The cloud which had provided shade for the other volunteers and myself had finally receded, and my shirt clung to the sweat on my body. I paused from shoveling cow patties – a more polite name for cow dung – to slowly approach the beautiful animal pictured below.
I scratched his head and then massaged his neck, enjoying being in the presence of such a calm, powerful creature. In response, he licked my leg with his sandpaper tongue, and then proceeded to douse my shirt in a generous amount of cow saliva.
Saturday, I had the privilege of volunteering at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres in Acton, California. Although the weatherman had threatened us with a heatwave, the sky remained overcast until lunch.
I hadn’t been sure what to expect. My family and I visited Farm Sanctuary a few months earlier, at my request, and when I heard they organized volunteer days, I quickly signed up. Sadly, the volunteer party days are only once a month, so I had a two month wait before I returned to the sanctuary as a volunteer.
A broad spectrum of people came together to form the group of twenty-two volunteers for that day. A couple wearing shirts with loud vegan slogans, a trio of friends, a quieter pair around my age who was seeing the sanctuary for their first time, and plenty of individuals like myself, people who came simply to make a difference and spend some quality time with animals that you don’t get to see every day.
We spent the first few hours cleaning out the cows’ and pigs’ barns (above). Using shovels and rakes, and protected from the dust and smell with thick face masks, we emptied the two barns and refilled them with clean hay. Then we repeated the task with the goats’ and sheep’s barn. For safety reasons, the cows and pigs had to leave the barns before we cleaned them, but the goats and sheep were free to roam around. They interrupted our work to beg for some pets, they wandered in and out while we shoveled, or they stared at us as we spread clean hay throughout their home.
Afterwards, it was time to set up the potluck lunch. One requirement for volunteering at Farm Sanctuary was to bring a vegan potluck dish. As one volunteer commented, “It’s nice to know that you can eat everything without worrying.”
Apart from spending time with the animals, being a part of this (mostly) vegan community was great. Usually I’m the lone vegan, and suddenly I felt like a part of a group. No worry, no judgment, and a sense of support. I’ve found similar qualities in the online blogging world, but experiencing it in my real, physical day, having people sitting next to me who wanted to talk about vegan foods, politics, etc., was amazing. If you have any suggestions for how to find vegan communities in the non-virtual world, I’m all ears.
A restful hour later, we turned to our final task: picking up the cow patties. When I toured Farm Sanctuary, this cow pasture was one of the areas the tour group wasn’t allowed in because there was a chance that Mr. Ed, the largest bull and protector of the herd, would charge. However, as a volunteer, I was allowed to carefully make my way out into the field and work around Mr. Ed. He calmly lounged as us volunteers moved around, and he let us pet the other cows.
Volunteering at Farm Sanctuary allowed me to get dirty and reconnect with nature after a week of sitting at an office desk. I bonded with a lovely goat named Maria, felt connected to a vegan community around me, and got up-close with animals that some people never see in a lifetime. While I began eating a vegan diet for health reasons, developing a deeper sense of respect for animals has been a welcome and inspiring side effect.