As day breaks and the mist rolls through the valley below us, the roosters are crowing and the hens are clucking, ready to be let out for the day. We have barns to clean and bottles to make, hay to deliver and pigs to feed. It’s a busy day when you’re caring for 62 animals, but worth every second and sore muscle.
I’ve been in Dayboro, Australia, for nearly a week now as part of a month-long volunteer placement at Farm Animal Rescue. The animals who live here are some of the lucky ones. They were rescued from the horrors of factory farming, saved from filthy cages and a brutal, untimely death. Instead of ending up on someone’s plate, or being disposed of as trash, they will live out their lives in the happiest way possible.
The animals here are not confined to cages. They roam freely amongst the property’s 55 acres, which include forests, fields, and ponds. Whether relaxing under a shade tree, roaming the trails that criss-cross the hills, or hanging out in the driveway, these animals have it made.
Why am I here?
I really like volunteering. I like giving something back to the world, helping someone else, and making it the primary focus of my life for a while. I especially like helping animals, who suffer terribly on an almost unimaginable scale. This is especially true of farmed animals, who are killed by the billions (with a “b”) every year, simply because humans decided they like the way an animal’s body or secretions taste (yes, I know “secretions” is a gross word, but “bodily fluids” is worse).
As a vegan, I’m no longer contributing to farmed animal suffering, but I still want to do more. I want to help rescued farmed animals, to give them the life they deserve, free from suffering and exploitation. I don’t want to just not be part of the problem, I want to be part of the solution.
And I also want to see Australia. Spending a month at Farm Animal Rescue is a great way to accomplish both of those things. I get to bottle feed calves, hang out with pigs, and wake up to roosters crowing. I also get to drive a farm truck with the steering wheel on the “other side” and try out a new country for a while without breaking the bank.
I enjoy learning about how different animal protection organizations work. Volunteering at projects around the world gives me a “taste test” of all these different groups and the great work they are all doing. I like being a part of that great work, even if only for a little while.
Check out my thoughts on why everyone should have at least one long-term volunteer experience in their life.
What’s the farm like?
The Dayboro area is full of rolling green hills and Farm Animal Rescue is set atop one of them. As you come up the (super steep) driveway, you first get to the sheep and goat barns, which are surrounded by plenty of grassy areas for lounging.
Further down the driveway are the two houses, one for Brad (President of FAR), and one for the volunteers. There can be up to four volunteers at a time living in the two-bedroom house, which is equipped with a full kitchen and bathroom (including hot water!), laundry, and wifi.
Behind the volunteer house is the carport, which houses the straw bales, utility sink, tools, medicine, etc. It’s a fenced off area, accessible only to the chickens (who can basically get to anywhere they want, except inside the people houses), and is where all the “out of reach” stuff needs to live.
Directly behind that is the chicken yard, which includes three separate living spaces: the large hen house, the small hen house, and Bubble and Squeak’s house. Bubble (a rooster) and Squeak (a duck) are best friends who came to the farm together and still prefer to live together, so they get their own space. Above the chickens, further up the hill, live the seven pigs. They have an open barn and pig yard, including a mud pit, as well as access through the forest to the rest of the grounds.
The driveway continues behind the houses, leading down to the forest and fields where the cows usually hang out and it gets a little bumpy (to say the least). It’s like off-roading, except it is the road. Luckily, we have a 4×4 farm truck that seems able to tackle any giant ditch or slippery slope we throw at it, so that’s cool.
A Day In The Life
When you’re working with animals, your days get off to a pretty early start. Farm life is sun up to sun down. Right now it’s winter in Australia, which means the sun comes up around 6:30 and sets just after 5:00, so we get a chance to sleep in a bit more and end a bit earlier than summer volunteers.
Although the animals roam freely during the day, most of them get secured into barns at night to protect them from predators. So first up in the morning is letting everyone out and making sure all the animals are accounted for. The chickens are first, followed by the sheep and goats.
The pigs get their morning grain feed and health checks before we head down to the fields to find the cows. Cale and Alfie are still calves, so they get bottles several times a day, while the older cows get hay to supplement their grazing and some of the really old or underweight one get special pellet food with added nutrients.
Once everyone is up and fed, the cleaning begins. This part of the day can be a real workout and involves carrying buckets, raking out barns, and scrubbing floors. Each day we have additional tasks that happen on a rotating basis, like raking out the driveway or cleaning out the pig yard.
Throughout the day, we keep tabs on the goats and sheep, who are more likely to be attacked by predators than some of the other animals. They, as well as the calves, wear GPS collars so we can find them on the property and receive alerts if they go out of bounds. The goats are particularly skilled at finding their way out, squeezing themselves under fences and through the tiniest of spaces. Luckily, they don’t really go too far and just hang out waiting to be called back in (because they know they’ll be rewarded with food for coming back).
Lunches and snacks get handed out as the day progresses and we tackle any odd jobs that need doing. As evening rolls around, everyone gets their dinner and, as the sun goes down, gets rounded up into their barns for the night. A final count makes sure everyone is where they should be as we tidy up before settling in for the night.
Farm work can be tiring, but I love it. There are clear tasks to be completed, a checklist to follow, and animals to keep happy and healthy. There’s a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day and satisfaction in a job well done.
Please take a moment to learn more about Farm Animal Rescue, consider supporting this amazing organization, and check out the volunteer and intern positions available.