Comforts for creatures

Orland-based farm celebrates the lives of ‘ordinary’ animals

Many out-of-towners, such as 7-year-old Oceano resident Gianna McCardell, take part in Farm Sanctuary’s annual Thanksgiving celebration.

Many out-of-towners, such as 7-year-old Oceano resident Gianna McCardell, take part in Farm Sanctuary’s annual Thanksgiving celebration.

Photo By jen donnell

Friends of the farm:
Anyone interested helping out at Farm Sanctuary is encouraged to join in a Volunteer Work Party—the second Saturday of every month from April through November. For more info, visit Farm Sanctuary.

Farm Sanctuary, California Shelter

19080 Newville Rd.
Orland, CA 95963

(530) 865-4617

A Thanksgiving feast of cranberry-filled squash and heaping plates of pumpkin glistened in the afternoon sun. Table settings included bouquets of silk flowers but no silverware, because the guests of honor simply used their beaks to dig into the meal.

After all, at Farm Sanctuary in Orland, this festivity is for the turkeys, which are free to be themselves, no matter how messy.

The sanctuary—home to hundreds of farm animals—has been hosting its annual Celebration for the Turkeys fundraiser since 1986 as a way to observe the birds rather than eat them.

“These turkeys are all so unique and are very distinct,” said Leanne Cronquist, the shelter director. “We want to honor that, and hopefully show people that Thanksgiving isn’t just about what’s on the table.”

During the festivities, visitors were invited to get up close and personal not just with the turkeys, but also with the rest of the animals, including pigs, goats, cows and hundreds of sheep. Participants were encouraged to brush the goats and cows, mingle with the turkeys and give the napping pigs a belly rub. The idea is for people to connect with the barnyard animals in a way similar to the bonds typically associated with dogs, cats and other conventional pets.

“We want people to extend the love and respect they feel for their companion animals and realize that these animals have the same requirements in terms of care, and react the same way to love and attention,” Cronquist said. “And hopefully, people will make a connection with them, and consider making more compassionate choices.”

Gene Baur, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary in Orland and Watkins Glen, N.Y., said the celebration is about putting the people and animals together to have a positive experience with each other. Standing among the goats on a grassy hill overlooking the expansive property, he observed visitors getting friendly with the creatures.

“Most people are compassionate,” he said. “We hope that this experience will help people start to make choices consistent with their own values.”

Baur, author of Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, said the goal of the sanctuary is to give the animals the best lives possible and to change their perceptions of humans. That’s because most of the creatures were rescued from inhumane conditions, including factory farms.

During the celebration, sanctuary staff members did not aggressively push their ideas onto guests. Participants didn’t find photos or videos of severely abused and neglected animals, for example, but the evidence of past mistreatment was obvious. Turkeys with mangled beaks (cut off so they cannot peck each other) and pigs with notches clipped out of their ears (a technique farms use to identify them) roamed in large, clean enclosures with ample shelter.

One of the animals, a chicken named Kiev, had little left of her beak but had clearly learned to trust humans again since living at the sanctuary. Ashley Curtis, an employee of the sanctuary, enjoys spending time with the hen, a rescue from a factory farm.

Cradled in Curtis’ arms, Kiev relaxed as she was given a gentle scratch underneath her wings.

“They just make you forget about all your problems and have taught me so much about myself,” Curtis said of the farm’s feathered friends. “Turkeys appreciate the sun and the dirt beneath their feet—everything we take for granted.”

When it’s time for the feast, the eager turkeys were presented with generous helpings of pumpkin and cranberries. The birds dug in, diving face-first into their elegantly prepared dishes. Neither picky nor modest eaters, the turkeys splattered anything or anyone nearby with pumpkin. After the birds got their fill, visitors were invited to a feast of their own: a delicious vegan meal by candlelight and a chance to interact with fellow animal advocates and share stories.

Many of the participants came from out of town. Keaven Van Lom, for example, drove all the way from her home in Lake Tahoe for the second straight year. Van Lom said she works very hard to live her life in a cruelty-free manner and for her the celebration is an emotionally charged affair.

“This event shows me that what I do really matters and sustains me for the year,” she said.