Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

May 5: Falls Church, VA Vegan Bake Sale (with Homeward Trails!)


Though technically the official week of the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale was last week, the bakesale I help out with every year will be this Saturday. And of course these bake sales can be held year round, so if you were thinking of holding one but hadn’t planned it yet, never fear! You can have it any time – one of the strengths of this event, after all, is how open-ended it is. There’s only two requirements, really:

  • Vegan Bake Sale
  • Donate proceeds (to charity of your choice)

That’s it!

I was very happy that first year, that when Gary asked if I could help out, he asked me to take pictures. That’s definitely my kind of help! It’s become a tradition – I show up, take pictures, and get paid in delicious baked goods.

Last year I interviewed Gary in the lead-up to the event – there are some great resources in the post, and also the story of where the idea came from and how it got such a big start so early on.

This Saturday’s event is being held in conjunction with Homeward Trails, which makes it extra special for me. I adopted Jake from Homeward Trails, who pulled him from a high-kill shelter. Without HT, I wouldn’t have Jake, and while without Jake I’d have more glassware, I’d also have a big hole in my life.

If you are in the Northern Virginia area this Saturday, stop by if you can. The baked goods are always absolutely delicious, but it’s also for two good causes.

WHEN: Saturday May 5, 9:30am – 1:30pm
WHERE:The front porch (covered) of the Falls Church Community Center
223 Little Falls Street in the city of Falls Church
[map]   [more info on Falls Church Community Center]

This is easily bike accessible from the W&OD trail – take the Little Falls Street “exit” off the trail. Left onto Little Falls Street if you’re coming from the direction of DC, otherwise go right. The Community Center will be on your right, and there is ample bike parking.


A Quartet of Geese, A Dusty Pig, and Chin Scratches for Mini Moo

The Barneys

The Barneys – or at least Barney (with the black beak) and his three friends – came to the sanctuary after spending most of their life on the farm of a man who loved them very much. But when he died, his kids wanted to sell the place, and wanted the geese gone.

Luckily a kind-hearted person found the sanctuary, so that these geese would have a safe and happy place to live. Only one of them came with a name – Barney. He’s the only one who is easily distinguished from his friends, with his black beak.

They’re pretty friendly and curious about people. They’re clearly used to people-as-treat-dispensers, but mostly they just go off and do their own thing, always the four of them together.

I’ve been taking “meta” pictures lately, purely for my own amusement. Jonathan is fun and interesting to volunteer with – not only does he know a lot about animals, he thinks a lot about animals, and in ways that are often a bit different than the rest of us. It’s the scientist in him, gathering information and impressions, and doing mini tests on hypothesis percolating in his brain. He’s fascinated by things that I tend to take for granted.

Jonathan and Charlene

Last week one of the things that caught his attention was the dust rising from Charlene’s back as he patted her. He was trying to get a picture of it. I’m not sure if he succeeded, but I got a picture of him taking a picture!

The cows were all hanging around, so I gave Mini Moo a chin scratch. He loves to have his chin scratched! I was thinking to myself that it was too bad that it was impossible to get a picture while scratching his chin, but just a few minutes later Amy gave him a chin scratch, and I took advantage of the opportunity to take a few pictures.

Amy and Mini Moo

I love this because it is so clear how much Mini Moo is enjoying himself. I posted it on Facebook, and (as expected) there was at least one comment about how their cat does the same thing. Taking pleasure in life is not limited to humans. Anyone who has ever lived with an animal will be thinking “duh”, but oddly enough the scientific community is only recently coming around to agreeing that this is a valid viewpoint.

Amy and Mini Moo

Luckily there are scientists like Jonathan Balcombe, who pursue that line of study despite the scientific community’s disdain for the topic. Hopefully things have progressed by now. From the outside, at least, it seems to have.

If you haven’t read any of Jonathan’s books, and are interested in the topic, definitely check them out. If you like pictures (and since you are “reading” this blog, you probably do), you’ll want to pick up a copy of Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure, which actually has a lot of great words in it, not just pictures. I need to go back and read the book; I am guilty of focusing on the pictures and skipping over most of the words.

