Inspirational Animal Sanctuaries: Iowa Farm Sanctuary – Marengo, Iowa

Tell us about Iowa Farm Sanctuary

Founded in 2015 while living in a duplex in the “city”, bought the farm and took our first rescues summer 2016. We are located at 2485 Hwy 6 Trl – Marengo, IA 52301.

What was the impetus that prompted you to found a sanctuary?

After going vegan, I (Shawn) was looking for ways to do more for the animals. I came across a book called My Gentle Barn by Ellie Laks and it spoke to me on a whole new level. As soon as I finished the book, my husband (Jered) and I, set out to find a farm animal rescue where we could donate and volunteer. To our surprise, we found NONE! The closest sanctuary to us was near Madison WI. So, with Jered’s background raising animals and my passion, we thought “let’s do this!” The rest is history!

How did you find the land/space?

We were looking for land for about a year before we became a non-profit and then for nearly a year after. Being in Iowa, you see nothing but open land and farms, so we never anticipated how hard it would be to acquire a little piece of it! We dragged our realtor all across eastern Iowa, to every farm that came onto the market. There were times that we would be at a property and they would accept an offer before we were done looking… to say farms go quickly around here is an understatement! On a whim, Jered looked on craigslist and found the little piece of heaven that is now the home to 60 some rescued farm animals.

What about funding?

Thank god for social media! We raise a large portion of our funds through simple Facebook posts…. Our funding is very grassroots. We don’t have any large corporations supporting us and we have received only a handful of small grants. We try to host at least three fundraising events per year in addition to being open every Sunday.

How do the animals come to you usually?

I would say there is close to a 50/50 split between what we call “farmer surrenders” and “highway incidents”. The animals that are farmer surrenders are typically those that have some sort of genetic abnormality or are ill and unfit for “production”. Many times, the farmers take pity on these types of animals and we are happy to be able to offer them a compassionate solution and try to nurture that bond they feel with the animal. The highway accidents are anything from piglets who fall out of the holes on the side of the semi cruising down the interstate to massive semi wrecks where animals are scattered all over the road. Of course, there are a number of outliers that do not fit into either of these categories.

What has been the strangest way you’ve obtained an animal?

Strangest? Hmmm…. Well, one story that shocked me to my core was the story of our sweet pig, Molly Brown. A little background information about the pig industry; at 21 days old, piglets are weaned, taken from their mothers and thrown onto semis to be dropped off at another “farm” where they are fattened for slaughter. Molly Brown was no different, at 21 days old, she was loaded onto a semi and headed to the fattening facility. BUT Molly hid when she arrived at this horrible place. She went unnoticed and the semi left the farm with a lone Molly inside. The next stop for the semi was the truck wash. At the truck wash, the holes in the semi are closed to allow the trailer to be flooded and soaked. Unfortunately, no one at the truck wash saw Molly before they flooded the truck; her tiny 7-pound body was now forced to tread freezing cold water to try and survive. When the truck was drained, Molly Brown’s lifeless, purple body came floating out. Employees were able to warm her and bring her back to life. They knew after all she had been through that they couldn’t let her head back to the fattening farm, that is when they called us.

Who are the Rockstar animals on your farm?

Well, Carl certainly has the personality of a Rockstar! Carl was our first cow and may have been a bit spoiled! He demands attention from anyone at the farm and will throw an absolute fit if he doesn’t get what he wants… it was cuter when he didn’t weigh 2k pounds. We also throw him a massive birthday party every year with a band, presents, and his very own cake!

How do you name them?

Some animals come to us with names, and in an effort to maintain some normality for them we will keep their names. Others we do fundraisers to name, let our donors name or if there is a name that we just feel compelled to give them, then we do.

What is the toughest thing about running a sanctuary?

There are SO many things that are hard; some physically, some emotionally. Overall, I think it is toughest to not carry the heartbreak with you into the next day. Saying “NO” to a rescue inquiry isn’t easy, it likely is a death sentence and that weighs heavy. There are times we come so close to rescuing an animal just to have them physically removed from us, and we have to get up the next day and do it all again. There are more losses than wins when it comes to rescuing farm animals and there are no days off.

What do you do with the eggs from the chickens you have?

All eggs are fed back to our birds. Feeding the eggs back to the birds is the perfect way to replace the nutrients that are used to create it.

What is on your wish list?

Like our amazon wish list or genie in a bottle wish list? We will go with the later; a larger property, an education center, and the funding to support both for the foreseeable future. And while we’re wishing, I wish for a vegan world in my lifetime!

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How can people find you online? is our webpage where you can find links to virtually all of our social media accounts and any other information you may want.

