Farm animal stories with happy endings
This holiday season, we want to spread the joy of farm animals by sharing stories of pigs and chickens living at sanctuaries all around the country. As publishers of Sprig the Rescue Pig and Gwen the Rescue Hen, we appreciate a good back story, and the chance to introduce people to the particular charms of farm animals. So we were delighted to hear the heart-warming tale of Winnie the pig, who jumped from a livestock truck just like our own Sprig. And to meet Luna the leghorn hen, who once lived on a factory farm, like Gwen. Luna now enjoys eating grapes and performing card tricks, by the way. Stories like these show us how resilient and remarkable farm animals can be, if given the chance. Happy holidays!
Bob Harper: A sensitive guy
It’s not often you’re driving behind a big truck and see a pig fall out of it. But that’s what happened two years ago to a driver on a major Illinois interstate. Fortunately, he was paying attention and slammed on the brakes. And thus the pig, who came to be known as Bob Harper (after the celebrity trainer Biggest Loser), was given his second chance at life. It only got better from there. The driver, realizing he couldn’t keep a piglet who would grow into a 600 pound - or more! - plus-sized pig, immediately called Farm Sanctuary.
When Bob Harper arrived, he was bruised and scraped from the fall. Far more serious were the health issues he’d developed while living on the factory farm. Sick with pneumonia, he was making wet, gurgly sounds. He was also diagnosed with internal parasites. In the beginning he was unable to eat anything other than milk. Soon enough, under the care of the good people at Farm Sanctuary, there was pretty much nothing Bob wouldn’t eat.
Bob arrived soon after his best friend did. Kim Gordon, about the same age as Bob, also fell off a transport truck. (Hey, there’s a reason our own Sprig begins his own story tumbling out of a transport truck). When they met they really hit it off, instantly becoming best pals.
The two little pigs grew and grew. Bob loved the pond — he is the pig in the first shots of Farm Sanctuary in the film The Ghosts in our Machine, snorkeling through the water. At sleeping and feeding times, though, it was clear that Bob was very low in the pig-herd hierarchy.
Bob is smallish. He’s also a sensitive soul, which made getting picked on by the alpha pigs pretty hard for him to take. For his own good, he was eventually separated from the herd. Happily, another pig named Eric was also experiencing some social issues. The two sweet misfits, Bob and Eric, now live together.
Bob spends most of the day outside rooting, taking a mud bath, and enjoying the sun. He’s really smart, like most pigs, and has learned to love humans, often running up to the fence to greet visitors.
Bob currently resides at: Farm Sanctuary, the first and largest shelter for farmed animals in the United States. Between its two locations in Watkins Glen, New York and California, it currently houses and cares for more 1000 animals. Donate
Winnie: big hearted - and big - therapy pig
For Winnie the pig, July 25th, 2013, was both the worst and the luckiest day of her life. Winnie was only six weeks old and fourteen pounds when she fell out of a livestock transport truck on an interstate south of Madison, Wisconsin, right into the path of oncoming traffic. (And yes, the author admits to being partial to falling-out-of-a-truck rescue stories.)
Bleeding and disoriented, Winnie was quickly spotted by two families who stopped to help her, slowing traffic by partially blocking the lanes. But before they were able to catch her, another motorist arrived. Unfortunately, he had no interest in helping Winnie. He wanted the pig off the road, so he tried to run her over. When the scared piglet ran away from his car, he got out of it and gave chase, kicking her until she could no longer get up. When the rescuers tried to block him, he picked up the little pig by her hind leg and thrust her at them.
The good Samaritans grabbed Winnie, wrapped her in a blanket, and began making calls. After many failed attempts to contact police, the sheriff, and local animal shelters, they found the number of Dana Barre, founder of Heartland Farm Sanctuary, based in Verona, Wisconsin. Dana told them to give the piglet water and take her to the nearest shelter where Heartland staffers would pick her up.
A few hours later, a team of veterinarians and technicians at The University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine attended to her. Her chances of survival were slim. The fall and all that kicking had caused internal bleeding and organ injuries. But Winnie is a fighter. She pulled through and the Heartland staff took her to new home.