Now for some local announcements:

  • Tomorrow (Saturday 4/28) is the 2nd annual Baltimore Veg Fest. I’ll be tabling there for Poplar Spring from 1-3. Two other people – volunteers who became employees – will be covering from 11-1.
  • Sunday (4/29) is a benefit day at Great Sage, benefitting Poplar Spring. My favorite vegan restaurant in the area!

VSDC Volunteers at the Sanctuary

Aggie and a volunteer

Last Saturday we had a big group of Veg Society of DC volunteers at the sanctuary. I think it was more than 20. It was a lot! They were split up into several smaller groups, which made it much more manageable. It’s harder than you’d think to organize large groups of new people into getting work done!

The group that worked in the same area as I was in were people, based on overheard conversations, who had either never been to the sanctuary before, or had been a time or two at events. It’s always nice to introduce people to the sanctuary.

Volunteers taking their portrait with Lily, rescued from a veal auction, in the background

Since we had so many people, we were able to tackle some of the big projects that take more time than we usually have during a regular weekend day.

The big hay pile at the top of the goat yard needed to be removed now that winter has passed.

Malcolm helping us with the hay pile

It took several loads in the spreader before we had gotten rid of the pile. In between we’d wait while Terry emptied the spreader in a nearby field. It was a gorgeous day – sunny and in the 70’s – pretty much perfect weather for both the helpers and the residents.

Mini Moo was cracking me up – he was very casually scratching his chin on Carlyle’s horn. Not something I have ever seen before! And Carlye just looks as relaxed as can be.

Mini Moo scratching his neck on Carlyle's horn. Carlyle is one of the few male dairy cows at the sanctuary.

Two new residents arrived at the sanctuary last week: a pig and a goat who are best friends.


They are very sweet. The goat is a bit more cautious before he approaches, but once he’s had a chance to observe you, he’ll come right up and ask for treats.

"I was hoping for a treat...."

Tender Moments, Bucket Challenges, and Nictitating Membranes

Remember when I talked about the Washington Post photographer who spent the morning with us, following Jonathan for an upcoming feature in the paper? It is to be published tomorrow (Saturday, April 14), but it’s already online. Check it out!

I especially liked the pictures he had of people with the animals. The one with Monty really struck a chord for me. It is so tender! Monty is a love.

Speaking of a tender moment, when I first arrived at the sanctuary last weekend, it was to this sight:

Jacob and Emliy

Jacob is the bigger one, and Emily is the blind cow who came a couple years ago. You can’t actually see it in the picture, but he was licking her neck. Very sweet!

In the pig yard we always joke around about practicing for the poop catching olympics. It’s a special talent to catch the poop in action, so to speak, and it’s quite efficient also to let the poop land on your rake and put it into the bucket, rather than having the ground as a middle man.

Ben upped the game last weekend. He caught Harley’s poop directly into the bucket!

Harley, and Ben's bucket

Pretty sure Harley is grinning.

And then little Patty, sneaking under a gate in the pig yard. She and her sister, Paige, as well as a couple of the older pigs who need a bit extra food, get fed extra in a section of the yard that can be gated shut, so that they can eat without fuss from the other pigs. Patty didn’t let something like a gate keep her in! When she was ready to go, she just scooted right out. (And then back in, and then back out!)

Patty scooting under the gate

She’s so cute. I think that she’ll lose the “curly” hair when she sheds her winter coat, but in the meantime, it is so adorable!

In the chicken yard, Dusty wandered by where Jonathan and I were petting Tilly. I take a lot of pictures of Dusty, I admit! This past year, my parents gave me a gift of two chicken sponsorships. I’d been asking for a sponsorship of an animal at the sanctuary for years, and they never went for it. This year, in frustration, I put nothing else on my wish list. I guess that did the trick!

I had to choose two chickens for the official sponsorship, and that was hard for me. I try to not have favorites. I love them all, and I want to get to know them all, and having favorites just feels wrong for me.

