Four thousand acres––and 600 emus

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1998:

ELK CREEK, Calif.––”Our object
in obtaining this land,” explained Humane
Farming Association Founder and president
Brad Miller, greeting the first outside visitors
to the 4,000-acre Suwanna Ranch after the
1998 No-Kill Conference, “was to see how
long we could maintain our policy of never
turning away a farm animal who had been
involved in a cruelty case, who had been
referred to us by a humane society, animal
control department, police department, fire
department, or county sheriff’s office.”
HFA guarantees farm animals who
have endured prosecutable cruelty a caring
home for life in a semi-natural environment.
But, Miller continues, “After many years of
doing this, our original HFA Farm Animal
Refuge in Fairfield,” just north of San
Francisco, “was becoming a little crowded.
We think, with this extra space, we’ll now be
able to keep going for quite a long time.”

The Suwanna Ranch is named in
honor of Suwanna Gauntlett, of the Barbara
Delano Foundation, who helped HFA land a
grant of $2 million for acquisition and
improvement of the property. The ranch consists
of four parallel valleys in the northern
California foothills. The first valley, the only
one visible from the nearest public road,
includes three small farmhouses, two big
barns, and scattered outbuildings.
The only entrance is over a bridge
across the Stony River. HFA now owns the
land on both sides of the river. That keeps the
animals safe.
The other three valleys are almost
pristine, previously used only for cattle grazing.
There is road access only to the second
valley, which includes a reservoir. All four
valleys have wells. Eventually, some hooved
stock may share the valley floors. Otherwise,
for the foreseeable future, the rolling hills,
shale ridges, and scrub oak forest will continue
to be habitat for abundant wildlife, including
deer, elk, pumas, bobcats, coyotes and
perhaps an occasional bear.
“We don’t believe in killing predators
to protect our farm animals,” Miller says.
“If predation occurs, it is part of a natural life
for these animals. But so far we haven’t had
predation. We think that’s partly because the
predators keep mostly to the high ground,
where there are plenty of ground squirrels,
rabbits, and other normal prey, and partly
because the animals we have here have learned
to be pretty wary.”
HFA took over the Suwanna Ranch
in November 1997, after a year-long search
for a suitable sanctuary property. A hint that
this was the right place came upon learning
that one of the highest points on the site is
Mount Joy: Jill Mountjoy is the longtime
HFA program director.
Among the early arrivals were the 80
survivors among a flock of 102 emus whom
frustrated investors had attempted to beat to
death with baseball bats near Dallas, Texas;
600 emus who had been abandoned to starve
on a farm just an hour’s drive away in Orland,
California; 60 goats who were seized in an
alleged animal collecting case by the Peninsula
Humane Society, of San Mateo, California;
Monroe the black angus steer, a former 4-H
project who was stabbed and severely beaten
by juvenile delinquents; several cattle who
still have softball-sized holes in their sides
from use in research by the University of
California at Davis; and a variety of other cattle,
sheep, and pigs, including former feral
pigs, one of whom was found in a box of lettuce
as an inadvertant young stowaway.
Ducks, geese, and chickens remain
in Fairfield.
Ahead, HFA anticipates that the
Suwanna Ranch will at least temporarily host
the majority of approximately 100 feral burros
whom the National Park Service insists must
be removed from Death Valley National Park
by next spring. Wild Burro Rescue, of
Onalaska, Washington, has thinned and stabilized
the Death Valley burro herd since 1994
by capturing about two dozen burros per year.
The Park Service has refrained from having
the burros shot while the roundups continue,
after killing about 400 burros in the seven
years preceding, but is now demanding full
removal of the herd.
Since other sanctuaries working with
WBR are already near their capacity for
accepting and placing burros through adoption,
HFA has offered to help. (Get details from
WBR at 360-985-7282, or >><<.)

The burro rescue will be an emergency
exception to the HFA rule of leaving
equines to the many equine-focused organizations,
to focus on helping species for whom
there are few sanctuaries––like the flightless
but fleet-footed emus, whom no other sanctuary
even had space to accept.
Miller, 42, started HFA in 1985 as
an outgrowth of vegetarian activism via
Buddhists Concerned for Animals. Support
from Tom Scholz of the rock-and-roll band
Boston underwrote a rapid rise to prominence
via magazine ads attacking the veal industry.
Initially emphasizing public awareness
and lobbying, HFA later added field
investigator Gail Eisnitz to the staff. Her work
has included exposing extensive use of the illegal
steroid clenbuterol by veal trade kingpins,
several of whom are now in jail, and authoring
the book S l a u g h t e r h o u s e, documenting how
animals are killed for meat.
Sheltering abused former farm animals
all along, HFA did nothing to publicize
that role until repeatedly urged to do so by
The HFA farm animal population is
approximately equal to that of rival Farm
Sanctuary, which has facilities in both upstate
New York and northern California, but unlike
Farm Sanctuary, HFA has never killed animals
to maintain a population balance.
Both organizations do some adoptions
to people who guarantee that the animals
will receive quality care and will not be eaten.
HFA does not accept castoff farm
animals from the general public. For example,
Miller explains, HFA does not take animals
from people who raise them for private slaughter,
but then can’t kill them.
“We’re not here to relieve people of
their responsibilities,” Miller says. “Those
animals have become pets, and we encourage
people in that situation who call to accept that
they have come to see their animals in a different
way, and to live with those animals as
family members. It’s sometimes hard to say
no, but we’re not going to take Fluffy whom
they can’t kill, just so they can go out and get
another animal they might kill. Of course,” he
nods toward Monroe, “there are always exceptions.
Monroe’s family didn’t want to kill him,
but they couldn’t keep him, and he also had
been a cruelty case.”

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