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    A Guide To Evaluating Farmed Animal Care Sources, Recommendations And Information For Your Sanctuary

    An image of an information desk with people walking about.
    Information, please! While we at The Open Sanctuary Project do our best to be a virtual information desk for all things to do with the compassionate care of sanctuary animals, as a caregiver you might also want some tips on how to evaluate information for yourself!
    Photo courtesy of Philip Strong on Unsplash.

    Click here to jump to the Video Resource!

    Resource Goals

    • Understanding the different kinds of sources and recommendations of information surrounding farmed animal care;
    • Gaining knowledge of the challenges that are associated with each type of information and how to navigate them;
    • And learning some tools and ways to assess recommendations and sources, so you can be sure that you are relying on the most accurate and helpful information possible to enhance the lives of your residents.

    Introduction

    We live in an interesting time, known by many as “the information age,” or an era in human history characterized by a shift from industrialization and infrastructure building to a greater focus on computerization, information building, and immediate information access. The question of information access and control is a defining aspect of our new era. While it seems like an inarguably good thing that more and more people can have instant access to endless volumes of information, it does raise certain challenges. In the last few years, we have seen a lot of hullabaloo among politicians, pundits, and activists, touting this or that piece of information as decisive, or fake, depending on what side they happen to be on. Further, having access to endless floods of information, much of which can be contradictory, confusing, or downright misleading, depending on who is propounding it, has led to a phenomenon known as information overload, which comes with additional stress at work, anxiety, and stress around which information we should choose to believe or focus on, and the ensuing problems with concentration and decision making. 

    The constant flood of information that we deal with every day is not going away soon, and it definitely can impact animal sanctuaries and rescues, who, overwhelmed with caregiving obligations, find themselves having to wade through all kinds of information to get to actionable guidance that can help them implement the best suited compassionate care practices for their residents. It can be very stressful and time-consuming. The Open Sanctuary Project was founded in part to help animal sanctuaries and rescues with precisely this issue! For more information on how we as an organization curate and check the sources and recommendations that we incorporate into our guidance, please check out this resource. We hope that this resource can provide you with more specifics on how to look at various kinds of information sources and care recommendations, so you can assess them more easily and feel a little less overwhelmed by all that is out there!

    Video Resource: “Says Who? Thinking Critically About Chicken Care Information”

    Check out Senior Advisor Tara Hess’ presentation about the topic covered in this resource from the 2022 Humane Hoax conference as it pertains to chicken care!

    Closed captions are available using the “CC” button on the bottom right of this player!

    Why Is Finding Compassionate Care Information So Challenging?

    We’ll start by looking at some of the challenges that are fairly unique when it comes to finding information on the care of farmed animals. Compassionate lifelong care for farmed animals is a relatively new concept. Information about caregiving practices to date has been largely informed by the dominant society’s lens of animal use and exploitation. In short, the larger part of society views farmed animals as objects to be used, for their flesh or the products of their bodies. Animals are thus largely relegated to the status of being an “object,” and therefore any guidance that considers their sentience, their value as individuals, their lifelong care, and their overall well-being is sparse, if it exists at all.

    The view and the resulting treatment of animals as a “means” to a human end run through all aspects of our society. The mental framework held by most members of society with respect to animals has had a heavy impact. From the legal treatment of animals by legislatures and governmental agencies, up to the day-to-day “care” (or lack thereof) of animals who exist in the system of industrial animal agriculture, it is pervasive and nefarious. We will briefly consider some examples of how societal views of animals have informed both law and care practices within animal agriculture.

    How the Law Can Impact The Care of Farmed Animals

    A specific example of how this can play out in practice can be seen around the question of the legality of drugs that are available to treat farmed animals. While a comprehensive discussion of how the law treats the question of medications for farmed animals is beyond the scope of this resource (look for an upcoming resource on this question), we want to make note of the state of the law around the veterinary care of farmed animals here. In short, many treatments and drugs are prohibited, or limited in their use by law (known as “extra-label”) for use in farmed animals due to concerns about “drug residues” that may impact people who consume their flesh, or products like milk or eggs. For more information on the “extra-label” use of medications, see this guidance from the United States Food and Drug Administration (hereinafter “the FDA.”) Also note that under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and its regulations, which are part of the statutory framework governing the lives of animals in industrial animal agriculture, the FDA has interpreted the definition of “food” to include live animals who are intended for consumption, and this interpretation has been upheld by multiple courts.

    What this means is that the FDA specifically regulates what kinds of treatments are available to farmed animals and how they can be administered, NOT on the basis of the health or well being of the animals in question, but rather on an assessment of the risk that any drug residues in the bodies of those animals may present to humans who consume them. Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Species Pages, an organization with locations at universities across the United States notes for instance that when it comes to chickens, “the FDA considers all chickens to be food animals regardless of an owner’s attachment to a particular bird. Accordingly, all regulations pertaining to the treatment of food animals, including the use of prohibited substances, should be followed when treating backyard chickens.” 

    As a matter of fact, the FDA only approved the first use of a pain control drug in a food-producing animal in 2018, when it approved Banamine Transdermal, available only through veterinary prescription, for pain control purposes when it comes to footrot in cows. In its announcement regarding this “approved use,” the FDA claimed that it is “hard to detect pain in food-producing animals,” and further that measuring pain in “food-producing animals” is more difficult than in traditional companion animals such as dogs, cats, or horses, whose “pain behaviors may be noticeable and easier to detect.” 

    Any experienced caregiver in the context of a sanctuary can dispute these statements about how farmed animals experience pain, based on their lived daily experience with them, and due to the time and effort that they expend in viewing and treating animals as individuals, in daily observation of residents, and in avoiding practices that cause direct or indirect harm. Obviously, this false distinction held by the FDA and industrial animal agriculture between how farmed animals and “companion animals” experience pain is a sad function of the pervasive and problematic nature of animal agriculture, which fundamentally eschews compassionate practices as “too costly.”