I decided on Alina right away (because who doesn’t want to cuddle that little ball of sweetness? but also because she’d had a bit of a fight with a rooster I’m sponsoring for my dad (they have the same name) and her eye was injured…) and then took about three months to decide on who else.

Finally, I decided on Dusty. I’m not really sure what went into that decision, other than I’d been focused on getting a nice picture of her for a few weeks, so she was on my mind.


And now that I’m sponsoring her, I notice her even more, which leads to taking more pictures of her.

As I looked at the pictures I’d gotten last weekend, I noticed that in one of them her nictitating membrane (aka “third eyelid”) was closed. This happens fairly often when taking pictures of the birds at the sanctuary, and it’s one of the reasons that I tend to take pictures on “burst mode” (also that they tend to dart around, and move their head very quickly). I usually just pass those pics by.

Dusty with her nictitating membrane closed

But then I saw that I had a third picture with the nictitating membrane only half closed! And that was pretty cool. The nictitating membrane is a very cool adaptation. I think it would come in handy on the bike as well, but humans aren’t so lucky!

Dusty with half-closed nictitating membrane

I didn’t find out Dusty’s story until after I started sponsoring her. She was found in back of an apartment complex. A woman heard peeping, which led her to Dusty, a tiny chick at the time. Luckily for Dusty, the woman took her in. There is very little chance she’d have survived the night – too many predators, too many dangers.

Though we don’t know Dusty’s story prior to her rescue, we do know that being dumped in a field is a very common fate for the hatching project chicks. Helpless on their own, they will approach anyone, hoping to be cared for. They won’t last even one night alone.

On our way back to our cars, Jonathan stopped to play with Josie again. It is so awesome to see them playing together! He’ll be out of town this weekend, but maybe we’ll be able to imitate him enough to satisfy Josie.

Jonathan and Josie

I took loads of pics, hoping some of them would come out. Hard to know what you’ll get when you have an active little lamb leaping all over the place! I was really excited I ended up with quite a few really nice ones, and a couple where Josie is completely in the air. Levitating!

Josie, levitating

Clover and Harley: Timely Interventions

one of these is not like the others...

I read a lot, mostly fiction, and over the past five years or so I’ve noticed the occasional vegan character creeping in. Of course they’re always portrayed negatively, or at least ignorantly. The people writing the books are clueless about veganism, about animal rights, about what it would be like to BE a person acting on these ethics…and so they have the most superficial portrayal, filled with every stupid stereotype you can imagine.

I have gotten to the point where I won’t read a book that I know has a vegan character, because I know how poorly portrayed that character will be. (What’s wrong with doing research, eh, authors?)

But when I heard about Marla Rose’s recently published book, I definitely wanted to read it. A vegan character written BY a vegan is a whole other ballgame! I had a momentary hesitation upon learning that it was a YA book – I’ve read some and loved some, but YA isn’t what I gravitate toward. But I got it and read it anyway, and I’m glad I did.

I wrote a review over at Animal Rights & AntiOppression: “Review: The Adventures of Vivian Sharpe, Vegan Superhero“.


Clover was bottle-raised at the sanctuary from the time he was just a couple days old. He was abandoned by his mother, and the (local small family) farmer was just going to leave him to die. Instead, he was brought to the sanctuary.

Since he was raised by people at the sanctuary, he is less wary of humans than many of the sheep are. But a smart sheep is still one who sticks to the herd most of the time, so if something alarms the herd and they start moving off, he’ll go with them. However, when the herd is comfortable, he will often come over to investigate us. Possibly hoping for treats!


Harley is almost all grown up now, at 3.5 years old.

His rescue story no longer shows up on the links, which is a shame. Wish I’d thought to stick it in a document offline! But the basics of his story showcase how lucky he was – on his way to auction as a tiny baby, he fell off the transport truck, was rescued by people who have an education center of some kind, but who didn’t have the room for a full grown pig, and so his fate might have been a slaughterhouse in the end if it weren’t for random visitors to the education center who contacted Poplar Spring and facilitated the rescue and helped with the transport.

Uri, a Golden Pheasant. I've been trying for ages to get a decent picture of this guy!

