Monday, May 17, 2010

Farm Friends and Birthday Gifts

Tami and a sweetie pie cow

Cristian has his first cow meeting alonside Daddy

Magnolia, Cristian's turkey

Kaylee and her friend, Madison, petting Stacey

This small bunny, Boe, is right up Braeden's alley

We recently visited our nearest (and favorite) animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, two weekends ago. It is in Orland, CA and is about a three to four hour drive from our home. We went with friends and family, including my blogging pal, Sarah and her two little cuties.
My husband and I have been taking our kids to Farm Sanctuary on an annual basis for the past 5 years. We nearly always visit the farm at Thanksgiving for the Celebration FOR the Turkeys, where WE feed the turkeys--instead of them feeding us. It really is one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had, and I have enjoyed sharing it with my children and other friends and family members.

When my daughter, Kaylee, turned three, we started the tradition of asking for donations to sponsor an animal at Farm Sanctuary in lieu of presents at her large birthday party. We usually have 40 to 50 guests at our kids' parties, so that would make for a lot of toys, books, etc if we didn't change our gift policy. I have to admit that I was motivated to ask for donations not only because I wanted to help animals and make people aware of Farm Sanctuary and the plight of farmed animals, but I was also motivated by a concern for our planet. My kids are lucky enough to have all the toys they want or need, plus many more. They really do not need any more things--especially not at the volume they'd get at their huge parties! And I hate plastic and all the wasteful packing toys come in, not to mention the energy and resources that go into making things, especially when they really aren't needed and get lost in the toy bin.

So, the first year I proposed that we skip gifts and asked for donations instead, I was so nervous! I wondered what people would think, and if they would cooperate with my request. I included a note explaining what we were doing with Kaylee's party invitation and hoped for the best. (Kaylee had chosen to sponsor a pig at FS.) My family and friends were GREAT and even brought Kaylee some pig-themed gifts, like stuffed animals and a piggy bank. (Yes, this kind of defeated the waste-reduction goal, but is was sweet and thoughtful.)

Now my four year old son, Braeden, also sponsors a goat named Jacob at the farm and collects money each year at his parties. While we don't recoup the full costs of sponsoring their animals, we do collect a decent amount--usually between $100 and $200--and my husband and I pay the rest. I do remember that the first year we did this, we were the most successful, financially speaking. I think people were more inspired by the novelty of the idea then!

Over the years, I've gotten wise about the cost of the animal versus its size, so when my son, Cristian, had his first birthday party yesterday, we decided to ask for contributions to help a turkey named Magnolia. Turkeys are close to the least expensive animal to sponsor, and we were looking to save a few bucks! =) (I know the donations go to a great cause, but sponsoring an animal is a lifetime commitment--not for the animal's lifetime, but ours! We have had one pig die, and two rabbits die that are a gift to Braeden from a grandma, and the sponsorship gets transferred to a new animal, not cancelled.) I would advise considering the yearly cost when deciding to do a similar thing with your child! =)

So, I combined our FS visit with the topic of birthday gifts in this blog because they are related in a wonderful way. On our visits to the Farm, we get to see the kids' animals and they LOVE it! They talk about their animals throughout the year, and happily anticipate an upcoming visit. I think that helping out a live animal that they can connect with and appreciate helping makes the experience enjoyable and concrete. I have thought about donating money to a local animal shelter--which would also be great--but the kids wouldn't necessarily have the personal connection to an animal that they get from sponsoring a specific animal whom they can visit at least once a year. The kids have photos, and even an artist's drawing of one animal, in their rooms to remind them about their beloved friends.

It really is so wonderful to get to know the personalities of their animals, as well as all the other sweet and spunky animals on the farm. We have learned that goats are generally outgoing and will let you know if they want a good scratching. Jacob, Braeden's goat, is a take charge kind of guy who stands out from the crowd. He is bold and tends to rule the pasture. Stacey, Kaylee's pig, is sweet and very strong, as are all the pigs. Currently, Stacey likes to nap along side her friend Joan. Magnolia the turkey is so soft and gentle and creates a sense of calm when we interact with her.

Braeden talks about the animals all year, how he is going to pet the cows and touch Jacob. He remains so brave and sure that he is going to run about the farm, playing with all of the animals--until we step out of the car at Farm-shoe-ary, as he adorably refers to it. I thought that this time he'd surely be ready to face the animals on his own, with perhaps Daddy's hand in his, but this was not the case. Once again, he freaked out and wouldn't even go in with the cows---until I made him. Mean, I know, but I had to see the cows. They're my favorite, and my hubby was holding the baby, so I was in charge of Braeden. He ended up doing okay. He still clung to me tightly, but he didn't cry too loudly when I made him feel the cow's side. =)

My point in all this is that I never considered the size and general behavior of the type of animal we chose to sponsor when choosing the pig and the goat. This year, I was smarter and chose a turkey. They are generally more docile and are small enough to not be so overwhelming. BTW, pigs are great, but they are incredibly strong and can knock a kid over in a second. They can also get a little nippy, if you know what I mean. Most are best approached when napping and enjoy a good belly rub. =) Even the cows can be less intimidating and cause less safety issues around little kids. No offense, piggies, honestly. Just saying...

So, if you're lucky enough to live near a farm sanctuary, I strongly recommend visiting one with your little ones, and even sponsoring one furry or feathered friend there for your child's' birthday or other special occasion. It has brought great joy to us, and literally puts a face on the animals that our kids might otherwise be tempted to eat. I think the personal connection the kids make to such animals is invaluable, and helps us to reinforce our vegan values. I hope you get a chance to hug a cow very soon! (Really, they are soooo adorable, like big, much calmer puppy dogs...Can you see that I'm infatuated with the cows?)



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