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The Benefits Of Planned Living Arrangements For Residents At Your Animal Sanctuary

A flock of sheep outside, with one sheep looking at the camera.
Sheep prefer living with other sheep if possible! It is part of their gregarious instincts.

Updated July 14, 2020

When caring for a number of individuals at your animal sanctuary, especially if your sanctuary’s species mix is diverse, one of the most effective tools you can use to maximize their ongoing well-being is a careful plan of where exactly they live on your grounds and, just as importantly, who they spend time with! Creating planned living arrangements for different groups of individuals may take a bit more observation, upkeep, and the occasional group adjustment, but the benefits are significant both for individual residents and your sanctuary’s operations!

What Is A Planned Living Arrangement?

By “planned living arrangements”, we are referring to a specific set of factors and intentions, but the core of the concept is:

Rather than individuals of all species living and sleeping in shared common areas full time, and rather than an arbitrary decision to place residents in different living arrangements without evaluation, a sanctuary thoughtfully decides who should live with whom based on a number of ongoing factors.

In practice, this planning looks like:

  • Prioritizing individuals living in spaces with their own species wherever possible and appropriate, especially in shared indoor living spaces and overnight areas
  • With larger resident populations, creating separated subgroups of individuals who can safely spend time around each other, minimizing risks of bullying or other confrontational behaviors that could lead to a lowered quality of life for any one individual
  • Thinking carefully about which individuals and which species can safely and comfortably share outdoor living spaces such as paddocks or pastures
  • Creating special separate groups of individuals who might need extra space or time to get around and eat comfortably, such as those living with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or elderly residents, as well as their close companions to prevent isolation
  • Frequently observing and evaluating the group dynamics and general contentment in each arrangement, and finding alternative living arrangements for those who need adjustments in order to live a comfortable life. The ability to find alternative living conditions for lifelong residents who cannot comfortably live together for whatever reason is an important variable of a sanctuary’s capacity for responsible care
  • For individuals who cannot live with members of their own species, finding a living arrangement that is safe and comfortable for them and whoever they end up living with
  • Avoiding the long term isolation of any individual resident, finding solutions to minimize loneliness wherever possible. Long term isolation of any resident is hazardous to their general well-being.

The Benefits Of Planned Living Arrangements

It’s Easier To Provide Exactly What A Species Needs

If your organization has the means and ability to separate residents by species groups who can safely get along without conflict, it is much easier to provide for the specific needs of that species without the additional complications of mixed-species living. For instance, keeping goats and sheep in separate living spaces allows for you to provide the exact minerals needed for each species without the added concern of copper toxicity risks in sheep or the need to supplement additional copper for goats.

Environmentally, if a living space can be dedicated to one species, it is much easier to tailor a species’ environment to best suit their needs, challenges, natural behaviors, and preferences. It is much more complex to apply species-specific designs and benefits to a space that has to accommodate a large number of species!

In addition, when individuals live in groups arranged by species, it can be easier to track herd or flock-wide health concerns caused by environmental or nutritional factors rather than trying to track subtle health changes in individuals spread far apart. This can be very important in finding and addressing deficits before they cause significant issues in a group of individuals.

Parasite Considerations
If you keep species separate, you may be able to better manage parasite concerns in your resident populations either by creating a species-based pasture rotation schedule or by keeping certain species off of certain pastures entirely! For instance, if you are caring for separated sheep and equine groups in two separate pastures, you can switch up which species grazes on which pasture on a regular basis.  Because equines and sheep are affected by many different parasites, this rotation can break the life cycle of the parasite because it no longer has a suitable host. This can help cut down on parasite loads and can help prevent parasites from becoming resistant to dewormers by reducing the need for residents to be dewormed in the first place. Alternately, preventing some species from accessing pasture another species has used can help prevent certain health issues.  Young turkeys, for example, can get blackhead disease if they are housed with or share space with chickens. Blackhead is caused by a very common nematode infection in chickens that does not present very much risk for them, but can be fatal in turkeys.

You Can Keep Better Track Of Everyone

If each individual has a specific place where they live on-site, it’s much easier to monitor each individual each day, and ensure that nobody has been hiding away to tend to an illness or injury. The possibility for each resident to be visibly seen by a caregiver who knows them is another important variable of a sanctuary’s capacity for responsible care. When you have better insights into each individual, it can be easier to evaluate their general contentment and well-being, and more proactively adjust their living environment and enrichment strategies to best suit their individual needs and preferences.

Planned living arrangements also means that care staff members can divide their rounds by set groups of individuals, meaning more recurring observations, more individual familiarity, and a greater ability to notice if anyone is acting differently and is in need of help before minor concerns become serious.

You’ll Have Safer Emergency Protocols

With well-planned living arrangements, it is much easier to coordinate and carry out emergency actions, such as evacuations, emergency sheltering due to predation or regional disease outbreaks, or quickly ensuring a path is clear to bring in emergency equipment, such as to lift a downed cow. If, for instance, birds live freely in an open range with cows and pigs, not only will it be harder to locate and gather them for whatever reason, but there is a larger risk of individuals leaving sanctuary grounds, or a higher risk of injury to smaller residents, in stressful, time-sensitive scenarios. By contrast, if each resident has their own living space, a sanctuary can create effective and rapid emergency plans that are tailored for each living space, and this level of planned coordination can save lives in rapid response scenarios like structure fires.

If you are concerned that a resident may be missing, having a planned living arrangement for everyone means you can rapidly ascertain whether they are truly missing or just spending time in another living space, in addition to being able to figure out if anyone else is unaccounted for from the place they’re supposed to be.

You’ll Experience [Typically] Less Rowdy Roommates

For the most part, residents of the same species will cohabitate more peacefully than mixed-species groups (once a herd order has been established). Same-species residents typically have a better shared understanding of their unique social cues, herd order standings, and comfortable forms of play, and will have a lower chance of accidentally harming another individual of their own species through roughhousing or resource guarding.

Residents who have never lived with members of their own species, such as those who have exclusively spent time with humans since their birth, can sometimes develop confrontational, dominance-based behaviors with humans as they mature; these issues are often caused by a lack of same-species role models to help demonstrate and enforce acceptable social behavior. These same individuals often exhibit a marked decrease in confrontational behavior towards humans over time if they have the opportunity to live with other members of their species who can teach them good manners!

If an individual cannot live with other members of their species because they are an exception to this general rule, careful, intentional planning based on individual observation means a much higher chance of finding a mixed-species group for them to live with that will be more harmonious for everyone.

If You Make Exceptions, Planning Still Must Come Into Play!

It’s not uncommon for sanctuaries to make exceptions to the general rule of species-specific living arrangements, such as if they have a rooster or tom who cannot safely live with females of their species and does better in a cow’s living space, or perhaps a goat resident who is frequently bullied and does better with a flock of sheep residents. There may also be times when it is not advisable to house certain individuals or groups with other members of their species due to a health challenge. For example, if a group of goats are struggling with resistant Barber Pole worm infections, it may be best both for them and your other goat residents if they lived with another species who is not affected by Barber Pole worms. These adjustments are also an important part of planned living arrangements, and are often much more responsible than simply hoping that individuals will eventually get along or act safely around others. If you do wish to make mixed-species adjustments, check out our guides on which species might be a good fit for your resident! Some species arrangements are much safer than others.

Updated on August 3, 2020

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