The details of Uri’s story isn’t known. Mostly I wanted to post a picture of him because it has taken me the better part of a year to get a picture worth posting! Shy and fast…

Now, for something super-cute – a video of Jonathan and Josie playing! Josie does a few jump-and-kicks for your viewing pleasure.

Spring at the Sanctuary

Marius's seduction technique

Marius is a trip. He’s been checked for (ahem) hidden testosterone producers several times, but he’s definitely not an intact male, yet he is fairly relentless when it comes to his pursuit of the ladies. He’ll chase all of the other male goats away, while also chasing after the girls with his weird tongue waggle.

A video from about a year ago gives you the benefit of hearing him too!

Sometimes he’ll do a sort of snorting sneeze, which in goats can be part of the seduction routine, or can just mean they’re happy. My google skills aren’t up to par tonight, because I can’t find much in the way of articles on this type of goat behavior (or maybe I need to use a different search engine now that google is evil?), but I did run across this very interesting article on Goats and Cows, written by Maneka Gandhi and published by an Animal Welfare organization in India. It does talk about the goat sneezes, as well as the tongue waggling, but it also talks about their personalities, and it makes some important connections.

How odd that we value our dogs so much but we do not think twice before eating goats – which are kept like pets all over the world and are as intelligent, loyal and emotional as them. Goats are very often not given credit for being the smart and loving creatures they actually are. Think of them like dogs, except they don’t have the “I must please humans” thing that dogs have.

It is not for nothing that human children are called kids – a term that means baby goat. Baby goats love playing hide and seek. They crawl into little hidey holes and will lie very quiet and jump about squealing when you find them. They “explore their world” with their mouths just like human babies “chewing” and “mouthing” things to learn about them. They love climbing. Family members let their babies jump and climb on them. If you let them climb on you, you are considered family some of the activities enjoyed by kids include galloping, jumping vertically into the air, tossing their heads, and whirling around.

The same article talks about cows, describing their intelligence and personalities. But also:

When you next have a steak or wear new leather shoes, remember that this cow could articulate her pain. We are just not smart enough to understand her voice. John Webster, professor of animal husbandry at Bristol, has just published a book on the topic, Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden. “People have assumed that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic,” he says.


Every time you choose to buy leather or drink milk you kill a gentle intelligent sensitive being. Cows are not just oblivious, cud chewing milk machines – those terms can be more aptly applied to so many humans instead.


Aggie herself is an example of both aspects talked about the in article. Her breed is (or was originally) used for both milk and meat. Terry’s intro for Aggie (from when she first arrived, a few months back):

Aggie, our newest rescue, is a young Red short horn calf. She most likely escaped from the livestock auction, because she appeared at a home about a mile from the auction on sale day, as a tiny one month old calf. It seems she followed the railroad tracks to a farm where luckily a kind woman made the efforts to find her a sanctuary home. The local sheriff’s dept. and animal control wanted to take her and sell her for slaughter, but the woman kept her safe for several months until she was tame enough to lead onto a trailer. We picked her up yesterday, and she is very friendly and sweet, she loves to lick people. We can’t wait to introduce her to the other rescued cows, and here she will be able to spend the rest of her life in peace and happiness.

The pig yard was in great shape – we always end up talking about the pig yard conditions, because it makes a huge difference in how hard or easy it is to clean the pig yard. Last week was perfect. And as I scooped, I had a chance to get a picture of the cutest pig nose in the world.


Paige came with another little piglet, Patty, about 9 months ago, and they both have curly (for pigs) hair for their winter coat! It’s adorable.

Here’s the video from when they first arrived:

Aren’t they cute? They are still the littlest ones at the sanctuary!

Now that I’ve spent some time with Brenda Lee, I notice her right away. It’s funny how that happens – what used to be the general group of “beta barn girls” to me, are now distinct hens who I distinguish easily, though I don’t know their names yet.

And that’s the essence of an awakening to the individuality of others, isn’t it? All it takes is that small starting point, noticing, recognizing, and suddenly a whole new vista opens up. It’s a mirror of the awakening we go through when we realize that we must go vegan.