One of the first things they did was call on a professional dog trainer for help. With her guidance, Winnie’s sharp piglet brain was put to work learning to work closely and cooperatively with people. Pigs are intelligent, strong - and assertive. So Winnie was taught polite behaviors, such as backing up and sitting when asked, and walking on a leash. She also knows the word "touch," and will touch a target with her nose. She quickly discovered that nodding after getting a snack often means she’ll get another one.
Five years after moving to Heartland, Winnie has grown into a really big pig. She’s now almost 900 pounds! Because of her size, she is just too big to walk on a leash anymore, but she remains an important part of Heartland’s animal-assisted program. She loves people, including the children with special needs who visit and give her lots of belly rubs and ear scratches. If she's especially loving the belly rubs, she’ll roll over to show more of her belly, and stick her legs straight out.
Winnie spends her days in her big pig pasture with another farm pig, Beatrice. After a long day of rooting, grazing, and splashing in the mud, she comes into the barn for the night. After she snuggles into her straw bed, you can often hear her soft grunting sounds between sighs of contentment.
Winnie currently resides at: Heartland Farm Sanctuary in Verona, Wisconsin. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping homeless farm animals and building connections between them and vulnerable youth. Donate
The Verona 11: A band of love birds
Earlier this year, Heartland Sanctuary got a call from a neighbor who witnessed two people throwing chickens out of the car, and speeding away. For the Heartland staff, that meant one thing: grabbing a flashlight and spending the rest of the night hunting them down.
They found 11 hens nestled in grass, on the roadside, under bushes. The birds, likely from a backyard coop, were in terrible shape. Infected with severe scaly leg mites, their feet were mangled and toenails badly overgrown. Many soothing foot baths later, three of the most outgoing of the hens have hit the road.
What strikes the people who meet them, at pet stores, in schools, and at malls, is how affectionate they are and distinct their personalities. They’re comfortable being cuddled, often nestling in and making soft sounds. Florence is very brave, confident, and can be a little bossy, although she has relaxed a bit. Ruby is super social and loving. She really enjoys the chance to be with people. Juanita is the quieter one, but she’s opening up more. Says Jamie Monroe, Heartland’s administrative director, “People are often surprised to see how personable hens are.”
Luna: Miss congeniality
Luna is a white leghorn, the kind of hen responsible for laying the white eggs seen in supermarkets. She began life like a lot of other egg-laying hens, in a battery cage farm where rows and rows of cages are piled on top of each other and chickens live in exceedingly small spaces. At 18 months old, when egg-laying production has peaked, factory farm hens are typically packed off to be gassed.
In Luna’s case, fate dramatically intervened. She was sent to Animal Place, a sanctuary for farm animals in Grass Valley, California. Animal Place has an agreement with a few factory farms that allows it to rescue thousands of hens a year. The next lucky thing to happen to Luna was Isabelle Cnudde, a volunteer for the sanctuary.
Isabelle noticed Luna shortly after she’d arrived because of her severe “bumblefoot,” an inflammatory foot infection that made her unadoptable. Hens living in cages often have this condition because they spend their lives standing on wires. Caring for hens with this disease takes some expertise, and lots of patience, so Isabelle brought her home to Clorofil, the microsanctuary in her Los Altos, California backyard.
Luna immediately set about exploring her new grassy surroundings. She tried running for the first time, chased after bugs, stared curiously at blades of grass. Quickly, she figured out how much she enjoyed deep dust-baths and lying in the sun. When it rained, she was the only bird in the flock to rush out and experience it. She does the same thing now on meeting visitors.
Somehow, in spite of her bleak start in life, Luna is a very lively and social bird. She follows visitors, hops up next to them when they sit down on Isabelle’s bench, nestles into their arms. Isabelle brings Luna to schools, libraries, and summer camps, encouraging people to see hens as smart, social animals with individual personalities.