    Another related question is how both governing authorities and the animal agriculture industry deal with the large-scale outbreak of animal diseases. If we consider, for example, the question of the 2022 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (hereinafter “HPAI”) as well as the government’s legal response to it, we see that while there is some attention given to biosecurity measures to avoid the spread of this disease, the primary focus is on the “stamping out” of the disease through “depopulation,” a euphemism for the mass slaughter of all domesticated birds found on a property where the virus is detected. When such an instance occurs, it is often accompanied by governmental compensation to the farmers for the “cost” of eggs and birds killed. Sadly, because neither the HPAI virus nor governmental control measures around it discriminate with regards to whether a bird lives within an industrial animal agricultural setting, or whether in a sanctuary, “commercial poultry producers,” backyard chicken keepers, and sanctuaries alike have been subjected to both HPAI infections and subsequent depopulation. 

    While there have been significant funds expended in terms of surveillance for HPAI and in “stamping it out,” there seems to be in contrast a dearth of research into possible disease prevention beyond biosecurity, such as vaccination for example. This is attributable to the fact that the use of an HPAI vaccination can have substantial impacts on trade in animal agricultural products, and on the economy generally. Protecting the economy and monied interests behind animal agriculture, unfortunately, is preferable to spending money on developing measures that could save millions of bird lives.

    The power, wealth, and influence of animal agriculture on lawmaking is a difficult force to resist. It is truly unfortunate that the strength of this influence has created a situation in which our veterinarians are limited by law when it comes to what they can and cannot do to compassionately care for farmed animal patients, and that research around the health of farmed animals is similarly either driven or circumvented due to “the powers that be.”

    How The Animal Agriculture Industry Has Influenced Animal Care Information

    The influence of the “animal as object” societal mindset, and thus of industrial animal agriculture on care information for farmed animals has also extended beyond the regulation of drugs and the availability of certain veterinary treatments. It impacts every other aspect of the lives of the animals within industrial animal agriculture, from diet, to living conditions, to questions of vaccination. Again, the running theme that dominates all information generated and used by the animal agriculture industry is economics. The industry spends significant amounts of money to figure out how to “maximize production,” almost always at the expense of the well-being of animals. To get a better sense of the priorities at play when it comes to the treatment of farmed birds, for example, consider the following list of titles of workshops that have been sponsored by the American College of Poultry Veterinarians. (Emphasis has been added.)

    • “Nutritional interventions to improve intestinal health and feed conversion for traditional and antibiotic-free production systems”
    • “Getting the most out of hatchery vaccination: development of an early immune response and its effect on performance
    • “The link between diagnostics and improved productivity: Surveillance, interpretation, and response”
    • “Zoonotic Diseases: How poultry sub-clinical infections affect cost of production
    • “Commercial Turkeys and Turkey Breeders: practical experiences in the control of contemporary economically significant diseases

    Terms like “feed conversion,” “productivity,” and “economically significant diseases” are pervasive in all industry literature, and again, reflect the dominant society’s view that the animals in question are nothing more than the means to serve a human purpose. The goal within the industry is to minimize as much as possible the costs of caring for the animals “produced,” while maximizing the “output.” 

    One example of this is related to how domestication and selective breeding of farmed animals over many years has been conducted so that animals grow incredibly quickly, to incredibly large sizes (such as in the case of large breed chickens and turkeys, as well cows exploited for their flesh and large breed pigs) at a very young age. The reason for this is to minimize the time that farmers need to care for animals and provide them with “costly inputs” like food and basic “care.” As a result, it can even be difficult to find quality information on the natural lifespan of farmed animals. However, sanctuary caregivers have learned that with the proper care, farmed animals can live fulfilling lives well beyond the time given to them within the context of industrial animal agriculture. 

    One source of information on the potential lifespans of commonly farmed animals by Four Paws can be found here. However, please note that there will always be a range that can vary significantly when it comes to resident lifespans, which can depend on an individual’s history, their “breed,” and their ongoing care in sanctuary. The Open Sanctuary Project’s eldercare resources for each species offer additional guidance on an individual’s possible lifespans, which may also be instructive.

    Another area related to the question of maximizing farmed animal “production” is the question of diet. There is significant research on the part of the animal agriculture industry on how to feed animals in a way that maximizes unnatural and unhealthy growth, or that is focused on feeding females who are in a state of near-constant reproduction – but this kind of feeding bears no relation to the animals’ long term health, and in fact, can have impacts on basic aspects of animal life like mobility. In contrast, there is virtually no research on how farmed animals should be fed to maintain a healthy weight in the long term, or how to care for animals past when they hit their “slaughter weight.” 

    While the issue of animal agriculture sources offering diet recommendations that are not healthy or appropriate for most sanctuary residents applies to virtually all farmed animal species, generally, this issue is perfectly exemplified by the difference in diet recommendations between mini pigs and large breed pigs. Foods designed for pigs in agricultural settings are designed for rapid growth and weight gain and are therefore typically designed to be fed “free-choice” (eating as much as they want). As such, the fiber content in these foods is typically low to prevent them from “filling up” on fiber and eating less. 

    High-quality mini pig food, on the other hand, is designed with the individual’s health and well-being in mind. Because obesity is common and detrimental in pigs, recommendations for feeding mini pigs involve offering measured portions of food to help them maintain a healthy weight. As such, mini pig food formulas typically have more fiber than what is found in commercial foods for large breed pigs (in some cases twice as much) specifically because it helps the pigs feel satiated. Given these facts, it’s no wonder that many compassionate pig caregivers choose to feed mini pig food to their residents.