Julius and Brenda Lee

Spring in the DC area is very pretty (if you don’t have allergies) with lots of flowering plants and trees. Last week was the peak of the Cherry Blossoms, which is a pretty big deal because there are so many of them – something like 3700 just in the Tidal Basin area of DC itself, and many more all over the DC metro area. Most of the ones I see are planted as part of landscaping in people’s yards, or bordering developments. There is only one at the sanctuary (that I have seen – I haven’t walked through the woods to see if there are others!), and it is a wild cherry tree.

I don’t know enough about cherry trees to be able to talk about them in great detail, but I do know that most of the ones I see – the ones that are part of the landscaping – are more like the ones down in the Tidal Basin – the ones gifted by Japan. There are many species of cherry tree, however, and some of them are native to North America, as the wild cherry tree at the sanctuary is.

It just so happened that Dexter was wandering around down near the wild cherry tree, so I wanted to try to get a portrait of him with the blooming cherry tree in the background. It was a marginal success. An overcast day, a horse who wasn’t really with the whole “hold still and pose” program…well, you’ll have to trust my word that the vague fluffy white stuff on the upper left side of the picture is, indeed, the wild cherry tree’s blossoms!


As we were leaving after chores, I stopped to take a picture of four recent arrivals – domestic geese whose story I have forgotten for the moment. As I knelt there, this Canadian goose walked up to me. I imagine she was hoping I had something tasty for her, instead of just a big clunky camera!

So cute, with all that grass on her beak!

Foggy Morning, Treats, and The Show-Stealing Hen


When I first arrived at the sanctuary this past Saturday, Emily was up near the entrance to the sheep yard. She was done with her medicine and had been released out of the sheep yard, but she was staying close hoping to be spoiled with more food! I guess she wasn’t too disappointed to be in the sheep yard for those weeks.

The rest of the cows were hanging out on the hillside near her. It’s been neat to have them hanging out so close to the sheep yard. Of course the sheep don’t really agree – I guess cows are pretty intimidating if you’re a sheep…

Two people showed up while we were in the horse barn to meet and spend some time with Darcy and Tally. They sponsored these two as gifts for Valentine’s Day, if I recall the story correctly. They are friends of one of the other volunteers, Sheryl, and I think Sheryl recommended Tally and Darcy specifically because they are close companions, especially in the years since Darcy lost the final bit of vision to a degenerative eye disease. Tally wears a halter with a bell on it, and Darcy uses that to help him keep track of where she is, and to follow her. Sometimes he gets separated, and then he’ll call to the rest of the horses and the two mules. Tally will emerge from wherever they had been and lead him to the group. It really is sweet.


So their sponsors came and got to meet them for the first time, and fed them some treats (apples for everyone but Darcy, who prefers carrots). Of course Dexter, Sal and Gloria got some apples too, or there would have been a mutiny!

Gloria waiting for her apple

In the chicken yard I spent some time hanging out with the “beta barn” chickens. The main yard has two barns, and the smaller one is called the “Beta Barn” after the painting of a Beta fish that hangs inside. The barn was donated, and the person donating it requested that the portrait of his beloved fish hang inside. For a while when I first started volunteering, I thought the main barn was the “alpha barn”!

Even though there isn’t really a separation between the yards (a mesh fence, but one that’s more a suggestion than a rule), the chickens tend to hang out with the other chickens from “their” barn, and I have mostly gotten to know the chickens who live in the main barn, as opposed to the Beta barn. But last weekend I got to know a couple of the Beta barn girls.

Brenda Lee checking out the camera

It started when I noticed that one of the hens in one of the stalls was broody, and stayed in the nest box after I opened up the stalls. I asked Terry about it, and she requested that I bring the hen outside. This turned out to be Brenda Lee.

Brenda Lee is one of a handful of hens at the sanctuary who was rescued from a cock-fighting breeding organization a while back. It was a pretty big bust, and several sanctuaries on the east coast took a number of the hens. They’ve always seemed a little wilder to me, probably because they often spend time fairly high in the trees. They’re also hard for me to tell apart, as they all have that distinctive look – I call it “firebird”, though I’m not really sure why!

