There is never a dull moment when working at a farm sanctuary, especially if that farm sanctuary happens to be Farm Sanctuary, one of the largest farm animal rescue and animal rights organizations in the United States. Susie Coston, the national shelter direct for Farm Sanctuary, knows this to be true first hand.
Farm Sanctuary has three shelters across the United States and houses more than 1,100 animals between the Watkins Glen, Orland and Acton locations. While this means many legs, ears, and little noses to look after, to Coston it also means an opportunity to learn the story and personality of the animals to which they belong.
Helping to manage the care of so many animals is no easy task, but Coston tells OGP, “Seeing animals who arrive so terrified of people who then begin to trust, play and feel safe. Also seeing the personalities of the animal come out when they finally feel safe. It makes every minute of hard work worth it.”
Coston came to Farm Sanctuary after working at PIGS Farm Animal Sanctuary in West Virginia for over six years, Coston tells OGP, “The focus was— you guessed it— pigs.”
After hearing Gene Baur, the founder of Farm Santuary, speak at PIGS, Coston knew that Farm Sanctuary was the place for her.
“I loved the idea of not just rescuing animals, but also having educational tours, doing humane education and outreach, and advocating for them legally. The combination of the three made FS the place I wanted to work!”
And Coston has been overseeing all three Farm Sanctuary shelters ever since. Coston has a very unique gift for handling animals and has been deemed the “farm animal whisperer” of Farm Sanctuary, check out this video of Coston interacting with the many residents of the Watkins Glen sanctuary and you’ll understand precisely why she’s been given this title.
Coston makes caring for these animals seem so effortless that you may be surprised to know that running a farm animal sanctuary is actually a ton of work. I suppose that’s the mark of a true expert though, performing the most difficult of tasks with grace and ease.
Coston tells OGP on a daily basis, “There is a definite routine of giving meds, feeding, cleaning, etc. but there is always something going on. We often take in large rescues-we just took in 300 hens, so that of course throws off the daily routine a bit.”
Could you imagine having 300 more residents to care for on a moments notice? That’s no small order! But of course, Coston has an incredible team to help her along the way, “We have two caregivers a day on meds only- a morning and evening person- so the twice daily medications can be properly spread out. We also have a full time feeds person working daily and a person who deals with animals in our isolation areas (animals who are not on the main farm). So that is a total of four caregivers a day.”
In addition, “We have amazing interns who fill in gaps, doing projects and special feeds. We usually have two to four interns on a day as well. And then we have the farm assistants, who take care of barn cleaning, help with large animal rescues, transport of large animals to the vet, and all of the landscaping. We have two maintenance people as well.”
There is a lot to be done, but the staff works tirelessly, “to ensure every animal is seen as an individual and their care needs are met accordingly.”
Coston also helps other sanctuaries and organizations by answering medical questions and working on cruelty cases. She also continues to fill shifts on the farm when needed, “I feel like you have to keep your hands in the work. I try to spend hours each day with the animals at whichever farm I’m at the time.”
The animals that live at Farm Sanctuary came to be there as the result of some pretty terrible previous circumstances. On a monthly basis Farm Sanctuary receives between 100 to 1,000 requests for animals needing homes, speaking to the incredible demand for the safe haven the sanctuary provides. Farm Sanctuary works to find homes for all the animals they can’t bring on to the facility.
Coston tells OGP, “Many animals come from cases involving abuse and neglect and are removed by law enforcement. Others, our larger cases, are when natural disasters strike large industrial farms and thousands of animals are left to suffer or seen only as trash to be cleaned up.”
Coston aided in the rescue of over 80 pigs from Iowa after a devastating flood whipped out farm facilities leaving animals stranded in the water. It was here that Coston met Rose.
“I have a million stories, but one that I feel is the most powerful and shows so much of the problem with our current farming system and the true sentience of the beings in it occurred during the Iowa floods with a pig we named Rose.”
Once the flood waters receded, Farm Sanctuary rescuers were able to access a levee where they found Rose. Rose was one of only 20 gestation sows that had survived the floods and she was found next to her babies trying to revive them. She had given birth prematurely due to the stress of the floods and was unable to produce milk to feed them because she herself was severely emaciated.
Coston explains, “We had to move her babies (who were no longer alive) into the trailer in order to get Rose to follow us so we could take her to safety… When Rose arrived she was exhausted and traumatized and refused to eat. She would dump her food and rub her nose over and over in the bowl just like she had been doing on the levee when trying to get her babies up. We had to feed her with a syringe to keep her alive.”
Coston would let Rose walk with her while she was doing rounds to treat other animals and one day Rose met Nikki, another gestation sow who had a litter of babies. Rose loved to watch the babies and so she was moved into a pen with Nikki and the little ones and was allowed to co-parent the babies, with this she finally began to eat on her own again.
When the piglets began to grow up, one of the male piglets kicked a smaller female, Rory out of the herd. Rose soon adopted little Rory as her own, “After a few weeks we moved Rose and Rory together and the pair thrived. Seeing Rose happy, with a baby of her own and enjoying life, was so amazing after knowing all the pain she went through.”
Coston tells OGP, “Seeing Rose and other gestation sows with their babies has allowed us to see how amazing they are at motherhood. These are beings who feel sadness, pain, sorry, but also love and happiness. Rose is just one of the thousands of individuals we have rescued and just one example of the sentience of these incredible animals.”
These animals are more than disposable commodities as the industrial agriculture industry would have us believe, “Although the numbers are overwhelming- over 9 billion farm animals are killed each year- the sad truth is that each is an individual and the only difference between the animals on our shelters and the animals in the freezers at grocery stores across the country is that these chosen few are lucky. Any animal pulled from any farm in the world is an individual, but on a farm of thousands, they are never seen that way. ”
Farm Sanctuary is working to change this perception by showing people who these animals are. Coston explains, ” [the animals at Farm Sanctuary] represent the 9 billion plus animals (not counting sea beings) who die each year for food that is not necessary for human survival. I want everyone to stop and truly meet these individuals, hear their stories, and make a decision with an open mind. Our eating habits are steeped in tradition, but like so many outdated ideas, this is a tradition that needs to be broken.”
Coston tells OGP that despite these staggering figures, there is something that everyone can do to help out, “Volunteering is a great way to get involved. We have an amazing intern program, which is a great way to help…You could also volunteer during a rescue, volunteer to table at an event, etc. And, of course, we need donations.”
By and large the easiest method to help save farm animals is to change your own diet, “Reducing the amount of meat eaten is a great start. By doing so, you will save animals, help save our environment and improve your health. Living compassionately without harming these amazing beings should be the end goal.”
Lead image source: Jo-Anne McArthur