    Obviously, relying on industrial animal agriculture’s recommendations for the feeding of farmed animals is deeply problematic, and finding other more compassionate sources of information is a matter of significant importance to the health of sanctuary residents. Unfortunately, not every farmed animal species has a companion animal counterpart whose recommendations we can look to when determining what sanctuary residents need. Luckily, because of the pioneering work of compassionate caregivers and sanctuaries, there is useful information available regarding the proper diet to feed farmed animal species. To learn more about the dietary needs of farmed animal residents, check out our species-specific resources here.

    How Lack of Compassionate Care Information and A Propounding of “So-Called Experts” Has Contributed to Confusion

    While a perfunctory Google search might yield endless results when it comes to the “care” of farmed animals, there is actually a distinct lack of information on compassionate care practices that are meant to ensure their long-term well-being. Since both legal guidance and information propounded by industrial animal agriculture relate almost exclusively to the economic gain of farmed animal keepers, sanctuary caregivers have had to look elsewhere, and can often come up with confusing guidance, even sometimes inadvertently and with the best of intentions, spreading misinformation themselves.

    If you care for large breed or disabled birds, for instance, you will not likely be able to find helpful, compassionate guidance in any form from animal agricultural sources. However, because we do live in the information age, where virtually any individual can set up a website and market themselves as an “expert,” there is yet another layer of potential misinformation to navigate. It shows up often specifically in the context of avian farmed animals, due to their popularity as “backyard birds.”

    A Note On Terminology
    When it comes to animals kept on a smaller scale, there is a myriad of terms used. You may see terms like “backyard chickens,” “backyard livestock,” “homesteading,” “ hobby farming,” or even “urban animal agriculture.” For the sake of simplicity, when referring to sources like this, we will use the term “hobby farming.”

    Such misinformation can take shape in the form of websites, blogs, and other forms of media that have arisen which share all kinds of different takes on the care of these birds, and can be run by anyone ranging from a bonafide enthusiast who wants the best for animals (but lacks training and experience), to breeders, to people who purport to be “expert consultants,” seeking to profit off the backyard bird boom by claiming themselves to be a source of expertise that is “cheaper than a vet.” 
    It is entirely possible to find, for example, recommendations from such sources on matters which may seem helpful, but ultimately can do your residents more harm than good. Let’s consider a quick example, the question of mobility challenges for large breed chickens. Let’s imagine that Debbie, the founder of a new small sanctuary, has a Cornish Cross rooster named Frank who has suddenly started limping. In a panic, Debbie heads to her computer and starts googling. Look what happens if you Google “large chicken limping!” The sheer number of results that come up is astounding. 

    An image of a Google search for "large chicken limping" showing "about 6,040,000 results."

    While some of these over six million results may well have some helpful information, there are also many others that can recommend practices, including things like DIY surgery in cases of issues such as bumblefoot, that could definitely involve a substantial and likely risk of harm to Frank if Debbie tried it out. Some of these sites even charge substantial sums for access to this kind of information! Debbie is distraught, particularly because there seems to be such a dearth of information relating to Cornish Crosses specifically. She knows that this is because Cornishes in particular are only allowed to live for a small fraction of their natural lifespan, so she doesn’t trust a lot of the information she’s finding. Some sources are telling her it’s bumblefoot. Some say it’s arthritis. Even others say this is “just what happens” to Cornish Crosses because “they can’t live healthy lives past six months of age.” What’s Debbie to do?

    Let’s work on pulling together some guidance to help Debbie and other sanctuary caregivers who find themselves in this position when it comes to discerning helpful sources from harmful ones and good recommendations from bad ones!

    General Principles for Navigating Sources and Recommendations

    To get started, let’s give some general tips for both Debbie and you on how to sort through the plethora of information that you may find on animal care practices. Let’s start with a simple list with some relatively easy criteria. Though it may seem simplistic, we’ll use the term “good” to refer to a source that meets at least some of a list of criteria and questions that we’ve developed over time to assess whether the information is helpful to compassionate caregivers, or whether it might potentially do more harm than good. 

    What Makes A Source Or Recommendation “Good?”

    Good information should hopefully have all of the following qualities:

    a drawing of a green ambassador resident llama that is happy
    • Accurate;
    • Current;
    • Complete;
    • Based on a clear understanding of the species discussed and their needs;
    • And focused on the well-being of the individual.

    In contrast, bad information can often be characterized as:

    A drawing of an angry llama
    • Incorrect;
    • Outdated;
    • Overtly harmful;
    • Based on commodification, speciesism, exploitation, etc.;
    • And provided without context or oversimplified and generalized.

    Of course, there are different degrees of “bad” and there can also be information out there that might not meet all the criteria on our “good” list, but with careful consideration, can still be valuable. We’ll look at different kinds of sources more closely in a minute, but if we quickly consider veterinary information as an example, we might be able to find something that is accurate, current, complete, and is based on a clear understanding of who a particular species of animals are in terms of their anatomy and physiology, but might ignore what they need as sentient beings and might also be steeped in commodification, speciesism, and exploitation. This can especially be the case if it is derived from a lens of understanding farmed animals strictly in the context of industrial animal agriculture. Such information can still be very valuable, but it requires that we think carefully about what we know about the animal species that we care for, and what it means to provide sanctuary for them. 

    What Are Our “Absolutes?”

    In order to evaluate sources and information about the species we care for, it can be helpful to start by considering who these species are. Having a set of absolutes about who they are and what they need can help guide the process of evaluating information and sources to inform the best compassionate practices with regard to their care. 

    Below, we’ll offer some absolutes that apply to farmed animals, generally, but because within the broader category of “farmed animals” are different species with their own unique history and needs, we suggest creating your own list of absolutes for each species that you have in your care. 