The firebird look... (not Brenda Lee)

Normally I wouldn’t have been able to pick up and hold one of these hens, but because Brenda Lee was broody and sitting in the nest box, she let me pick her up. I carried her outside to the tree where the rest of her group was, and had one of those heart-warming moments that I pretty much always have when I’m in such close contact with these amazing animals.

Brenda Lee

While I was over with her group, I took some pictures, and noticed that Brenda Lee was fascinated by the camera. She wanted to be the star! She’d chase the others away when they tried to steal her limelight.

And then I started videoing one of the other hens dust bathing, and once again, Brenda Lee stole the show!

These birds have so much personality. They’re curious and smart and they interact with their world in ways that often surprise me. Though it took me a while before I could really “see” them, now I am fascinated. It is a shame that so few people will ever take the time to see the wonder of these birds. They’ll continue to think that calling someone “chicken” is an insult instead of a compliment, and even worse, they’ll continue to think of chickens as little more than automatons made of flesh. The truth is that these amazing beings are filled to the brim with curiosity and a zest for life. My life is enriched by knowing them.

Paparazzi at Poplar Spring

A few weeks ago Jonathan mentioned that a Washington Post photographer would be coming out with him to the sanctuary one weekend. An article is in the works on the Humane Society University, and pictures of Jonathan (who teaches a course at the university) at the sanctuary would be included.

Last Saturday the Post photographer showed up. It was overcast, and quite muddy, but that didn’t seem to bother Marvin Joseph (check out some of his work!). He viewed the animals with the same glee and excitement that is common to young kids, but much less usual in adults. He followed Jonathan all morning. He took pictures of us unloading muck buckets into the spreader, of geese flying overhead, of all of the animals and of us interacting with them. He loved it all. A lot of what he took, he told us, was just for his own pleasure. I can certainly understand that!

Doesn't it look like Harrison is jumping for joy?

Harrison spends nights in the infirmary these days with a couple other residents (Morgan and Gertrude, these days) who don’t handle the cold very well and need a warmer place overnight. When we got down to the chicken yard, I brought the three out of the infirmary so they could enjoy the day. Harrison’s girls live up in the “playhouse”, so I carried him up the hill to join them.

Harrison with Clarice and Iris (background)

Harrison is looking amazingly good these days. Last summer or fall he wasn’t feeling very good, and his comb started to lose color and flop over. It turned out to be an impacted crop – basically he had a knot of grass in there and he had to have surgery to get fixed up. That was a first at PSAS! Very soon after he came back to the sanctuary you could see his comb standing up straight again, and becoming that vibrant red. And of course he had more and more energy as he recovered. Now he’s back to his old self, and his girls are very happy about that!

As I walked up to the playhouse with Harrison in my arms, Marvin was on his way down to the chicken yard. His eyes lit up at the sight of Harrison. Maybe it was a strange and exciting sight to see someone holding a chicken, or a bird of any kind? I remember being somewhat shocked when I first realized that some chickens actually let us hold them. That some actually like it!

Marvin took a bunch of pictures, and then switched cameras to get a close up. “You have such a beautiful wattle,” he said.

“You are talking about Harrison, right?”

Once down in the chicken yard, Marvin was entranced by Edward. Edward was very happy to perform for the camera. He displayed, and shook his tail feathers, and just plain thrilled Marvin.

Marvin and Edward

Marvin showed us some of the Edward pics he’d grabbed with his iPhone, and then showed us a couple of iPhone shots he had with Meryl Streep. “A lot of what I do,” he explained, “is take portraits of celebrities.” Jonathan and I agreed that this made sense; after all, he was there taking pictures of Edward!

I suspect we’re an odd bunch at the sanctuary. As gorgeous as the pictures of Meryl were, as cool as I suspect it must be that he takes pictures of such famous people, we were so much more thrilled that Marvin was thrilled with Edward and the rest of the animals at the sanctuary.


