we are able to promise the individuals we take in—and those whom we place through our Farm Animal Adoption Network (FAAN)—that they will receive the care and love they deserve, for life.

The quartet’s guardians contacted Farm Sanctuary because they were moving, and couldn’t take their sheep with them. Often, people in their situation opt to send their animals to slaughter; we were glad that they chose a different path, and agreed to take them in. When we met the sheep, however, we noticed that something was very wrong—and what we had originally thought of as a guardian surrender quickly morphed into a starvation case.

The sheep were extremely thin and malnourished, with Body Condition Scores (BCS) ranging from one to 1.5. The BCS test rates animals on a scale of one through five, with one signifying emaciation and five being extremely obese. Katie, who had just given birth to twins, was so thin that she couldn’t feed her babies, let alone herself. In fact, these animals were so hungry that they were eating the wool off of each other’s backs. Following routine vaccinations and bloodwork, we also discovered the family had Giardia and required isolation until that passed through.

We also had Kevin neutered—standard routine for incoming males—as we don’t support breeding; doing so would take up the limited space we have to rescue other farm animals from situations like theirs. Kevin healed well, with his family by his side.

The “Bakersfield Four” have been settling in nicely, and are now integrated with the rest of the flock. The family is still shy, but they’re coming around. “They haven’t had much interaction with humans, so they are still looking to Mom and Dad to let them know it’s okay to approach us,” says West Coast Shelter Manager Jessica Due. “Now, they know that when we come in we are often bringing more food, or treats, or simply wanting to sit with them and show them love—and that we mean no harm to them or their children. Everyone is [now] coming up and not so frightened.” We’re glad the twins also have some playmates their own age—including newcomers Max, Shawn, and Phry, whom Katie has also taken under her wing.

This quartet now has an extended family including sheep, goats, caregiving staff, and loving friends like you, who make our rescue, education, and advocacy work possible. Thank you for being part of the Farm Sanctuary family. With your support, we can keep families like these together and help more farm animals find the love, care, and respect that they deserve for the rest of their lives.