    • Farmed animals are individuals with inherent value. Their worth is not tied to a monetary amount, what we can “get from them”, or how they interact with us.
    • Farmed animals are domesticated. Their bodies have been manipulated through generations of selective breeding practices and so their care may involve special consideration of the harms that have been caused through their domestication.
    • Farmed animals are prey animals. While different species are vulnerable to different predators, no matter where you live, it’s important to consider the predators in your area and take steps to ensure your residents’ protection.
    • Farmed animals need protection from the elements year-round, regardless of their species or breed. 
    • Farmed animals are generally social animals. They should not be forced to live in total isolation. To read more about social arrangements, check out our safe cohabitation resources here
    • Farmed animals feel pain. Like us, they benefit from pain management for painful conditions and need proper analgesics and anesthetics when undergoing surgical procedures.
    • Farmed animals deserve the same consideration as other companion animals when they near the end of their life. If euthanasia is deemed the most compassionate choice given the individual’s quality of life, it should be performed with the same gentle, non-physical methods most folks expect for their beloved cat or dog.

    In order to identify absolutes about the species you care for, consider things like who their wild ancestors are and what their natural habitat is. This is likely vastly different from how they are raised in animal agriculture settings. Also, consider their natural behaviors. Ideally, sanctuary housing should reflect both these pieces of information (while also offering proper predator protection) rather than mimicking animal agriculture housing practices. 

    Similarly, consider some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about the species and individuals you care for and try to find ways to incorporate those into your absolutes. For example, there is a common misconception that goats can eat anything, while in reality they actually have a very complex digestive system that can be easily thrown out of whack by an inappropriate diet. Though less extreme than the notion that goats can eat literal garbage, there is also this idea that they are just like sheep in regards to their dietary needs. However, unlike sheep, who are primarily grazers, goats are primarily browsers. Therefore, rather than having a diet heavy on grasses, they should have ample opportunities to browse on safe shrubs and trees. Please note that in the context of considering your absolutes, it is also helpful to have an organizational philosophy of care, which can help you to customize your lists of “absolutes” when it comes to any given species of residents.

    Evaluating Sources

    Now that we have our list of absolutes, let’s talk about how to evaluate sources from that context. Evaluating sources can help us determine if a particular source is even worth our time, and if it is, what issues to anticipate. Let’s list these questions, and how they can help Debbie, mentioned above, navigate through some of the sources she finds with regard to the care of Frank, her Cornish Cross rooster companion with a limp.

    Some sample general questions to ask when looking at a particular source may include:

    • Who is this source? What is their experience with farmed animals? Do they have professional qualifications? Do they explain their background? Are they well-suited to speak about the issue in question?
    • How do they view farmed animals? How might this affect the information they share about them and what they recommend? Some ways you can pick on their lens is by looking at the following indicators:
    • Look at how they talk about the animals in question. Do they call individuals “it” for example? Or do they refer to individuals by name? Do they see animals as a collective of distinct individuals, or a nameless herd or flock?
    • Look at what they focus on. Are they interested in maximizing well-being for the sake of individual comfort and quality of life? Or are they only interested in well-being as it pertains to productivity?
    • Do they have a focus on female individuals? This is pretty common when it comes to farmed animals. With chickens, for instance, this shows a direct link to the egg industry where males are deemed worthless and are therefore killed or discarded. Similarly, with cows and other ruminants, it can show a direct link to the dairy industry, where males suffer similarly poor treatment.
    • Who is their intended audience? How does this affect the information they are sharing? For example, if the audience is farmers, this will strongly affect the kind of information that the source presents. In contrast, if they are targeting rescuers, shelters, or sanctuaries, the focus may be far more relevant to caregivers.
    • Can you tell where their information is coming from? Is it anecdotal, or are they citing other established sources? If so, what are the background, view of farmed animals, and audience of the sources that they cite?

    Evaluating Recommendations

    Why do we have to consider sources and specific recommendations separately? Sadly, just because a source ticks a lot of positive boxes in the list above and feels like it is reliable, doesn’t mean that all of their information and recommendations are good or appropriate in a sanctuary setting. So in addition to thinking about where the recommendation is coming from by evaluating the source, you also want to evaluate the specific recommendation by asking:

    • Whose needs are at the forefront with regard to the recommendation – the animals’ or the humans’ needs?
    • Is this recommendation coming from a source qualified to give advice on this specific subject?
    • Does the recommendation fit with our absolutes?
    • What is the ultimate goal of this recommendation?
    • What risks, if any, come with following this recommendation?
    • Are there other ways to achieve a similar outcome but with fewer, or no, risks?
    • Can you find other trusted sources that support this recommendation?

    The Precautionary Principle

    After considering these lists, there are a few additional tips that warrant a bit further explanation when it comes to assessing sources and recommendations. First, one thing that you may wish to consider is implementing an adaptation of the precautionary principle when looking at any given recommendation. The precautionary principle is a concept that comes up in a lot of different contexts, from environmentalism to human health hazards when stakes are high. At its core, the precautionary principle requires asking yourself when it comes to any potential action, “Does this action have the potential of causing irreparable harm? If so, is there an alternative that may cause less, or possibly no harm?” If the answer to the latter question is “Yes,” then the precautionary principle would weigh towards the actions with less potential for harm.

    The Rule Of Three

    Another tip that may help you in assessing recommendations is the “Rule of Three,” a rule we have informally developed at The Open Sanctuary Project: If you find a recommendation that seems like it may be helpful, see if you can find three other sources that seem legitimate, and who also support that recommendation. For example, if you are researching a particular disease, it is very helpful to find three veterinary sources that all support the same recommendation. If you find one recommendation with no support elsewhere, you may wish to reconsider utilizing that recommendation, unless you have personal experience with it. This may not always be possible, however, given the constraints and limitations on research and information around compassionate care, described above. 

