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How Can Six People Take Care of 500 Animals?

After my talk at Temple University last week, I joined the organizers for vegan pizza and Philly “cheesesteaks” at a vegan diner. (Shout-out to Blackbird Pizzeria for using compostable utensils.) As usual, folks were curious about the sanctuary, including how many people worked on site taking care of our nonhuman residents.

“How do six people take care of 500 animals?” asked Corey, with an air of amazement.

As is so often the case, there are two answers to that that question.

The first answer is the one I gave that night: We have two full-time animal caregivers (Cheryl and Danielle), one full-time building and grounds maintenance staffer (TJ), and three people with part-time animal care responsibilities (Miriam, Aram, and me). We have a complex schedule of who does what when, which we all somehow manage to keep in mind. At least two (and usually more) people know how to do each thing, so that we can cover when people are ill or out of town.

But six for 500? How?

Let’s break it down. Morning chores start at sunrise, in the course of which coops are opened, water bowls and troughs are filled, feeders are filled, residents on special diets get their breakfasts, and any ill or injured residents get their morning meds. Then comes barn and coop cleaning, after which water bowls and troughs need to be topped off or (thanks to ducks) dumped and refilled. Fresh hay for cows and sheep is put out on a schedule that depends on the season (more often in winter, less often when the pastures can be grazed). Other chores, such as shoveling walkways or seeding pastures, also depend on the season. Toward sunset comes evening chores: Dinner for those needing special meals, evening meds, emptying water bowls and tubs and then, as night falls, closing the coops.

Dot's daily "snow cone" doesn't technically count as a required special meal, but we are happy to give it to her anyway

Dot’s daily “snow cone” doesn’t technically count as a required special meal, but we are always glad to give it to her anyway

That accounts for getting everybody fed and watered, but what about making sure everybody’s OK?

Here’s what we do: Everybody is eyeballed twice a day, and everybody gets an individual check-up on a regular schedule. Most of the animals here, more than 450, are birds. At opening and again at closing, whoever is on duty looks closely at the birds in each coop or aviary, scanning for any sign of illness, injury, or other distress. We all keep an eye out for anything that seems “off” as we go about our chores. In addition, Danielle gives all birds individual check-ups on a set schedule, to make sure we haven’t missed anything. Similarly, we count the cows and sheep first thing in the morning and then again just before nightfall, not just counting but making note of posture, behavior, and mood. In addition, every cow and sheep gets a hands-on check-up from Cheryl on a regular schedule.

However far we have to hike, we check to make sure every cow is OK twice each day

However far we have to hike, we check to make sure every cow is OK twice each day

So, that’s one answer to how six people manage to take care of more than 500 animals. But the other answer is: We can’t!

Other VINE staff members, whether paid or volunteer, take care of essential chores from fundraising to bookkeeping. We couldn’t do it without them!

There are too many chores here for all of us to do. Luckily, volunteer groups visit regularly, pitching in on big jobs like spring cleaning, clearing fallen branches from pastures, or restoring trampled foraging yards. We couldn’t do it without them!

We do have two trained veterinary technicians on staff and we do have a vast storehouse of experience, but we still have to visit or call in veterinarians sometimes. We couldn’t do it without them!

We couldn’t call in a vet, or buy the remedies they prescribe, without money. For that matter, we couldn’t put out hay or fill up feeders without money either.

So, if you are somebody who contributes to VINE Sanctuary, it’s really true:

We couldn’t do it without YOU!

13 year-old Norman's arthritis has been acting up, so the vet prescribed a different med. It seems to be working!

13 year-old Norman’s arthritis has been acting up, so the vet prescribed a different med. It seems to be working!

In the past month, elder cows Blake and Norman both have required “farm calls” by the vet, and we went through hay faster than usual due to the extremely cold weather. So, it’s only March and we’re already scrambling to cover higher-than-anticipated 2015 costs. Every gift counts. We are especially grateful to those who sign up to give a set amount (no matter how small) each month, as this helps us to know what we can count on and what we still have to raise.

Click here to make a donation today!

Thank you, from me and everybody at VINE Sanctuary!

1 comment to How Can Six People Take Care of 500 Animals?

  • As someone who cares for 100 rescued farmed animals with only part-time volunteers this article is very illuminating. Thank you for writing it. I have already learned a lot and would love to learn more. Please consider writing more articles like this.

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