One aspect of our daily routine at the California Shelter that few people have the chance to experience is hay feeds — a hard task that involves driving out into our enormous pastures with a trailer full of heavy hay bales and feeding them out to eager herds and flocks of large, hungry animals. It is one task you either love or hate, and I am definitely part of the first group: I just can’t resist the thrill!
Before I even officially joined the Farm Sanctuary team, I had my first experience with hay feeds during my 2-day working interview nearly five years ago. Not fully aware of the monumental feat ahead of me, I didn’t think twice when I was instructed by a veteran caregiver to hop onto the back of a trailer (pulled by an ATV) and secure myself among a bunch of hay bales. But when the engine started up and we set off at top speed toward a large pasture where a flock of more than 100 rescued sheep from Santa Cruz Island anxiously awaited us, I quickly realized I was on a far from ordinary trip.
As we climbed the rocky, bumpy pasture hill, which at the time seemed more like a mountain to this Midwestern girl, I held on for dear life while I bounced up and down and all around — my hair, loose hay and dust hitting me in the face and flying into my mouth. When we reached the sheep, they immediately started trailing after us, so the caregiver who was driving yelled "go" and, while squinting to see through the dusty air, I pulled the bales apart as fast as I could and threw each flake over the side without throwing myself over too. Luckily, I survived that first trip and was hired as a caregiver.
What gives me the greatest joy while doing hay feeds now is seeing the animals in a new light. When they see us coming, they light up and spring into action, running along beside us and playfully kicking up their heels — no matter what their age, size or species. When the trailer is stopped, the cattle like to help knock the bales off as they use them to scratch their heads, while the goats and sheep sometimes try to hop on the back. It’s not only fun to see the animals so excited, but it’s also fantastic to see the panoramic view of the farm and countryside that you get in the back pastures. You can see just how beautiful the sanctuary is — and to know the animals have all of this to enjoy feels incredible.
Loading up 100-pound bales of hay in 100-degree heat for hay feeds is not likely on anyone’s list of fun things to do — neither is trying to keep steady on the back of a trailer while travelling through a bumpy pasture or finding hay stuck in places where you never thought hay could be stuck. But even though these obstacles make some dislike hay feeds, in the end, everyone loves seeing the animals happy and playful when the trailer comes around — and that is what allows all of us to get satisfaction from the task.