    When it comes to the Rule of Three, it’s worth observing a little bit of caution. Sometimes when you find one source that seemingly affirms a recommendation, it is possible that there may be plagiarism going on, and the recommendation was just copied without independent review. Another thing that can happen is that recommendations may be lifted and slightly modified from one source, with important omissions or possible misunderstandings that can have big implications. For example, consider a hypothetical hobby goat farmer, doing research regarding living space recommendations for goats. They find a recommendation regarding how much space Nigerian dwarf goats require. They decide to share this same information, omitting however that the recommendation relates specifically to Nigerian dwarf goats, and then they write that the space recommendation is for all goats. Given the vast size differences between different breeds of goats, it is misguided to think one recommendation can be applied to all goats. Taking a space recommendation meant for small Nigerian dwarf goats and attempting to apply it to larger breeds of goats will result in individuals having far less space than they need, but given the way that information flows today, it is entirely possible this recommendation can be repeated again and again, like a game of “telephone,” and bad information can be spread widely, inadvertently. Checking sources carefully, and making sure that each source has assessed its recommendations independently and critically is a very important part of avoiding such faulty information.

    This Is Why We Have An Information Sharing Policy!
    In order to combat the above issue, we have content sharing guidelines for our resources that we ask anyone replicating our information to abide by.

    Common Sources of Information

    Now that we’ve considered some general guidelines for assessing sources of information and specific recommendations, let’s talk about some of the different kinds of sources you will encounter when you search for compassionate care recommendations for farmed animals. These will include veterinarians, veterinary sources like scientific journals and textbooks, sanctuaries and sanctuary caregivers, agricultural extension services and other governmental agencies, hobby farming sources, as well as other animal agricultural sources. We will consider the types of information that can be found in these sources, some of the challenges that can accompany them, and suggestions for navigating these challenges. 

    Veterinarians

    Before we talk about veterinary sources, let’s generally consider the role your own veterinarian plays as a source of information. We cannot overemphasize the importance of veterinary care for your sanctuary. If you care for farmed animals, you absolutely must have a relationship with a veterinarian who is willing and able to care for these kinds of patients. Finding such a veterinarian can be a challenge in and of itself. Board-certified vets can have an advanced level of education in specialized areas of medicine and surgery, especially when it comes to avian residents, but not everyone has access to a board-certified vet in their area. The key is to find someone who is experienced with the species you are caring for (or who is at least willing to learn about them), and who will provide the individualized care you are seeking. It is also critically important to work on maintaining a positive relationship with your veterinarian, as this may be one of the important relationships you can foster as a sanctuary when it comes to the care of your residents. 

    So what types of information can your veterinarian provide to you? They are your point person, and in most cases, can give you the best advice on an individual after seeing them in person and assessing them. In addition to obviously providing care to your residents, doing things like running diagnostics, and recommending treatment, your vet may be able to give you information on:

    • Specific conditions your residents have or may be at risk of contracting;
    • Disease prevention;
    • Hands-on training (for example, in administering medications, supportive care, wound management, etc.);
    • Nutritional recommendations;
    • And general healthcare protocols (such as incoming testing on new residents, parasite screening, and enhanced biosecurity, such as for HPAI.)

    So for instance, in our example with Debbie, a chicken caregiver, and Frank, her limping Cornish Cross rooster, her veterinarian should be able to discern whether the cause of the limp is something like a bumblefoot infection, or if it is due to arthritis, or perhaps something more serious. Her veterinarian can do X-rays to look at his leg and foot bones, do bloodwork to discern if there is some kind of infection going on, and can prescribe appropriate pain medications or antibiotics if necessary. However, note that depending on your veterinarian’s philosophy, experience, and the quality of your working relationship with them, you may encounter some potential challenges. These can include the following:

    • They may not know a lot (or anything) about elder farmed animal care;
    • They may not have any experience with large breed farmed animals;
    • They may not have experience with disabled farmed animals, and may feel strongly that disabled farmed animals can never have a decent quality of life;
    • They may not be used to working with clients who are willing to spend money on diagnostics and treatments for farmed animals, so they may not always recommend every option (and may even recommend euthanasia if other options involve expensive procedures);
    • They may be used to treating farmed animals as flocks or herds, rather than as individuals;
    • They may make recommendations that don’t mesh with your sanctuary’s philosophy of care, or your absolutes when it comes to your residents;
    • They may promote “hobby farming” or even animal agricultural recommendations;
    • Even the best vets might get it wrong sometimes;
    • They may struggle with finding helpful medications or treatments due to farmed animals’ “food animal” designation;
    • And there are many American Veterinary Medical Association-approved euthanasia methods that don’t mesh with compassionate end-of-life care. Therefore the way they typically perform euthanasia may not be what you expect for your residents.

    If you find yourself questioning the information that your veterinarian is giving you, and you feel that any of the above challenges are coming into play, there are ways that you can professionally and respectfully navigate this. For example, let’s imagine that Debbie’s veterinarian tells her that Frank’s limp is just a “natural part of life” for a Cornish Cross, due to his breed, and that he’s “lucky to have made it this long,” since Cornishes “typically only live a few months.” Clearly, this vet is operating on the basis of information that he has absorbed from the animal agricultural industry. Unfortunately, this can happen, however, there still may be ways that Debbie can work with him, or find other options for Frank’s care.

