Farm Sanctuaries & Volunteerism

It’s hard not to be a romantic when imagining the American farm-scape; idyllic green pastures filled with calmly grazing livestock and bright red barns dotting the rolling hills. The sad reality, however, is our farm industry departed from this picturesque nature decades ago and is now dominated by machines and crowded warehouses of cages. “Factory farming” has overwhelmed the industry because it is a cheaper and quicker method of creating a larger and more productive yield of food.

As a response to the moral dilemma created by factory farming, animal lovers and activists have developed sanctuaries for the underrepresented and mistreated livestock of who for various reasons, escape the system. Farm sanctuaries are farm animal rescue and protection sites that advocate for the rights of the animals while also educating the public about the issues that encompass factory farms. Farm sanctuaries are comprised of a wide variety of domestic livestock, some rescued, and others born and raised there.

One of the more notable examples of these in the U.S. is Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 to raise awareness for the mistreatment of domestic livestock and to protect their interests. Since then, it has evolved into the largest farm animal rescue and advocacy organization and continues to fight for the rights of animals through animal rescue, legislative lobbying and activism, and general public education. Farm Sanctuary advocates for vegan, cruelty-free lifestyles and works from two primary sanctuaries, located in Watkins Glen, New York and Los Angeles, California.

Each of the sanctuaries houses hundreds of rehomed animals being cared for as living creatures by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers. Additionally, the sanctuaries offer tours, visitor accommodations, and events that encourage visitor engagement and a chance to learn about the overall mission and values of Farm Sanctuary. Day trips are available at all three shelters that show visitors around the farm, share stories of the animals, and provide tools for continuing the journey to living a cruelty-free lifestyle.  The New York site also offers accommodations on site; these adorable cabins and tiny homes give guests an opportunity to truly live with the animals. Cabins come with all the comforts of home including Wifi, television, and a kitchenette, and rental cost is about $160 per night and includes a sanctuary tour and vegan breakfast in the morning.

While Farm Sanctuary is an established shelter for domestic livestock, not all farm sanctuaries are necessarily the same. Woodstock Sanctuary in High Falls, New York was founded in 2004 after a couple rescued a few chickens from a factory farm and saw a need to provide more support for these animals. Through fundraising efforts associated with their wedding, the couple was able to turn an old hay field into a fully functioning animal sanctuary, home to over 340 rescued farm animals.

The majority of the animals at Woodstock have been rescued from neglected farms or factory farms; the focus of the shelter is to both rehabilitate these animals and educate visitors about the realities of factory farming. Woodstock is open on weekends to visitors and, like Farm Sanctuary, offers educational tours focusing on the animals and their histories. The sanctuary also shares the ways in which the animal-rights movement fits within other social justice movements and offers direction in how to behave as a socially conscious advocate.

As an animal lover, there are many ways to become involved in advocacy on behalf of domestic livestock. Visiting and volunteering at farm sanctuaries is an awesome experience because it gives you an opportunity to contribute directly to animal welfare and be around animals, while also learning how to best advocate for the cause. There are varying levels of volunteering to which visitors can commit according to individual ability, time constraints, and other personal restrictions.  For example, one position is offered to those as young as 12 years old and includes cleaning and grounds maintenance that will help the farm function as a whole. The opportunity is one time, for six hours, and allows visitors a chance to contribute directly to the wellbeing of the sanctuary and the animals it helps. No experience is necessary and while the work is not always physically easy or particularly interesting, Farm Sanctuary ensures that its volunteer visitors understand the importance of their contributions to the work of the shelter. In order to volunteer, visitors must first complete and submit an application to Farm Sanctuary; once approved, they must attend a one-time seminar before the first volunteer opportunity. Farm Sanctuary also offers long-term volunteer positions for those who are able to commit to traveling to the shelter at least once a week for at least three months; while this is a much greater commitment, it offers visitors an opportunity to truly engage in the advocacy works of the sanctuary.

The volunteer process of Woodstock is much simpler, requiring only a completed form before visitors are allowed to volunteer for at least three hours at the sanctuary. Volunteers are tasked primarily with mucking stalls and pasture cleaning, and while these tasks are admittedly not the most glamorous, the value they provide for the sanctuary and animal residents is priceless. Woodstock stresses the significance of visitor action, no matter how small, and equips volunteers with tools to continue action further within their communities.

Farm sanctuaries are truly remarkable places in both their mission and execution. For an animal lover, they are a must in your journey to understanding and effectively advocating for these animals and the opportunities they provide.. Do a search for sanctuaries near you and learn ways you can volunteer with your local shelter.

Sources: Farm Animal Sanctuary Directory, Farm Sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary