We arrived at the Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement (FARRM) in rural Alberta a few hours before sunset but sunless sky makes it feel much later than it is. It’s cold, wet and raining here and we savour the warmth of the van before stepping outside and into our rubber boots.
Trinket and Fiona run over excitedly to say hello like the young kids that they are. We see they are both missing parts of their hind legs, but they don’t seem to notice.
Trinket, who wears prosthetics, nuzzles up against Melissa, one of FARRM’s owners, and tips forward like a see-saw; her upper body careen forward as her cute little goat bum floats up and hind legs lift off the ground as she balances on her front legs. She was so young when the frostbite had taken her back legs, that she spent the first half of her life walking only on her front legs.
Today, she’s adorably trying to figure out how to use her new custom-made prosthetics that recently arrived from the United States, thanks to Melissa and some generous FARRM supporters.
Like Trinket, Fiona’s back legs were also severely frostbitten when she arrived tat FARRM. Unlike Trinket’s complete “natural” amputation, only the top layers of Fiona’s skin had fallen off, requiring a surgical amputation. Though the 7-month old goats were suffering similar fates in different situations hundreds of kilometres away from one another, they arrived at FARRM a few days apart and have been inseparable ever since.
Daisy, an older goat who has lived at FARRM for the last two years, strolls over from the pile of fruit she was snacking on.
She walks with a lean and a head tilt and we learn that she is completely blind, so she relies on sound to find her way around. Daisy came from a working farm, where they breed and sell goats for milk and meat. She was taken from her mother at birth (like the dairy cow industry, goats are forcibly impregnated then their kids are taken away so the mothers can be milked). Daisy, newly born, was left alone in the in the field and then attacked by crows who ate both her eyes and most of her tongue. By the time she was surrendered at FARRM, she was badly infected and brain damaged.
Merlin the sheep follows closely behind; the two are bonded in their blindness.
Merlin was born blind and the farmer had enough mercy for him not to send him straight to slaughter.
Like Trinket and Fiona, and as fate would have it, Merlin and Daisy arrived around the same time as one another.
The rain comes down harder and the rest of the goats call at us from the warm shelter of the barn across the pasture. They stare at us with an intense curiosity, as if asking why on earth we’d be standing outside in the rain when we could be taking shelter.
We take note and make our way into the barn, where the older goats show (follow) us around and the potbelly pigs stay sound asleep under their heat lamps. We didn’t realize they were even there until we heard a sporadic string of squeals from one of them, deep in a dream.
Kasha and Rumpus are a pair of large pigs that have only recently bonded. As Kasha gets older, Melissa fears her days are numbered.
Like nearly all meat industry pigs, these genetically modified pigs were intended for slaughter before the age of one. Farms pump them full of growth hormones so quickly that of the few who escape the slaughterhouse, they usually die of cancer or a heart attack within a few years.
We ask every one we meet on our tours what the hardest part of the job is. Melissa speaks candidly of what it’s really like to operate a farm sanctuary.
We had caught glimpses of it on our journey so far, but Melissa paints a picture that you don’t often see amongst the Instagram pictures of cute goats, friendly turkeys and sweet pigs (guilty as charged).
The truth is: it’s hard.
The animals get sick, they need to be cared for around the clock and that costs money.
There are no vacation days.
Reliable and regular volunteers are a luxury, not a given.
Generous donors are there but there is always a worry that they won’t be.
If you want something done, or need something done, you have to be prepared to it yourself. Melissa’s not complaining one bit, she’s speaking honestly and from the heart. It’s a lot of work —it’s a labour of love.
Like the beautiful, large wooden barn that sits in the middle of the sanctuary. Ocean blue siding parts to windows on all sides. Individual pens provide respite for animals that require some personal space. Hallways and feed stations connect different rooms and heat lamps are hung throughout while a centralized water system keeps fresh water running all year round.
Melissa and Matt built it themselves over a three year period.
When people visit FARRM, they are given the chance to see what happens when they start to see farm animals as being as deserving of a good, full life as any other household pet. “I talk about the animals and where they come from and what their fate could’ve been,” says Melissa. “Like, look at Merlin. He was supposed to be eaten as an Easter lamb. So many people love Merlin, and if he was he was eaten, he wouldn’t be here.”
We finish our rounds for the night with a quick check on the feral cats that Melissa offered to take in in the hopes they could be socialized and find forever homes.
A custom-built cat tree provides plenty of hiding spaces for the nervous felines. Most of the cats stay low, glaring at us with ears back as we enter the heated shed. One little guy with a head tilt (a genetic condition) purrs with delight as Melissa strokes his back. He gives her hope that the others will come around to the luxuries of domesticated living.
It’s getting darker now and Trinket and Fiona are the last to be put to bed in their brand new home that Chris and Matt push under a tree to help them stay sheltered from the elements and to give them a good view of the farm. They hop onto their new porch without hesitation and seem to acknowledge that they’re happy with their new digs. Satisfied, we let them settle in for the night.
Melissa and Matt seem to give everything to the animals at FARRM, and extend that generosity towards us. With winter weather just around the corner, most campsites in the area are closed. Melissa invites us to stay the night and we are grateful —and especially glad that it means getting to see Trinket and Fiona get their morning bottles.
Before we hit the road the next morning, Melissa — on her way to her day job at the local technical college — reaches out and hands us a full bag of freshly made vegan snacks from an organic market in Edmonton. “They’re my favourite,” she says as she jumps in her truck.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now: giving is in their nature.
FARRM (Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement) is located near Wetaskiwin, Alberta. You can visit for tours and fundraising events like yoga and painting during the summer months. You can sponsor an animal at any time of the year.
This article is part of a series from The Animal Sanctuary Compassion Tour; The Seva Life’s