Ever since urban farming became popular, there’s been a boom in the number of abandoned animals. The idea of keeping chickens, turkeys, or goats in a tiny backyard is often more appealing in theory than in practice. Cute piglets and rabbits become larger, demanding creatures, and many people don’t know what to do with these animals once the novelty of caring for them has worn off. Roosters are sometimes sold accidentally as hens (if they haven’t been used for meat), which is problematic, since they’re banned by many cities.
The lucky ones get sent to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, located in the Catskill Mountains, three hours north of New York City. It’s an animal orphanage, where these abandoned farm animals can go to live out the rest of their days in peace and comfort. Director Jenny Brown, described as a “militant vegan” in this article from narratively, says, “We’re up to our eyebrows in chickens. We’ve seen more chickens come through here than I can count.” The Sanctuary has had to build another barn just to accommodate former backyard and slaughterhouse chickens.
The Sanctuary accepts animal orphans and refugees from more than just urban farms – calves that have escaped slaughterhouses, goats that didn’t get sacrificed, animals who were cared for incorrectly at petting zoos, shy former lab rabbits, big-breasted hen bred for slaughter, and a barn full of sheep. The farm’s mission statement is inclusive and welcoming:
“The Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is driven by the simple philosophy that kindness and respect to animals is our duty and that all the creatures that share this earth are here with us and not for us. Farm animals are feeling individuals who deserve to be treated with compassion.”
The Sanctuary also strives to educate people about the horrors of factory farming and how most animals are raised under awful circumstances to be eaten. “Those childhood images of happy animals living on sunny, idyllic farms couldn’t be further from reality,” its website reads. Ironically, many of the enthusiastic urbanites who launch backyard farming projects do so in reaction to the same. They want to escape the factory farming cycle, and so buy chickens that can provide fresh, local, and traceable eggs. Unfortunately, it’s a bigger job than many anticipate.
Are we asking too much of our cities, to also make room for farm animals? I don’t think so. Urban farming is still a great concept, in my opinion, but it’s important for people to know what they’re getting into. Perhaps cities could offer mandatory workshops run by farmers to explain what’s involved, or require residents to write a knowledge test before buying backyard animals. One clever idea is “Rent-the-Chicken,” which TreeHugger covered in September; it allows people to experiment without committing. When things do go awry, however, it’s good to know that places like Woodstock Sanctuary do exist.