Amazing Grace: Factory Farming Refugees Find Sanctuary
by Ardeth Baxter
You turn that sorrow into action, and for me it was just saving one.
Just saving one helped me cope. – Lorri Bauston, Farm Sanctuary
Factory farming is a brutal business, for the millions of animals who are imprisoned and then slaughtered as well as the workers who function as their jailers and killers. A recent undercover PETA video of a Kentucky Fried Chicken affiliated Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant showed employees “ripping birds’ beaks off, spray-painting their faces, twisting their heads off, spitting tobacco into their mouths and eyes, and breaking them in half” while they were still alive.” (PETA press release) This kind of behavior is not uncommon at factory farms, stockyards, and slaughterhouses. Ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, veal calves and cows have all been the victims of gratuitous human violence. Why? Because our supposedly animal-loving society looks upon farmed animals as nothing more than potential food, while to the rancher and farmer they are “economic units”. But researchers are discovering that the animals who end up on our dinner plates are, in fact, highly sentient (feeling) and even sapient (thinking) beings.
The oldest and largest of the farmed animal sanctuaries established in the U.S. to address the inhumanity of factory farming is Farm Sanctuary. Its mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and provide permanent refuge for rescued farmed animals, as well as promote animal protection legislation and public education. Gene and Lorri Bauston, who earned money for their endeavor by selling veggie dogs at Grateful Dead concerts, founded it in 1986. Farm Sanctuary’s first resident was Hilda, a downer (injured or sick) sheep rescued from a “deadpile” (a group of animals left to die because it’s unprofitable to treat or euthanize them).
A powerful new film by Tribe of Heart, “Peaceable Kingdom”, profiles Farm Sanctuary: why it does what it does, and how it has helped change people’s attitudes toward farmed animals, one person at a time.
Disturbing video footage from stockyards, animal auctions, factory farms and feedlots is interspersed with peaceful scenes of the sanctuary animals and interviews with volunteers and visitors. But the most powerful case against factory farming is offered by former farmers and ranchers Harold Brown, Howard Lyman (aka “The Mad Cowboy”), and Jim Mason, who wrote “Animal Factories”.
Harold talks about his childhood as a farm kid, his confusion about being taught it was OK to care about his dogs but not the farm animals, and how he learned to turn off his feelings in order to do his work. After curiosity attracted him to Farm Sanctuary and he “adopted” a calf named Snickers, he came to acknowledge what he already knew, that farmed animals are really not so different from humans in their capacity to think and feel. His personal turning point came after a year’s absence from Snickers, who immediately recognized and ran to him, pressing his head into Harold’s chest.
Howard Lyman, in his former life a successful factory farmer and cattle rancher who was taught “better living through chemistry” at Montana State University, points out the enormous quantities of antibiotics and pesticides that have to be used in order to keep disease down among the crowded animals. He talks about surviving a highly risky operation, finally coming to terms with his repugnance about his chosen career, and his decision to sell the business and become a farmed animal advocate, environmentalist, and ethical vegan.
Jim Mason relates a harrowing story of fainting as he watched a mass pig slaughter on his farm when he was about six years old, and having nightmares about it long afterward.
The animals also have their stories to relate. One of the residents of Farm Sanctuary is Frey, a buck-toothed goat rescued from a dark, filthy pen, permanently crippled because his hooves had never been trimmed. There’s Rosie, a former dairy cow, who, thanks to the miracle of genetic engineering, has an incurable case of mastitis (swollen udders) from her days as a perpetual milk machine. The sanctuary pigs can respond to commands, just like dogs, keep cool with mud baths, and love to be belly rubbed. And there are hundreds of chickens, among them egg layers rescued from Buckeye Egg Farm after a devastating tornado in Ohio destroyed warehouses packed with 500,000 trapped, injured, and imprisoned chickens (most of whom could not be saved, and were swept away along with the buildings by cranes brought in to clear the area). Despite their former unnatural life, “they never forget how to be a chicken”, Lorri comments, which includes regular dust baths, pecking the ground for bugs, and just being able to flap their wings.
Peaches Gillette, a black volunteer, compares factory farmed animals to human slaves, pointing out that just as human slavery was abolished in the U.S., so can farmed animal slavery. She notes that it will take “people pulling together” to declare “we’re not going to do this anymore, we’re not supporting it, and we are, in fact, boycotting this whole thing”. John Newton, a slave trader in the 18th century who experienced his own spiritual turning point in a storm at sea and wrote the words to “Amazing Grace”, which is performed in this film, would probably have agreed with her.
Farm Sanctuary works on a number of farm animal issues, including the suffering of downers, veal calves, and force fed “foie gras” geese, pig gestation crate confinement, and chicken battery cage cruelty. It has succeeded in obtaining cruelty convictions against the operators of stockyards, factory farms and slaughterhouses as well as helping get state laws passed banning inhumane factory farming practices.
If you’re interested in obtaining a DVD or VHS video of “Peaceable Kingdom”, write or Call Tribe of Heart, PO Box 149, Ithaca, NY 14851, 607-275-0806 or visit www.tribeofheart.org
Farm Sanctuary (East), PO Box 150, Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Phone: 607-583-2225, Fax: 607-583-2041
Farm Sanctuary (West), PO Box 1065, Orland, CA 95963
Phone: 530-865-4617, Fax: 530-865-4622
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.farmsanctuary.org
www.upc-online.org (United Poultry Concerns rescues and advocates for feathered fowl)
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, “The Pig Who Sang to the Moon”
Rosamund Young, “The Secret Life of Cows”
Karen Davis, “Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs”
Matthew Scully, “Dominion”
Ardeth Baxter is an animal rights advocate and ethical vegetarian and the guardian of four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content
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