Dogs and cats aren’t the only animals that crave companionship.
Headshot of tan calf against blue sky
Credit: Courtesy of Iowa Farm Sanctuary

A lively assortment of nearly 100 rescued farm animals—including pigs, cows, and goats—reside at a peaceful sanctuary nestled in the midwest. These animals came to this place to live out lives full of love and compassion after facing adversity.

Shawn Wood founded Iowa Farm Sanctuary in 2015, which was the first and only organization of its kind at the time in the state. She tells Daily Paws that she had one very simple goal—to provide a safe place for animals—which came with a couple of fringe benefits, like educating the public about compassionate animal care.

"Outside of going to the [Iowa] State Fair, you never get the opportunity to see or interact with these animals that... live here by the millions," Wood says. "So we wanted to provide a place where people could at least realize that this animal care system exists and hopefully develop some kind of emotional relationship." 

Wood says animals typically end up at Iowa Farm Sanctuary for one of two reasons, save for an outlier here and there. The first is a farmer surrender. Farmer surrenders can occur when farm personnel gets too attached to a calf that they bottle-fed from a small herd. Other times, cows may be born differently-abled. 

"Some [calves] are born blind," Wood says. "Some may be born without legs. We've got a few who are born in the dead of winter and are unfortunately affected by frostbite [or are] unable to nurse from their mothers. And so, farmers don't have the time to care for them and look to us for help."

Farm animals can also unfortunately find themselves the victims of various traffic accidents, either from falling off or jumping off trucks or trailers. Pigs are especially prone to these types of accidents, as they can slip through trailer bars during transport depending on their size. And as you can expect, these falls can leave the animals with injuries that require months of rehabilitation once they arrive at the sanctuary.

Upon arrival, however, the animals are met with the care they require and have different daily routines depending on their needs. A lot of animals undergo varying levels of veterinary care in order to get them into their happiest, healthiest selves.

Wood says the animals have different health needs depending on their circumstances. "Just now I got home with one of our goats who had a pretty serious ear infection," she says. "For the next week, we'll be treating him with antibiotics."

But Iowa Farm Sanctuary residents also have plenty of opportunities to socialize, with both their favorite human volunteers and fellow members of the animal kingdom.

Take Pumpkin for instance. This brown-and-white-spotted cow is equally sassy and adorable, with her fair share of companions at the farm. First, there's Ellie, a beautiful black cow and Wood's self-proclaimed "baby." Pumpkin has the honor of serving as Ellie's seeing eye cow. These two ladies are besties!

Our gal Pumpkin is pretty popular, though, and also has her share of human friends.

"Pumpkin has a different relationship with each volunteer," Wood says, adding that those relationships are "on both sides of the spectrum."

On one side of the spectrum is a young, sweet volunteer named Ava, who Pumpkin can't get away from fast enough every time Ava opens the gate to greet the animals. (Sorry, Ava!) But Pumpkin has a totally different reaction to Kevin Recknor, the Iowa Farm Sanctuary's lead volunteer and educator.

Wood says Recknor, a retired school teacher, works at the sanctuary a minimum of three times a week. She says that if he comes into the barn where Pumpkin is, a lovefest ensues. "If there is even negative space…[Pumpkin] is like on top of Kevin. If she can give him a cow hug, she does that."

But the friendships at Iowa Farm Sanctuary aren't limited between cows and humans. Take Auggie and Lazlo, for instance!

Auggie the cow and Lazlo the piglet were both loners in their own right upon their arrival to Iowa Farm Sanctuary. Auggie was born with a rare condition called hypotrichosis, meaning that he was born with a lack of hair and teeth, which requires special attention from his humans and protection from the sun. His friend Lazlo was in pretty bad shape after jumping from a semi-truck on Interstate 80 as a 21-day-old piglet. Both of these circumstances led to Auggie and Lazlo living in Wood's house, sparking a lifelong friendship.

These relationships are not only special to the Iowa Farm Sanctuary team, but these friendships can also be cherished by visitors who frequent the sanctuary's events. 

Even though COVID-19 scaled back the organization's regularly scheduled programming in 2020, events like recurring Sanctuary Strolls and private tours will resume in May 2021, giving attendees the opportunity to get outdoors and safely explore all 40 acres of the property.

"Every visitor helps continue our mission," Wood says. "And our local grassroots supporters are really kind of our lifeblood around here. And so I would just encourage people to come out and make a connection with the animals out here. It's pretty magical."