    This might involve Debbie explaining her sanctuary’s philosophy of care, as well as the cautious and individualized care that she gives to Frank. Debbie can take the time to work with this vet to educate him on what sanctuary means, which may include printing out compassionate resources on large breed chicken care, and bringing them to him. Try the following tips when it comes to working with your veterinarians to ensure that the information that they are relying on reflects the values of your sanctuary and the care standards you want for your residents:

    • Work on building your relationship and make sure they understand your philosophy and what you expect for your residents;
    • Create a euthanasia policy and share it with your veterinarian; 
    • Use your veterinarian’s information in conjunction with learning from compassionate caregivers and reliable sources for compassionate care, particularly when it comes to individuals your veterinarian may not have experience with;
    • And get a second opinion if you aren’t sure about their diagnosis/recommendations. This is sometimes easier said than done as simply finding one vet in your area may be a challenge, let alone another to give a second opinion. However, one way to make this happen is if you have connected with compassionate caregivers in another geographical area who have experience with a certain condition. You can then see if their veterinarian would be willing to consult with yours. Vets are often much more willing to work with another professional than to connect with a non-professional. 

    Oftentimes exchanging information back and forth with your veterinarian, and networking your veterinarian with others who may have more experience with certain species or conditions can really enhance your relationship with your veterinarian, as well as their knowledge! For instance, consider a caregiver seeking treatment options for a Cornish Cross hen who suffered a compound wing fracture, and whose veterinarian has never seen this before. If this caregiver is able to connect her veterinarian with another veterinarian who has seen this condition at another sanctuary and has had experience with successful wing amputations, a consultation between the two can lead to the best possible outcome for the hen, and an increase in veterinary knowledge to boot!

    In another real-life example, one veterinarian who did on-site visits to a farm sanctuary would bring veterinary students with her and would coach them specifically on compassionate sanctuary care for farmed animals, telling them to get into “companion care mode” when assessing and treating residents there. Those students likely benefited significantly from this experience, which goes to show that information sharing and relationship building can often enhance caregiving all around!

    Take Caution If You Disagree With Your Vet
    Vet visits, especially in an emergency situation, can be so stressful on many levels, and for all the parties involved. First, you may have a sick animal who is stressed and needs help. You personally may be worried, upset, and frustrated. And veterinarians often are dealing with significant demands, juggling emergencies, hectic schedules, and tricky cases as well! However, while emotions may be running high, we urge you to steer clear of letting them loose on your veterinarian. Even if you do not always agree, it’s really important to maintain a civil and professional relationship with your veterinarian, especially if they are the only vet in your area! Remember, their options may be limited by law, and they may lack a background in compassionate care. Instead of fighting, try coming armed with resources and knowledge and a mindset of team building. In this way, you can advocate for your residents, and you and your vet can educate each other so that everyone wins!

    Other Veterinary Sources

    Other veterinary sources of caregiving recommendations can include things like veterinary books, veterinary and scientific journals, and some websites.

    You Need To Look Past A Website’s Name And Marketing!
    When it comes to websites, be forewarned! There are numerous websites that may be named or marketed in such a way as to give an impression that they are authored and curated by veterinarians when this is in fact not the case. It’s always a good idea to check sources, as described above, to make sure that the information being offered is in fact propounded by a veterinarian or other qualified professional!

    The kinds of information that you might find in these kinds of sources include the following:

    • Information about diseases including transmission, prevention, symptoms, available diagnostics, prognosis, and treatment;
    • Drug information such as dosing info, contraindications, and side effects;
    • Information about anatomy and physiology;
    • Nutritional information;
    • Information about diagnostic interpretation;
    • And how to perform certain care-related tasks.

    Again, as with any source of information, the compassionate caregiver may encounter some challenges. These may include:

    • If a source is focused on a farmed animal species, the focus is likely going to be on economic impact or productivity rather than individual well-being, which can affect many issues, including treatment, prognosis, and techniques for certain tasks like handling;
    • There might not be much offered in the way of treatment options, partly due to the limitations imposed by farmed animals’ “food animal” designation, and also due to the fact that treatment may not be generally even considered due to cost or feasibility; 
    • It is unlikely you will find helpful information with regard to individuals who are older than the typical age at which they are slaughtered;
    • And if using veterinary books, papers, and sometimes even online sources, the information may be outdated.

    There are a few ways caregivers can navigate these kinds of challenges. First and most importantly, use veterinary source material in conjunction with your veterinarian.

    • Have a conversation with your veterinarian about any material you might find! For example, if your veterinarian suspects or has confirmed that one of your residents has a particular condition, you might want to use these kinds of sources to learn more about it and possible treatments, and bring the research you find to your vet; 
    • Or if you hear about another sanctuary that is dealing with a certain condition, or that is following certain protocols, you might want to read more about the subject and have a conversation with your veterinarian, to figure out how and if the information applies to your residents; 
    • Use veterinary sources in conjunction with sanctuary information. Can you find anyone who has experience caring for individuals with certain conditions? They may be able to give you a better idea of prognosis, and this will give you more info to then discuss with your vet;
    • To avoid outdated information when using veterinary books, check to see if there are newer editions available. If there are, there might be a brief overview of what the newest edition includes. You can also seek out sources that are clearly dated. Merck Veterinary Manual isn’t perfect, but it does have the benefit of being peer-reviewed and having both the date of the last peer review and the date the content was last modified;
    • And depending on what you are looking for, you might broaden your search to include other related species. In the case of farmed birds, you may want to look at parrot information. In the case of goats, you might want to look for sources on sheep. Although these species are not identical, you may find more information in terms of possible treatment. Again, this will be information that you would then discuss with your veterinarian rather than making veterinary decisions on your own.

