Iowa farm sanctuary works to rescue livestock
MARENGO, IA (AP) - Jered Camp got the call Sept. 15 from a friend in emergency dispatch — a tractor-trailer full of cattle had crashed off Highway 218 in Washington County.
Dead animals were everywhere, nearly 30 in all. But there were a few that lived.
Camp is an Iowa City paramedic, but though these casualties weren't human, he also is an animal lover. And he suspected the injured would be shot on the scene if he didn't do something quick.
So he called his wife, Shawn Camp, who contacted the cattle's owner in Kentucky and "negotiated the surrender" of eight survivors. She told them they would pay the medical bills and raise them on their new farm sanctuary.
"I could hear the shrugging of his shoulders over the phone," Shawn Camp said, recounting the owner's reaction. "'Take them!'"
Five of those steers are grazing comfortably in the rural Marengo pastures of the Iowa Farm Sanctuary after being treated by Iowa State University veterinarians, paid for by the Camps. One other steer is still in treatment; two have died.
The Camps' 10-acre farm is not for dogs and cats but for rescued critters originally raised as livestock — originally destined to be eaten with a side of mashed potatoes.
Many of the sanctuary's denizens arrive after falling from loaded trucks.There are also ill dairy cows, unwanted runt pigs, lost sheep or runaway turkeys.
The Camps say their farm animal sanctuary, which launched in June, is the first of its kind in Iowa. But it is also part of a national movement surging after comedian Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey, announced plans to open one by next year.
There are now dozens of farm sanctuaries listed on vegan.com in 30 states.
The Camps contend that farm animals are sentient beings, capable of pleasure and pain, with cognition, intelligence and personality. They want people to think of that before eating them.
"Would you eat your dog or cat?" asked Shawn Camp.
"They deserve safety and respect like any companion animal," Jered Camp told The Des Moines Register.
The Camps realize their opinion isn't necessarily a popular one in an agriculture state with an inventory of roughly 100 million cattle, hogs, goats, sheep, turkeys and chickens.
"Some think it's silly, but not to our face," Shawn Camp said. "I'm sure it will be in the comment section of your story."
Whether farm animals are sentient beings has been a subject of growing scholarship since the 1950s, said Suzanne Millman, a leading researcher on animal welfare at ISU.
The research shows that farm animals are capable of feeling pleasure and pain, have cognition and form strong social bonds in a group, she said.
"Is it acceptable to eat them? That's an ethical question everyone needs to think about and resolve for themselves," she said.
Jered Camp, 36, originally is from Utah and lived on a farm. He has long been vegan for animal-welfare reasons. Shawn Camp, 31, is an Iowa native who joined her husband's animal-product-free diet for health reasons. She became more adamant after reading about the intelligence and suffering of animals.
"Rather than just feeling the feelings, I had to care for these guys," she said.
Opening a sanctuary
By 2015, they decided to open a sanctuary, gaining nonprofit status and waiting a year to find the land.
Soon after launching a Facebook page, two piglets arrived. Monkey and Marley were rescued by a hog-confinement worker who told the Camps they would be slaughtered early because they were runts. Monkey loves to give "piggy kisses," and Marley will talk to you all day long in snorts.
At least that's what the animals' biographies say on their web page. Hope, the pig, was a runt and was stepped on in a large hog confinement, until she was plucked to safety by an employee. Kip, the bovine, arrived with a mass growing in his throat that ISU vets surgically removed.
Tibbott is a tom turkey that escaped from a slaughtering plant. He has become a favorite among the visitors because you can pet his wrinkly red head.
Go in the pasture, and cows and goats start nudging you with their heads, like a dog who wants to be scratched. Joining them were the surviving cattle that remained in shock for a few days after the accident. One of them kicked down a stall in the barn.
They were aboard the tractor-trailer when it left the roadway, entered the east ditch, toppled into a creek and was partially submerged, according to the Iowa State Patrol.
The driver was injured and hospitalized.
Unique names, stories
The surviving cattle included one with a severed tail who is now a sanctuary resident. The Camps hope to provide it a prosthetic so it can swat flies. The other survivors are expected to arrive soon from treatment.
"Obviously, eight cows to the ag industry is nothing," Jered Camp said. "To us, they are ambassadors of a species with unique stories and names."
After news spread of the accident, $9,000 in donations poured in — the Camps had only $5,000 in contributions in the previous eight months.
They are near maximum capacity but hope to build an additional barn. It costs $3,000 a month to run the sanctuary. The farm solicits monthly patrons to support individual animals and donations to keep the operation afloat, while Jered works full time as a paramedic and Shawn part time at a North Liberty restaurant.
The Camps have fundraising events at the farm, including the Oct. 15 first birthday party for Carl, who was supposed to be a veal dinner until an animal lover bought him at an auction.
Now, Bennie the goat is his best friend. Vegan cake will be served at the party.
"They all have a basic joy to them," said Shawn Camp, whose sole animal-related injury so far is a scratch near her eye from a rough-tongued "cow kiss."
Millman said the science of animal welfare is leading to better ways to raise the animals, based on research on their behaviors and needs.
"Chickens want to do 'chickeny' things," she said.
Industry officials use animal welfare research to train and educate farmers.
"Beef farmers are aware of the sacrifice that beef animals make to provide us with high quality protein," said Doug Bear of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. "As such, animal care is at the heart of everything the beef community does."
Iowa Pork Producers' communications director Ron Birkenholz said his organization has no problem with sanctuaries taking in stray animals but doesn't agree with their attacks on raising livestock for food.
"We feel we are humanely raising food animals," he said.
Iowans have an increasingly complex relationship with their food, so the industry is making increased efforts at transparency, added Laurie Johns, public relations manager with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
Iowa Animal Farm Care is an organization that brings together animal rescue officials, industry experts and animal welfare researchers "to assure that farm animals are raised with compassion."
The Camps say they aren't judging people who eat meat or raise animals for slaughter. They just want more people to interact with the animals and decide for themselves.
Neighbor farmers, they say, are their biggest fans because they care for animals and know their intelligence.
The Camps say it's the person who scoffs at giving up his hamburger that is the hardest to persuade that they see cattle or pigs being happy and sad, playful or frisky.
Shawn Camp's care for the animals is clear as she walks the pasture. She says she has a "mother's instinct," despite never working with livestock before.
The sheep and goats, pigs and cows follow her. She bends over to kiss their heads. She gently scolds them.
"Pigs are hard to get them to do what you want. You aren't going to outsmart them," she said. "The turkey sometimes shows off for the chickens. And Bennie is the star goat who loves his picture taken."
The Camps are often asked what they are going to do with the animals. Their answer is succinct: Nothing.
The critters will graze and play around. The Camps pull up a lawn chair in the pasture after chores with a glass of wine and just watch them be animals.
"I suppose they are like dogs to other people," Shawn Camp said. "That's how I see them."