What are three facts about any of the animals that you think people should know?

Monkey and Marley (our first two rescues) were runts of their litters and were supposed to be “thumped”. Thumping is the industry term for grabbing piglets by their back legs and smashing their heads into the concrete. The facility that Monkey and Marley were rescued from thumps and an average of 2,000 runts a week at 1 facility alone.

All of our critters have different wants and needs. Some of them like peppermint treats, while others prefer apple treats. Some enjoy human touch, some fear it. Some develop very close relationships with other critters, while some prefer their independence. All of our rescue animals are individuals with individual personalities.

Carl, Dannie, Donnie, and Bruce are male “dairy” cows. They are all useless to the dairy industry as they cannot produce milk. The dairy industry IS THE MEAT INDUSTRY!

What advice you would give to someone trying to start a sanctuary.


I mean, we certainly need more reputable sanctuaries (we are all at capacity), but I would try and talk anyone I loved out of opening a sanctuary. It is heartbreaking and backbreaking. The failure rate of people who try and are unsuccessful is astonishing. I think there is an overwhelming assumption that money comes easy, cow hugs are abundant and someone else will do the heavy lifting. That said, if you’re bound and determined to open a sanctuary you should volunteer at a sanctuary first, attend the Farm Sanctuary conference on starting a sanctuary, study and save every dollar!

What are your visiting hours?

We open in May and are open every Sunday from 12 to 3 p.m, until mid-October. We also host fun events at the farm (yoga, movie screenings, etc.) and offer private tours for a more intimate experience.

Why do you think sanctuaries are important?

Well there is the obvious; the critters who live at sanctuaries are alive! The bigger picture though is this; sanctuaries offer opportunities for humans to experience the sentience found within the animals that are widely regarded as food. The animals who find their way to the sanctuary are the ambassadors of their species. Rescuing a couple of dozen animals isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to the billions who are slaughtered each year for food, so through the animals that are rescued, we can create and nurture humans to change and make more compassionate choices.

How has your relationship with animals changed since you started a sanctuary?

I have always felt a stronger bond with animals than I have with humans. While that hasn’t changed since starting Iowa Farm Sanctuary, I now work harder to understand the animals in an effort to accurately convey who they are to humans. I have also come to terms with realizing what is best for an animal, isn’t always what is best for me. Listening to animals when they are ready to let go is something that was all new to me. Knowing that the most compassionate thing you can do is to let go, was not an easy lesson to learn.

What happens to the animals when they pass away?

We cry. A lot!

Small animals are buried here at the sanctuary. Large animals are cremated and then sent back to us. If the cause of death is unknown, we perform a necropsy to make sure that nothing will affect the rest of the herd/flock.

What are some of the basic rules of a sanctuary?

Farm sanctuaries have a unique responsibility that other sanctuaries may not have. Farm sanctuaries seek to abolish the use and/or abuse of ALL animals. Where an elephant sanctuary (just as an example, not speaking of anyone in particular) may seek to rescue and educate about circus animals, they may still use leather gloves when handling animals, or serve meat at their fundraisers. While all farm sanctuaries are governed by their own set of rules, I would say that a true farm sanctuary does not allow animal products on their grounds, doesn’t allow breeding, doesn’t buy animals, doesn’t use the animals for any manual labor, etc.

What is the biggest myth about sanctuaries?

I don’t know that this is a myth, but I do think that a lot of people just see the cute photos on social media and think our work is mostly giving pigs belly rubs and giving cows hugs. I am thankful for any moment I get to just be with the animals and do nothing. 99.999999% of the time there is a laundry list of things that need to be done.

How can sanctuaries better work with one another in the same community?

This is a tough one! We are all fighting for resources, be it land or donors! These large animals cost A LOT of money. But it is imperative that we work together for the greater good of the animals. We can all give a simple social media shout out to our affiliates, we can all bum out our horse trailer when someone else has a flat, we can all call our vets and ask for a second opinion for another rescue, we can all lend advice that we have acquired through trial and error. Those little things go a long way in this sanctuary community.

What animals do you take and how can people get ahold of you?

Generally speaking, we stick to animals that are widely regarded as food in the US. Some farm sanctuaries take in in horses, donkeys, etc., while we try to stick to those who are at the highest risk of slaughter. However, we are currently beyond our capacity and hoping to move to a larger property. We reserve some space for emergency rescues and foster type situations. We also have a “Homing” program on our website where people can post animals in need of homes.

What one question would you ask another sanctuary owner?

Can we create a sanctuary founder’s yearly retreat? I mean seriously, who doesn’t want to get away and go do yoga on the beach for a week? Let’s go!

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