And seriously, he understood them. When we were walking by the pig barn after finishing up at the sheep and goat yards, the cows were all lined up, facing the sheep barn, and mooing. Emily, the young blind cow, has an infection in her tooth and is contained in the sheep yard for a few weeks so that it’s possible to give her the shots she needs to get better. The cows do not like to be separated. Emily was calling to them, and they were calling back. Marvin understood what was going on immediately.

I’d call it empathy. Whether it’s something innate or learned, empathy is one thing that makes him a good portraitist, a good photographer. I can’t help but to wonder whether that makes him reachable with an AR message. I told the rescue stories of some of the individuals he was taking pictures of. That’s ingrained in me at this point – between the blogging and the sanctuary events, and even just in conversation with the other volunteers, recounting their stories goes hand in hand with telling people their names.

So…he heard some of the stories. He was horrified to learn of what happens at goat dairies. The potential for making connections regarding the products he buys is there, it’s just a question of whether it percolates in a way that produces change. That’s what we, as activists, can never predict.

And regardless of what Marvin does with the information, he took a morning’s worth of gorgeous photos, which will be published in a Washington Post article talking about, essentially, humane education. His pictures have the potential to help others make some of those connections. The empathy he had for the animals will show in those photos, whether or not his empathy pushes him to change his own habits.


Sheep Grins and The Turlock Hen Rescue

Adam's Grin

It was a sunny day at the sanctuary last Saturday, but very very windy. The wind made it cold for us humans, though most of the animals seemed to think it was just fine.

Adam is one of the friendlier sheep, bottle raised at the sanctuary from just a few days old, and thus more comfortable with humans than many of the sheep are. He’ll still move off with the herd, but he’s also one of the first to approach humans. Saturday was a good example.

Everyone loves to give Adam attention because if you pet him just right, he wags his tail. It’s a big disappointment when people don’t get the tail wag, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam holds out sometimes to make sure people keep trying, and thus keep petting him.


In the pig yard, I framed a shot to document how beautifully blue the sky was and how beautifully dry and smooth the pig yard was. That might sound odd to those who have not waded through thick clay mud or haven’t tried to spear frozen poo pellets out of frozen divots, so you’ll have to trust me – the pig yard was a beautiful thing last weekend! Of course as I took the picture little Patty came trotting over. I’m pretty sure she thought I might have a treat for her, but since I didn’t (and she sniffed the camera thoroughly to make sure), she trotted on past me.


The wind was so strong that we didn’t let any of the birds out into the chicken yard. Not that they would have wanted to be out there anyway with that wind! It gave me a chance to get an interesting pair of shots of Arthur, the younger peacock, inside the barn.

Most people think of brilliantly colored feathers when they think of peacocks. Fair enough, they do have brilliantly colored feathers…but only when the light is hitting them right. So this pair of pictures perfectly illustrates what a dramatic impact the light has on the appearance of their feathers.

Arthur, facing away from the sunlight

Same bird, same day, same camera settings, same sunlight, and I was in exactly the same place for each shot…the only difference is the direction Arthur was facing.

Arthur, facing into the sunlight

Kinda cool, isn’t it?

Up by the gift shop, Nobby came to see us with his two girls, followed by Nelson and his girl, Isa. Such odd couples, but who are we to argue with true love?

Isa in foreground; background (left to right): Nelson, Nobby, Nobby's two girls

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, an enormous rescue of over 4,000 hens took place after a farmer left “his” 50,000 egg-laying hens to starve to death when he could not afford to feed them. The Turlock Hen Rescue, as it has come to be known.

Animal Place took most of the hens, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary took a smaller number.

For perspective, at Poplar Spring the bird population hovers at around 60, if I recall correctly. That’s the number they’ve determined they can house based on the barn space that is available. As someone who helps clean the barns every Saturday, I can say that it’s a good amount of work.

4,000 is a number I can hardly comprehend.

Suffice to say that Animal Place especially (but the others who have taken some also) has their hands full. If you can help them out, now’s a good time to do so. Even if you can’t help out financially or in person, go read about the rescue, about the fifteen hens saved from the manure pit at the chicken farm, the hens going outside for the first time, and re-learning how to eat. And go vegan.