    Sanctuary Sources

    We mentioned “sanctuary sources” above, so let’s dive a little bit more into what this term can mean. Sanctuary sources can include training offered by other sanctuaries, information they publish, direct correspondence, online groups run by and for compassionate caregivers (for example Vegans With Chickens, or other Vegans with species groups on Facebook), and The Open Sanctuary Project! These kinds of sources can cover a wide range of topics, including: 

    • General care information on farmed animals such as housing, diet, group dynamics, etc.;
    • Instructions on how to perform certain care tasks such as nail, spur, and hoof trimming, supportive care, administering medications, etc.;
    • Information about diseases, including treatment and prevention;
    • And care recommendations based on specific species or kinds of animals that they focus on.

    Again, there can be challenges with regard to information sourced from sanctuaries as well. These can include the following issues: 

    • It’s not always clear what the source of the information is. In some cases, it can be anecdotal and from personal experience, but in other cases, sources may be passing along information they got elsewhere which, as mentioned above, can turn into a game of telephone or even result in less than compassionate information from agricultural or hobby farming sources making its way into sanctuary spaces;
    • Some recommendations veer into the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine. While the intent is often good (wanting to provide immediate care to a sick or injured resident), it’s important to remember that unless you are a licensed veterinarian, your goal is not to act as your residents’ vet; it’s to provide general care and advocate for them to get the veterinary care they need. It’s also important to note that this tendency to act as a vet can also stem from hobby farming recommendations, which often have a DIY mentality when it comes to animal care;
    • Depending on the experience level of the source, they may be attempting to share information they don’t totally understand themselves, which can result in an inadvertent misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the information;
    • And similarly, depending on the source’s experience level, they may be leaving out important details/taking information out of context.

    One thing that’s important when navigating these challenges is to do so with compassion and sensitivity. Fostering positive relationships with other sanctuaries, or at least civil ones, is a critical part of building the sanctuary community. Even if some guidance that you are getting from sanctuary sources may seem to trace back directly to hobby farming recommendations, it can be important to engage with that thoughtfully and kindly, so that both the advice-giver and the larger community have an opportunity to learn from this. Again, as in the case where you work with your veterinarian in a mutually beneficial space, working with other sanctuaries involves give and take, and you can both learn from one another best in this kind of context. We suggest the following tips when it comes to navigating the challenges that come with sanctuary sources.  

    • Ask folks where their information is coming from so whenever possible, you can go to the source and verify all of the recommendations firsthand. If there are discrepancies, you can bring that to your sanctuary sources privately to discuss how to correct things together, if problematic recommendations have been made public.
    • If someone has what seems like a really innovative way to treat or manage a certain condition, bring the information to your veterinarian to discuss or see if your vet and their vet can connect. Share that information with your source, and consider sharing that feedback with the community (with credit if credit is due)!
    • And for information that is not coming from a veterinarian and isn’t widely covered elsewhere, connect with other trusted sanctuary sources to see if their own experience supports this (for example, Debbie’s veterinarian may not be able to tell her exactly how much to feed Frank, the Cornish cross rooster, but by talking with other caregivers of Cornishes, she might find out what amounts they fed that were met with success!) Be sure to receive helpful recommendations with gratitude!

    Governmental Agencies and Agricultural Extension Services

    Governmental agencies and related organizations such as agricultural extension services can be a very useful source of certain kinds of information. Communicating with them and using them as a resource at times can be extremely helpful. Sources like this include the United States Department of Agriculture, state departments of agriculture, as well as cooperative extensions. They can be an important source of certain kinds of information. For example, with regards to the 2022 HPAI outbreak, they can provide information on detections in your area as well as other information on notifiable diseases in your state.   

    The very significant challenge that you will deal with in this context is that these sources are often highly focused on the issues surrounding industrial animal agriculture. We can’t really offer you the same kind of bullet-pointed lists here, because every state’s agencies will vary quite significantly in how they respond to you, depending on the state’s dependency on animal agriculture for revenue, and depending on that state’s organizational culture. We can however offer you a few examples:

    In one example, a caregiver who reached out to an extension agent on an issue regarding a cow “not in production” concerning diet and nutritional needs received a response to the effect that the reason they couldn’t offer much assistance in a sanctuary context, because they were “bound by their mission” to provide “science-based, research-proven answers and there just isn’t any research to support the nutritional needs of non-producing livestock.” 

    In another example, when it comes to another state where a caregiver was looking for information, they found the following statement. “Welcome to the world of poultry! This site is part of the online United States Cooperative Extension System, known as eXtension. Our mission is to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information and education in the area of poultry science.” Please be forewarned before clicking on the following link, because the content may be upsetting, but caregivers searching for recommendations on euthanasia with regard to chickens found the following advice on this site, which was far from ideal when it comes to compassionate care standards. 

    While sanctuary caregivers should not totally discount these sources when it comes to information, at the same time it should be viewed from a critical perspective in order to make sure that it is in line with your sanctuary’s philosophy of care and list of “absolutes” when it comes to the residents for whom you care.

    Hobby Farming Sources and “Other Experts”

    In searching for caregiving recommendations, sanctuary caregivers are highly likely to come across information from animal agricultural sites and publications, as well as sites focused on those who are interested in hobby farming. This may be particularly true when it comes to chickens, as the recent boom in backyard chicken keeping has brought a crowd out when it comes to DIY and home care of these animals. We caution you when it comes to this information, and urge you to please maintain a carefully critical lens when it comes to this kind of guidance. While some of it may come from people who are legitimately interested in treating their animals as companions, they may still not understand the exploitative lens of industrial animal agriculture and may echo recommendations that they hear from such contexts. You may encounter this kind of information from hobby farming websites, blogs, and groups on social media. The types of information that they might provide can range over a wide reach of topics, including diet, housing, care of baby animals, diseases and treatments, etc. But there are a lot of potential challenges to be aware of, which include:

