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“Farm Mentality” versus “Sanctuary Mentality:” Some Thoughts on the Matter

The following is an essay by Cheryl Wylie, who is the caretaker for the ones who live on the hill (sounds like a horror movie, doesn’t it?). She’d been saying fascinating things about the differences between farms and sanctuaries in terms of the overall energy of each kind of place, and how it’s clear to everyone (cows, chickens, etc.) exactly what kind of place they’re in. So, I asked her to blog about it and thankfully she agreed. :-)


The past few weeks have brought many changes to our little corner of the world. Spring has completely sprung, the expansion plans are moving forward, our newest residents are learning the ropes and we are preparing for the arrival of more beautiful souls. The days here at the Sanctuary tend to have a certain routine of feeding and cleaning with a sprinkling of the unexpected to keep everyone on their toes. Here, unexpected can mean any manner of mischief, medical issue or just the inclination that “something just isn’t right” with a particular resident. Luckily, almost any issue can be solved with a visit from our wonderful vet or a bit of creativity. For the rest I find myself researching the subject and becoming increasingly more frustrated by what I have started calling “farm mentality versus sanctuary mentality.”

I grew up on a small family farm, I know what the life is like, how the animals are treated and where they end up. Every year, for eleven years I spent every spring and summer feeding, grooming and documenting every aspect of my “project animals.” Rabbits, sheep, steers and pigs were not viewed as sentient beings but as projects to raise and send for slaughter. Hours were spent preparing for the show ring to demonstrate which “project” would make the best flesh for someone’s table, and the efforts were rewarded by a check after the fair week. The animals however, paid the ultimate price as many county fairs are “terminal shows” meaning that every “market” animal will end the week in a slaughter

The rest of the year was spent in the fields and keeping an eye on the small herd of “beef” cattle in the pasture. By farming standards those cows lived a good life. They received hay daily to supplement the pasture grass, grain in the winter and never faced the confinement common in many dairy operations and factory farms. The calves were left by their mothers’ side for six months or so and it wasn’t rare to have a cow or two around twenty years old. Yet for all of that, the cows are still separated from their calves, and the calves still face a terrifying death at a slaughterhouse. Does it really matter if the meat was happy in life when they all face the same death for humanity’s selfish purposes?

The “farm mentality” is a variant of the means being justified by the end result. The animals are raised for meat and other products so everything that is done to and for the animals must take that into account. Medications all list a “withdraw time” that a particular animal must go without the medication prior to being killed for “processing.” Many medications that are commonly used in other species are not reached for in “farmed animals” out of concern for how it will affect the desired product. This seems no different than withholding potentially helpful drugs to you or I out of a desire to use our
organs after death.

Perhaps the most disconcerting is the lack of thought given to the mental state of the species being worked with. There will certainly always be times that something unpleasant must be done. Some vaccines must be done, wounds need to be treated and occasionally someone may need transported. The critical difference is in the approach. Farm mentality is results driven, the ends justify the means and patience is typically in short supply.

As a sanctuary, the duty is not only to provide the needed care but to do it in such a way that life suffers only a minimal interruption and as little stress as possible. Everything moves a little slower and many tasks take longer but here it is understood that human schedules don’t matter when compared to the peace and security of our residents.

4 comments to “Farm Mentality” versus “Sanctuary Mentality:” Some Thoughts on the Matter

  • CQ
    Cheryl, thank you for taking care of your happy, safe, loved sanctuary family on the hill.

    I suppose the contrast in the feel of a “happy cow” farm and an animal sanctuary could be compared to the difference between a death row exercise yard open to inmates 24/7 and a kindergarten playground.

  • catherine podojil
    Cheryl, beautiful piece, thank you.

    I’d be interested in reading something about your change of heart/behavior from a farm person to a sanctuary person (brief, as your major time should be spent with the animals). When did it occur, was it based on a gradual recognition of what you were part of, or was it a final, unacceptable action by someone? I think people like you, Harold Brown, and other former farmers, are some of the best educators about veganism and animal rights.
    Again, thanks.

  • Great piece. Well-articulated and moving– I will be drawing from this in my efforts to educate all the ‘happy meat’ people I know. Thanks, Cheryl!
  • bravebird
    (From Cheryl): I never felt right about so much of what was considered “normal” growing but when you are surrounded by something it is hard to see other options. I rebelled in little ways; I always refused to eat veal and told anyone who would listen exactly where veal came from. I still continued to eat meat, not necessarily because I felt that I couldn’t live without it, but I knew no other way. I didn’t know anyone who was vegetarian until I was in my early twenties, and it would be another ten years before I knew what veganism was.
    The mental change for me started after a discussion with co-workers regarding a dog that had been saved from being eaten overseas. That discussion finally prompted the thoughts that there really isn’t a difference, eating another animal is eating another animal, no matter what spin you want to put on it.

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