Their lives prior to rescue are beyond what any of us can truly imagine. But now that they are rescued we can start to imagine what the rest of their lives will look like, and it will be good. They are why we are vegan.

Peacock Parties and Ruby’s Beak

Edward really can fly...

Every year at the Poplar Spring events, people ask questions about the peacocks that I often can’t answer. I know the stories of how Edward and Arthur came to live at the sanctuary, but I don’t know that much general information about peacocks, or how they would be in the wild.


A friend has been traveling in India recently, and he posted a few pictures on Facebook of when he was at the Taj Mahal. He did have a picture of the building, but he seemed most excited about the monkeys. Wild monkeys all over the place there, which was more exciting than a building, even one as beautiful as the Taj Mahal. (He’s vegan, can’t you tell?) He also mentioned that there are wild peacocks everywhere.

He hadn’t learned anything specific about them, but it reminded me that I always mean to look up more info on them. So I finally did, and I learned that peacocks have a lifespan of about 20 years in the wild. 20 years! That is pretty cool.

Also, something I would never have guessed, groups of peafowls are called…parties! (Though a different source says that they’re called an “ostentation” or a “pride”.)

I was surprised to learn that their extensive plumage isn’t a factor in the peahens mate selection. That they seem to be oblivious to it!


This made me chuckle, because it would explain why Edward is so unperturbed by all of his romantic interests ignoring his impressive display.

However the next article I read (a more recent one at that) said that peahens do, indeed, care about the plumage. They’ll select their mate from among those with the normal number of eye spots, and bypass those who have less than the normal number.

Given the somewhat conflicting information, I’m not sure I’ve really learned anything about peacocks plumage, other than the fact that flying dinosaurs had more elaborate mating rituals than peacocks.

I’m sure this will fascinate the visitors at the next PSAS event…

I did actually learn some other useful information. The colorful tail feathers aren’t really the tail – they are the tail coverts, and are more accurately called the train. The peacock doesn’t have the full plumage until about 3 years old, and it isn’t until they are 5 or 6 years old that it reaches it’s maximum length.

Also, peafowl have 11 different calls. The most distinctive one is the very loud “may-awe” type sound. I love when they do that, though it can make conversation difficult!


Chickens have even more calls – they have 30 different calls! Jonathan has mentioned that chickens not only have alarm calls, they have different alarm calls for small, medium and large predators. I looked it up to get more details, and ended up on a google books result for one of his own books, The Exultant Ark! I need to read his books more carefully, since I had missed that. But I admit I was so distracted by the gorgeous pictures throughout the book that I likely missed a lot of the text.

There have been a lot of hawks around lately, so the chickens have needed to be closely supervised when out in the yard. We spent quite a bit of time on Saturday just hanging out in the chicken yard, enjoying the gorgeous (for winter) weather and the happy antics of the chickens and turkeys and peacocks.

Tilly and a volunteer

Ruby caught my eye, with that piece of grass on the lower half of her beak. She is a classic case of a debeaked hen, and that piece of grass illustrates how crippling that debeaking really is.


Ruby is a Rhode Island Red hen, a breed used for egg-laying. The debeaking was done because she was being used for the eggs her body would produce, and because she was going to live in such cramped quarters in such a stressed social environment that it was expected that she would hurt nearby hens with her beak, and be hurt in return, if she didn’t have that beak chopped off.

She was slated, like all egg-laying hens, to be killed after a few years, when her egg production dropped off.

It is worth noting that the factory farms typically use the White Leghorn breed, not the Rhode Island Reds. We might not know Ruby’s entire early history, but it’s unlikely that she came from a factory farm. She almost definitely came from a smaller operation, perhaps a “small family farm”, the type that gets romanticized so passionately.

But exploitation is exploitation, and the difference between a factory farm and a small family farm is simply scale.

It was learning, in the most vague terms possible, of the truth of then-nameless chickens like Ruby that had me leap from vegetarianism to veganism. Eggs are not a compassionate food.