Five animals’ lives have been saved thanks to a group of courageous Fullerton Union High Future Farmers of America students who made an unlikely decision: To let them live.

That was not always the plan. Students participating in Future Farmers of America (FFA) at Fullerton raise and care for animals on the schools’ adjacent farm to be auctioned off at the Orange County Fair- where they are mostly purchased to be slaughtered for food. Students learn that this is a natural part of the farming cycle; still, many grieve the loss of their animals and yearn for other options. Though the students technically “own” the animals, the program expects them to follow through with the plans they had agreed on to prepare them for the realities of farm life.

But a change of heart by one student leader who contacted Farm Sanctuary led to a chain reaction which resulted in two sheep and three goats being spared. Phry and Shawn sheep have joined our Southern California Shelter, while Pam, Kevin, and Bruce goats have a new home at Sage Mountain Sanctuary—a member of our Farm Animal Adoption Network.

While this is the largest group of students who have relinquished their animals to Farm Sanctuary at once, the decision is not unprecedented. In 2015, another Fullerton student named Bruno made waves upon leaving his high school’s FFA program and sending his beloved pig, Lola, to our shelter.

Many FFA participants discover that alternatives to slaughter exist too late. But the word is spreading; inspired by their classmates’ decisions, an increasing number of students are seeking other options.

As a condition for rescuing and caring for the animals they raised, we ask that students who wish to relinquish their animals terminate their involvement in FFA animal husbandry projects. It is important that rescue work be more than just a safety net and that we discourage students from repeatedly buying into these systems. This would only encourage the continuation of practices which commodify animals.

Fortunately, it is possible for students to have enriching experiences within organizations like FFA, without harming animals. Animal husbandry is just one of several tracts such programs offer; learning about plant-based agriculture, or developing alternative farming systems, for example, are additional possibilities.

The five Fullerton students are now approaching the world with a different outlook: Farm animals are sentient beings who deserve a life free from harm. Thanks to these students’ willingness to challenge tradition in order to follow their own hearts, Phry, Shawn, Pam, Kevin, and Bruce now have that chance.