Activists Camilla and Kirsten are working toward their dream of turning Dyrenes Frie Farm [Animal Freedom Farm] into a full-fledged farm animal sanctuary—but for now, they’re starting with a proof of concept in their own backyards, currently home to several lucky rescued pigs. Located in Odense, Denmark’s third largest city and birthplace of fellow dream weaver Hans Christian Andersen, the budding sanctuary has many supporters, but is still up against considerable odds. There’s the typical catch-22 many startup sanctuaries face: Potential stakeholders want to see an established institution before investing, yet it’s tough to build a facility without investment. Our article explores how these two determined women are tackling the obstacles. We’ll also find out from these experts what it takes to adopt porcine companions.
A mission of their own
Both principals in this venture have histories of personal involvement and activism in animal welfare. Camilla, a trained veterinary nurse who was vegetarian for 25 years before becoming vegan, volunteered at Sea Shepherd, an international marine wildlife conservation organization. Her partner, camera-shy Kirsten has cared for pigs for many years and become quite an expert on the subject. Together they’ve rescued numerous animals, including raising a family of ducklings from hatching to adulthood and nursing a sick fox back to health.
Though gratifying, these actions weren’t enough for the dynamic duo. Camilla and Kirsten wanted to make a bigger impact. They launched their own mission, Dyrenes Frie Farm, in 2013.
Slow beginnings but now going whole hog
At that time there were no sanctuaries for farm animals in Denmark. Various animal welfare initiatives did exist across the country, including Nyt Hesteliv [New Horse Life], also in Odense, a shelter for “retired” horses and horses confiscated for their protection following court decisions in animal abuse cases. The two Odense efforts have collaborated: In the picture, horses Haiko, Igor and Rosa visit Camilla’s large backyard and welcome special needs students.
Still, even with nearby colleagues to lend inspiration and encouragement, DFF had difficulty finding its footing during the first two years of operation. The idea of hosting rescued farm animals instead of the usual cats and dogs was such a novelty that DFF volunteers faced an uphill battle to raise awareness of the need and urgency. Turning to foreign sanctuaries for inspiration, knowledge and planning methods, Camilla and Kirsten put together a solid strategy by 2015. It includes the usual measures of being active on social media and building brand awareness by leafletting for the project and taking booths at vegan and animal welfare events.
The core of DFF’s strategy is showcasing the founders’ respective homes as proof of concept for a larger farm. The backyard sanctuaries welcome both private and institutional guests as well as volunteers on weekends and holidays.
Physical contact with previously abused farm animals does wonders opening people’s minds, says Camilla, who believes no one leaves their premises unchanged. She recounts with delight the unrestrained joy of a group of school children who came to visit the sanctuary’s first two rescued pigs, Sigfried and Frida. “I’m sure the vegan ice cream surprise that followed the visit didn’t hurt either,” she says, laughing. Camilla is a strong believer in bringing changes to the educational system. She herself works as a school teacher and welcomes every opportunity to explain the animal-related aspects of ethics and environmental conservation.
It seems DFF’s solid strategy and tireless efforts have produced substantial results, including winning a grant and grand prize as “Association of the Year” in an annual contest run by a local energy company. In the picture, Camilla shows off the prize, cheered on by Svend and Trin, two new recently adopted guests. DFF was also mentioned in weekly magazine Hjemmet [The Home], a national newspaper, and is featured in a documentary soon to be broadcast on a major national TV station.
The ins and outs of adoption
Although we might all be tempted to adopt friendly, intelligent pigs and let them live in our backyards, Camilla tells me it’s important to do your homework first and check local legal and health requirements. DFF, for instance, had to get Frida and Sigfried checked for the MRSA virus, a very important health concern in Denmark. And while administrative and health procedures are clearly established for food industry pig farms, sanctuary farms are another matter. Camilla remembers there was much confusion among vets and laboratories as to the exact requirements for a sanctuary. “You’ve got to be patient and persistent,” she says, “if you decide to follow this path.”
In addition, DFF was required to build strong enclosures, as contact with wildlife can be very dangerous for domestic hogs. Besides that, the animals had to be equipped with identification chips, and the facility had to be registered as one tending to pigs. The authorities also investigated whether there were any pig farms close by–I’m not sure why, but I’m guessing because of concern for a viral outbreak. All in all, it’s definitely worthwhile looking into these matters prior to adopting in order to ensure rescued animals have a long-term home, as they will get attached to you and their new surroundings.
Camilla confirms that rescued pigs adapt rapidly to their new, improved surroundings. In fact, they even grunt their disapproval if something in their new home environment subsequently changes. They also display abundant affection for their caretakers, and it seems would welcome human company all day long if they could get it. I guess they find us as interesting as we find them. Camilla’s experience with rescued pigs also aligns with encouraging findings of a recent study on rescued goats, which showed that abused animals can recover not only physically, but psychologically as well. Briefer and McElligott, scientists at Queen Mary University of London, UK, conducted experiments that quantified indicators of optimistic vs. pessimistic behavior in formerly abused animals. They found that after several years of good care, rescued goats, females in particular, actually behaved more optimistically than even goats that had not experienced abuse at all.
Eating like a pig
Many of us might be surprised to know that pigs are seedeaters by nature. Hence their love of cereals and bread. Camilla says daily portions disappear within minutes (she keeps a stock of rolled grains as a backup). Next go the potatoes, apples and other fruit. However, there’s not much enthusiasm for produce like raw leeks, celery, parsley, radishes or tomatoes. In fact, to incorporate these vegetables into the picky pigs’ diet, you have to cook them as a warm broth.
Twice a week, DFF gets free vegetables and bread from Rema1000, a supermarket chain that donates expired or physically damaged goods to the organization. Good to know considering the tons of food items thrown out by some retailers due to “below par” appearance or expired sell-by dates. No food will be wasted if Frida and Sigfried have anything to do with it!
How much space do you need to help animals?
There’s no doubt, Camilla and Kirsten have very large backyards. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to launch their proof-of-concept sanctuaries. DFF says that Kirsten’s yard in particular offers conditions second only to freedom in the wild (which domesticated pigs might not ultimately prefer anyway given the presence of predators). The area where the animals roam freely is enclosed, but surrounded by trees, and it extends through varied terrains. Ultimately, of course, DFF would like to have more space. The organization’s goal is to give rescued animals the most freedom possible within society’s boundaries.
So what can you do if you don’t have enough space? Camilla has many suggestions! Here are a few.
Even if you’re an apartment dweller and cannot foster… say a cow or an elephant…, smaller animals like rabbits and rodents can benefit from your care. If you’re handy with woodworking, you can make them really happy by building a multi-story rabbit/rodent house.
No space at all? How about volunteering at a shelter, where you can look after the animals, answer the phone or help cleaning up–mundane tasks but vital for the wellbeing of shelterlings. You could also find out if there are animal organizations in your area hosting public events. An extra set of hands is always appreciated, whether handing out flyers, organizing activities or otherwise spreading the good word.
Camilla urges us to find our own form of activism. Do what feels right for you–if you are uncomfortable with a confrontational approach, choose a more diplomatic one. I personally try to remember the communication methods that were successful at reaching me and use them to reach others.
Remember to follow DFF’s Facebook page and read all about Frida, Sigfried, Svend and Trine’s latest adventures. For information on another very active Danish farm animal sanctuary that opened its doors in April 2015 and now cares for donkeys, cows, sheep, pigs, geese, ducks and chickens, check out Fields of Freedom. For an overview of the work accomplished in US farm animal sanctuaries, we recommend this Newsbit.