    • Sources focused on commodification which influences what they say animals “need;”
    • Rather than putting animals’ needs first, they often put convenience and human desires first;
    • Sources often promote DIY treatments instead of proper veterinary care, including:
      • “Diagnosing” and treating individuals who are sick without veterinary assessment;
      • “Panaceas” such as feed store antibiotics, ivermectin, and items like apple cider vinegar, which will purportedly cure all ills;
      • And instructions on DIY surgery.
    • Depending on the species, these sources may also spread misinformation about veterinary care, sometimes suggesting that veterinarians don’t know about or won’t see certain species, or that the species “doesn’t need veterinary care.” Another common sentiment that is often used to justify the DIY mentality is the notion that “Vet care is too expensive.” While it’s true that appropriate veterinary care is indeed expensive, this notion that it is “too” expensive stems directly from the idea that farmed animals have a set value based on either what you can get from them or what it costs to replace them.
    • Depending on their source, their knowledge and experience level may not be apparent, so it can be very hard to know what they are well-suited to discuss and what they aren’t. 
    • Hobby farming forums can be especially challenging since anyone can say anything, without curation.

    Specific examples of the kinds of misinformation that you may find from hobby farming sources may have to do with things like predator protection. For example, you may find advice recommending “free-ranging,” and “considering them to be a wild critter on your property who gives you fresh eggs, milk, fiber,” or whatever exploitation they happen to be promoting. You may find courses that you must pay for, advertising how to keep a particular species as “the easiest thing you’ve ever done.” You may find sites that announce that they can “give you the answer to exactly what’s happening with your animals with no expensive vet bills.” You may find consultants claiming to be the “only expert” in a particular species, yet without any professional credentials, who charge for caregiving that really falls within the realm of the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine. 

    Navigating these challenges is very difficult, therefore we recommend the following: 

    • For folks who don’t already have a significant amount of experience with animals in a compassionate care setting, these sources aren’t typically a good place to start. There might be pieces here and there that can be useful in some cases, but you need to be very discerning, which you can’t do without compassionate care experience. It’s too easy to get misled.
    • If you decide a particular source is worth your time, we strongly urge you to verify information with non-hobby farming sources such as trusted caregivers and your veterinarian.

    Conclusion

    Navigating caregiving sources and recommendations is certainly a challenge. Because the care of animals within a sanctuary setting is a relatively new phenomenon in the modern context, and because there are a lot of blanks to fill in, it is important to be able to differentiate between distinct sources – for example, animal agriculture and sanctuary sources are almost never going to match up! While the information age brings us an overwhelming flood of sources and recommendations to navigate, which may be really exciting, it can also be incredibly overwhelming. The Open Sanctuary Project sees this juncture as an important opportunity to build a new field of knowledge, in collaboration with experts like compassionate veterinarians and other sanctuary caregivers. We are here for you and exist to collaborate with you and support such efforts, so you can also always feel free to reach out to us when you have questions! While there is so much to do, together we can build a space for sanctuaries to access curated and compassionate care knowledge.

    Action Steps

    • Have a clear understanding of your sanctuary’s philosophy of care, and a list of the absolutes that are important to you when it comes to each species for whom you provide caregiving. Use these as your guidelines when assessing information.
    • When you find yourself in need of caregiving information, first carefully evaluate the sources that you are examining, and then evaluate the individual recommendations that you are considering using the lists that we have provided.
    • Foster positive relationships with your veterinarians and other sanctuaries, so that you can exchange knowledge and caregiving experiences in a way that mutually benefits professionals like veterinarians, and the sanctuary community.
    • Share information with veterinary professionals and sanctuaries. When you receive information, assess it kindly and carefully, and send feedback accordingly. When you receive feedback, receive it similarly. We are in this together, and the only way to create a new lens through which farmed animal caregiving can be viewed is with respectful collaboration and information sharing.

    Sources:

    Information Sourcing Considerations at The Open Sanctuary Project | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Observation: An Important Caregiving Tool | The Open Sanctuary Project

    What Does It Mean For Each Animal Sanctuary Resident To Be An Individual? | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Avoiding Direct and Indirect Harm At Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Advanced Topics In Resident Health: Avian Influenza | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Your Sanctuary And The Law | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Daily Diet, Treats, And Supplements For Pigs | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Excerpts From The Compassionate Care Classroom: Mobility Issues In Large Breed Chickens | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Saying Goodbye With Respect and Safety At Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Crafting Compassionate Euthanasia Policies For Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    The Open Sanctuary Project’s Euthanasia Model Policy Template – The Open Sanctuary Project

    What Does “Philosophy Of Care” Mean At The Open Sanctuary Project? | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Breaking The Mold: How Animal-Centered Design Can Transform Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    The Importance Of Veterinary Care At Your Animal Sanctuary | The Open Sanctuary Project

    How To Find Appropriate Veterinary Care For Your Farmed Animal Sanctuary’s Residents | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Building And Maintaining A Good Relationship Between Your Animal Sanctuary And Veterinarians | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Fostering Positive Relationships Between Animal Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Agricultural Cooperative Extension Services: What Can They Do For Animal Sanctuaries? | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Backyard Chicken Recommendations In Sanctuary: A Word Of Caution | The Open Sanctuary Project

    The Life Expectancy of Farmed Animals | Four Paws

    Death By Information Overload | Harvard Business Review

    The Ins and Outs of Extra-Label Drug Use in Animals: A Resource for Veterinarians | U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Adequate Records Help Prevent Illegal Drug Residues and Ensure Food Safety | U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Species Pages | FARAD (Non-Compassionate Source)

    FDA Approves First Drug to Control Pain in a Food-Producing Animal | U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Poultry End-Of-Life Situations In Small And Backyard Flocks | eXtension (Non-Compassionate Source)

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