Billions of animals are raised and slaughtered for food around the world each year, but a lucky few farmed animals are rescued by farm sanctuaries. A farm sanctuary is an organization whose mission is dedicated to the rescue of animals who have been bred and raised for the purpose of human consumption. These sanctuaries save animals who would otherwise spend short lives entangled in our food system, while also raising public awareness.
Once rescued, these animals can experience relative freedom. They are sometimes able to roam many acres of land, granted the ability to live out their lives peacefully while receiving the care they need.
For those who care for these animals, operating or working at a sanctuary can be rewarding, but difficult in many ways. Let’s take a look at what farm sanctuaries do, where you can find one, and how to best support their important work.
A Brief History of Farm Sanctuaries
Today, there are hundreds of sanctuaries devoted to the rescue of animals used in agriculture around the world. Their work is now considered by many to be central to the animal protection movement, serving both to rescue individual animals and raise awareness of the harms of factory farming.
Farm Sanctuary claims to be the first farmed animal sanctuary in the United States, founded in 1986 and now home to over 600 rescued residents at its California and New York locations.
The Mission of Farm Sanctuaries
Many farm sanctuaries have a mission focused on multiple areas of work, including:
- Rescuing and caring for farmed animals
- Educating the public and advocating for a vegan lifestyle that reduces support for animal agriculture
- Finding permanent adoptive homes with individuals or other organizations in the cases of animals who do not remain on site
- If possible, lobbying or campaigning to bring about legislative and policy change for animals
For example, Woodstock Farm Sanctuary describes its mission this way: “We rescue farmed animals and give them care and sanctuary, connect animals with people to advance veganism, and advocate for animal rights in alliance with other social justice movements.”
What Do Farm Sanctuaries Do for Animals?
Sanctuaries rescue and rehabilitate animals, many of whom are removed or surrendered from situations of abuse or neglect. In the case of farm sanctuaries, these organizations focus their rescue and advocacy efforts on animals used in agriculture — those who are raised for human consumption.
Is a Farm Sanctuary a Good Charity?
Farm sanctuaries fulfill an important role, rescuing animals who otherwise would most likely suffer in inhumane conditions before ultimately being slaughtered. Many of these organizations are reputable charities making a positive impact on the lives of animals.
That being said, in recent years, there has been a concerning rise in the number of “pseudo-sanctuaries” — businesses that exploit animals while soliciting donations under the guise of being a true sanctuary. While such companies often market wildlife interactions, it is wise to be aware that some farm animal sanctuaries may not be as they claim to be, either.
To find a good charity that rescues farmed animals, first, consult the list of organizations accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. There, you can search by charity name, type of animal and region. You can also look at the criteria published by the Federation, which states that true sanctuaries do not breed or trade animals, and offer only guided tours, among other standards.
When visiting a sanctuary, consider whether animals are provided housing or shelter and space that resembles their natural habitat, and if their social and enrichment needs are being met.
Notable Farm Animal Sanctuaries in the United States
Across the United States, there are unique animal sanctuaries varying in acreage, number of residents and their team of staff and volunteers. However, many are similar in their work to take in farmed animals in need of a home and raise public awareness.
Below are a few examples. Please note that not all are listed as accredited, and this information about the organizations is not exhaustive.
Grass Valley, California
Animal Place is a large sanctuary focused on both rescue and advocacy. This California farm sanctuary has 600 acres where cows, donkeys, turkeys, pigs and other animals live. Also onsite is the organization’s Museum of Animal Farming for public education.
New York is home to several other organizations, including Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties. Woodstock also runs a summer camp for teens interested in animal advocacy and other social justice efforts.
Watkins Glen, New York
Farm Sanctuary is another one of the nation’s largest farmed animal rescue organizations, and its Watkins Glen, NY location has 275 acres of land and more than 500 residents. Its other site is on 26 acres in Acton, California. Like some other sanctuaries, this group offers opportunities to stay in accommodations onsite or join guided tours.
Texas is a large state with many kinds of animal sanctuaries located within its borders.
One is the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas. Part of the Humane Society of the United States, this sanctuary boasts over 1,400 acres and is home to animals rescued from agriculture, as well as those removed from zoos, laboratories and more.
Austin Farm Sanctuary is home to many pigs, goats, cattle and other farmed animals, as well as dogs and cats. The organization states that it is working to “inspire change in how society views and treats” animals used in agriculture.
The Misfit Farm offers refuge to both livestock and companion animals surrendered or rescued from neglect and abuse, stating that “those who don’t belong, belong here.”
Once a farm raising cattle for beef, Rowdy Girl Sanctuary now hosts dozens of rescued animals, as well as a veganic garden where produce is grown. Rowdy Girl is located around 45 minutes from the Austin airport.
How to Volunteer in a Farm Sanctuary
Animal sanctuaries need a lot of help. Often home to hundreds of rescued residents, many farm sanctuaries welcome volunteers to assist in a variety of ways — from working directly with the animals in some way, to conducting cleaning and maintenance projects or administrative tasks.
Sometimes, animal advocates can even volunteer remotely from wherever they live. For example, Farm Sanctuary offers ways to volunteer in community advocacy and to help inspire regulatory change.
Search for a local sanctuary and the organization will most likely have a page on their website with information on how to apply to become a volunteer.
How to Start a Farm Animal Sanctuary
For many people, operating a sanctuary that offers refuge to farmed animals in need would be a dream come true — an opportunity to save a fortunate few from the immensely powerful industries within animal agriculture.
Before starting a sanctuary, there are many factors to take into consideration. Best Friends Animal Society recommends starting by visiting and volunteering at an existing sanctuary, and asking questions . Then one must consider how much land they are able to purchase, zoning requirements, how animals will be sheltered and who will be able to be on-site around the clock. Animals will also require a veterinarian on staff or nearby who can provide routine and emergency care ( remember that not every vet treats farmed animals).
Even once a sanctuary has become a registered nonprofit and met all legal requirements, donations may not comein right away. Having enough funding to get started and operate for a while is important; it is crucial not to become a hoarder by taking in more animals than one can safely and adequately care and provide for.
It is important to remember that sanctuaries require a vast amount of space (which in many areas may be very expensive on its own), trained staff and volunteers, regular veterinary care, food and water, utilities and many other costs. Rescued from abuse or neglect, and often suffering the impacts of selective breeding to maximize production, animals once raised for food need a lot of care. Sanctuary owners need to be able to provide frequentmedical treatment for animals as live out their lives at a sanctuary.
This type of work can be physically and emotionally grueling. Not everyone will be able to take on the task of running a sanctuary, even with the best of intentions.
The Bottom Line
Some individuals who want to help start their own animal rescues, and others volunteer their time and energy or offer their financial support — all of them are an important part of the world of farm sanctuaries.
To get involved, find a sanctuary nearby and explore the possibility of volunteering on-site or remotely. Alternatively, some sanctuaries may offer online campaign actions in which anyone can participate.
As always, Sentient Media’s Take Action page is continually updated with ways to make a difference for animals.
And remember, farm sanctuaries are almost always in need of donations. As nonprofits, they rely on generous donations from the public to continue to rescue and care for animals. Most offer ways to either make a one-time or recurring donation, or sponsor an animal resident of one’s choosing. Sponsoring an animal in someone’s name can make a heartwarming and unique gift – and one that keeps on giving life, quite literally.
This piece has been updated to correct the location of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary.
Jennifer is a writer and editor based near Washington, DC. Her background is in communications in the animal protection movement. She is also a contributing writer with Sentient Media.