Updated January 7, 2020
Farmed animal sanctuaries come in many shapes, sizes, and species mixes, but there are many common threads that link them together. One of the most critical elements that defines a farmed animal sanctuary versus a petting zoo or a farm is that sanctuaries do not, and should not breed animals or allow their residents to become pregnant or reproduce accidentally. Many well-meaning visitors may be excited or even expect to eventually meet newborn residents upon learning about your organization, without having considered the reasoning behind a “no-breeding” philosophy.
The Overwhelming Need For Sanctuary
Farmed animal species number in the billions worldwide. The vast majority of these animals are systematically bred and slaughtered within a fraction of their natural lifespans, regardless of whether they’re in an industrial farm or a more “humane” setting. There is no shortage of animals in desperate situations who could be taken in by compassionate sanctuaries that have the capacity to provide lifelong care for them. To intentionally breed more animals is not only unnecessary, but it also reduces a sanctuary’s ability to take in an already existing animal that may have nowhere else to go.
Breeding Is Exploitation
An animal sanctuary should be a place of non-exploitation, which means not using animals as a means of serving humans. Breeding residents does not help them; it merely perpetuates the idea that animals exist primarily for human entertainment and enjoyment. In addition, pregnancy is fraught with complications and dangers for all species, and only introduces risk to residents who may already be recovering from a variety of acute or lifelong health challenges. Many sanctuary residents themselves have been forced into multiple pregnancies before arriving at their new home, which only makes an additional pregnancy more dangerous. Caring for a baby resident is complex and requires expert care and attention to ensure they have the best health outcomes possible.
Responsible Policies For Care
For the above reasons, steps must be taken to prevent sanctuary animals from reproducing. Barring a health challenge that makes it unsafe, all male mammalian residents should be neutered upon arrival at the sanctuary or when a veterinarian deems them mature and healthy enough for the procedure. In the very rare instances when a veterinarian advises against neutering a resident, you will need to create a living situation that prevents the intact male from coming into contact with any intact females of his species while still providing him with companionship and a stimulating environment. By neutering the males (which is typically a much less involved procedure than spaying females), you will ensure that your mammalian residents cannot breed. Even with the males neutered, you should look into the possibility of spaying female mammalian residents. As with domestic cats and dogs, there are many health benefits to the practice beyond avoiding accidental pregnancies; for many species (such as pigs), it is a critical tool for their health.
Performing spay and neuter procedures in birds as a preventative measure is not advised due to the serious risks associated with both. Luckily, it is easy to prevent reproduction in avian residents by being vigilant about collecting eggs daily. It is important to make egg collection part of the daily routine to ensure eggs are collected long before there is a viable baby inside. For your residents’ safety, it is advisable to keep birds safely secured in their yard or pasture- this will help protect them from predators, make it easier to observe them for signs of illness, and will ensure that eggs are easily found. If your avian residents have access to the entire property, the chances of someone laying eggs that do not get collected immediately are much higher. In situations like this it is not uncommon for a hen to go missing and despite everyone’s best efforts, she is not seen again until she returns with babies. Not only is this unsafe for the female (not all stories of a female sitting on eggs ends well as they are vulnerable to predation), it’s also not a responsible practice for a sanctuary. Avian residents have clutches of multiple babies, which means your population could quickly become unmanageable if you do not take steps to prevent reproduction. Also keep in mind that a chicken who has babies will be bringing more roosters into your sanctuary. Given all the roosters who already desperately need homes, if you have room for more roosters you should rescue or adopt those in need rather than bringing more into existence. If your organization chooses to have avian residents implanted, be sure to still be on the look out for eggs- the implant eventually wears off, and there have also been reports in the sanctuary community of “faulty” implants, so it is important to stay vigilant.
What If A New Resident Comes In Pregnant?
Part of a sanctuary’s intake program should include pregnancy testing for female residents to prevent any surprises. It’s not uncommon for residents to come in unexpectedly pregnant; part of this resident’s care should include substantial veterinary care and monitoring to ensure that their health is protected if the pregnancy is far along. If an incoming resident is early on in their pregnancy, some sanctuaries choose to administer Lutalyse to induce miscarriage. This decision ultimately depends on an individual sanctuary’s Philosophy of Care and must be done in consultation with a veterinarian. Some species, such as sheep, are less responsive to Lutalyse and similar drugs.
While it is inspiring and heartwarming to see young animals being able to naturally bond and grow up with their mother, it is imperative to continue to respect each residents’ boundaries and not unintentionally treat a baby like a photo opportunity or a prop. Younger residents have fragile immune systems and can spread illnesses to others, including humans, and must be treated with great care. They also must be socialized properly (rather than being treated like a puppy) to prevent potentially dangerous behavioral issues as they grow!