This is a continuation of my previous post. My first Farm Sanctuary internship began in in January of 2011, and I was there for two months. Watkins Glen is in upstate New York, and the town is right on a lake, so the whole town gets unreasonably cold in the winter, and has significantly more snow accumulation than surrounding areas. Seeing as how I have always hated the cold, this alone was enough to make my time there quite challenging. I stayed in a house with three other girls, and we would start work every day at seven AM. Most days we would step outside and instantly feel frost form inside our noses. I always wore one set of Under Armor gloves, with a set of thick puffy work gloves over them. Still, throughout the day, my hands would get cold to the point that they ached so badly I had trouble using them.
A large part of our job was cleaning barns. This basically meant scooping up dirty straw, either with pitchforks or shovels, depending on just how dirty it was, and putting it into huge plastic trashcans, that we then dumped into trailers to be hauled away. Now, I had done some physical labor before this, and I had worked with animals before, but I had never really done the level of work that was expected of an animal care intern, and I had certainly never done it when it was ten degrees outside and I was bundled in four layers of clothing.
The interns seldom worked together; we were usually split up and sent off to different parts of the farm with real employees to supervise us. So, I can’t say how good or bad the others were, but I know that I was bad. Everything seemed to take me twice as long as it should have, and no matter how hard I tried, it never seemed like anything was ever as clean as it should have been, when I was finished. Often, the employee that I was working with would leave me in one barn, with a list of which ones needed to be done next, while she went off to work in another. At some point, she would call me on the radio and ask where I was. I was always still in the same place she left me.
The worst barns to clean were the bird barns, especially the ducks. They had large water dispensers, that were cleaned and filled twice a day and, all day long, they would splash in the water and spill it all over the floor. Overnight, the spilled water would freeze and form a huge mass of straw and ice that was stuck to the floor, so you had to chip and scrape it away. I could have spent all day in that one barn and never truly gotten it clean. I think I got a little better a barn cleaning, by the time I left, but I still felt pretty incompetent.
We didn’t just clean barns though. The interns alternated jobs, so that we all got a chance to do everything. One of the jobs was assisting with health checks. This meant going around to the different parts of the farm, and doing thorough inspections of the animals, to make sure they didn’t have any physical problems. We also did things like hoof trimming. Once, I got to spend the better part of the day holding sheep, while they had their feet checked and trimmed.
In the case of the pigs, there was also the necessity for occasional tusk trimming. If you have never been in the presence of a distraught pig, let me tell you, there is nothing else like it in the world. Pigs often bicker with each other, so any of them who grew large tusks had to have them trimmed down, so that they couldn’t hurt each other. Unfortunately, the tusk trimming process is fairly unpleasant, for everyone involved. Tusks are too hard and dense to be cut with any sort of regular cutters, so a wire had to be wrapped around the tusk and then slid rapidly back and forth until it finally sawed through.
The pigs did not enjoy this process. They had to be cornered in the barn and then held in place, by multiple people, while one person sawed away at the tusks. I don’t even know how to explain to you the sound they made when we did this. It was an impossibly loud, high pitched shriek and, when it echoed off the walls of the barn, it seemed to resonate inside your head and literally made you dizzy. I have never experienced anything else like that in my life. In case you’re wondering, the process was not actually painful for them; the second that we were done, the sound ceased and the pigs acted like everything was fine. Little known fact about pigs, they are the most dramatic animals in all of creation.
I think my favorite job was working with the residents who were kept inside. Part of the reason for this was simply because I didn’t have to be out in the cold, but it was mostly that this was the most rewarding job for me. There was an old house on the property where all of the animals who had health problems or, for whatever reason, did not do well living outside, lived. Many of these residents needed special diets, or extra care, in order to thrive, and this was the job that left me feeling truly fulfilled, at the end of the day.
I will go into more detail about the individual animals I met during my stay at the Watkins Glen shelter, in my next post.