Chickens are also good at pattern recognition, allowing them pick a small worm out of a large pile of compost, for instance. And they have great memories. Isabelle decided to use her experience training her dog to teach Luna a card trick. (It helps that Luna will do almost anything for a grape.) Now, Luna has the distinction of not only escaping from a factory farm, but picking the Queen of Spades out of a deck of cards. She’s something.
Spud & Sweet Pea: Buddies for life
Two years ago, a concerned citizen living in the Santa Cruz mountains called Animal Care & Control to report two piglets who had been running loose on her road for more than a week. Luckily for the pigs, the officer who responded was a former Farm Sanctuary intern who knew something about farm animals.
She brought the rogue piglets to the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter, where they were given food, a warm bed of straw to sleep on, and lots of belly rubs from staff and volunteers. Serendipitously, Nate Salpeter and Anna Sweet, cofounders of Sweet Farm, just happened to be at the shelter picking up some ducks. When they met Sweet Pea and Spuds, they fell in love and brought the pigs to Sweet Farm, along with the ducks.
The notches visible on Sweet Pea’s and Spud’s ears tell the story of the short, but harsh life, of pigs born into the food industry. They were probably bound for a slaughterhouse before somehow escaping and taking off down that mountain road. Once settled into Sweet Farm, they quickly learned their names and come when called - when they’re not getting a good belly rub.
Spuds, the smallest of the herd, is all brains. She’s the first to figure out a new routine and can anticipate what’s going to happen almost before the humans making the plan can. Sweet Pea is very chatty, checking in frequently with fellow pigs and humans through a series of complicated grunts and oinks. (Pigs use about 30 different sounds to communicate. More fun pig facts.) But she’s not all talk. “She has soulful eyes,” says Sandra Lawrence, director of development. “It’s as if she completely understands what you’re feeling.”
CICI: Breakout star
In the summer of 2015, a very brave four-month-old pig took her fate into her own hands. She somehow managed to escaped from a pig farm and run up the road to a neighbor’s house. Jan, who wants only her first name used, decided not to report her. But she chose not to keep the little pig enclosed because she didn’t want to be accused of stealing her.
Cici stuck around anyway. She took a shine to Jan’s horses and started grazing alongside them. She even slept next to them on a bed of hay. She also managed to make friends with Jan, who cared for her until she realized the little pig needed more than she could provide. So she called Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, which was more than happy to take in Cici.
Three years later, Cici has become an enthusiastic participant in farm sanctuary activities. She loves visitors, running up to greet people and grunting happily when they stop to rub her head or belly. The good people at Woodstock report she still likes snuggling in a bed of hay at the end of a day, these days with her pig pals.
Cici currently resides at: Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit in High Falls, New York, that gives farm animals sanctuary and advocates for animal rights in alliance with other social justice movements. Donate
Andy: ambassador for pigs
We’re including this last one because it’s Andy, a pig who smiles. He and his BFF Joan were rescued from a factory farm in 2007 and dropped off in the middle of the night at the Farm Sanctuary’s New York shelter. That same year, more than 109 million pigs were slaughtered. But not Andy.
When he and Joan arrived at the Sanctuary, both had pretty bad pneumonia and needed treatment immediately. Once Andy recovered he became one of Farm Sanctuary’s most beloved residents. Turns out Andy loves people, and they love hm. Look for photos of Andy all over the internet.
Andy is so social he’s even made friends with other farm animals, like chickens. He’s really fond of chickens. Like most pigs, he’s also very smart. (Read more about pig intelligence here.) His favorite trick, if that’s what it can be called, is to come running, or walking (depending on his mood), when you call his name.
“Andy is the best ambassador I know for getting people to realize just how amazing pigs can be,” writes Shelter Director Susie Coston. “He is sweet, loving, and enjoys people very much and he has never once tried to hurt anyone. He is just pure goodness. Andy pig is the anti-biter and chief snuggler of our pig barn.”
We can’t think of a better way to end this story than with a brief visual tribute to Andy, Chief Snuggler, Smiley Guy, and Pig Ambassador.
Andy currently resides at: Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.