April 3, 2019

Talking Turkey

Have you ever watched a turkey, up close and personal? I’m talking about turkeys who are living a peaceful existence, strutting around a barnyard with relaxed feathers, retracted snoods and pale, pink caruncles? (I’ll fill you in on these terms in a minute.)

With the blessing of another sunny springtime day, I’m sitting atop a straw bale, shaded from the warm North Carolina sun by the turkey and chicken house on the Refuge. As I rest quietly and observe Andi and Jordan, they become more comfortable with my presence. Today, I approached their pen quietly and talked softly to them as I entered. On other visits, they’ve been fluffed out in full feathery finery, snoods extended, and caruncles deep red and blue. As I recently discovered, a turkey’s snood is a loose, fleshy protrusion on the forehead. When a turkey is excited or wants to show off, the snood hangs below the beak. In a relaxed state, which I was able to witness today, the snood shortens to just above the beak. The caruncle is the crinkly flesh around a turkey’s head and neck. Like a mood ring, the caruncle changes color from white to pink to blue to purple. And I swear the other day while Jordan and Andi were entertaining many visitors in their pen, I saw their caruncles turn orange.

But today, these two turkeys’ caruncles look as if their heads have faded in the sunlight, as they slowly doze standing on their hefty legs until they finally fold up and lie on the earth. These two fellas were bred for the table. Even with relaxed feathers, they are rotund. Their legs are not spindly as one often thinks of with fowl, but they are thick and hefty — they have a lot of weight to carry. Both Andi and Jordan were rescued from the food industry (but sadly not before they had been debeaked), and dropped off at Farm Sanctuary, who arranged with the Refuge to provide a forever home for them.

Have you ever touched a turkey’s head? It’s soft, a little bit fuzzy and a lot bit wrinkly. Feeling warmth radiating from Jordan’s head, his personality shines through as he looks me in the eyes and fluffs his feathers. He likes having his head gently rubbed.

Andi and Jordan both seem proud of their physical attributes. While their weight hinders the amount of strutting they can do, they are still free to mosey around their yard and visit with their feathered neighbors: Tony, a heritage breed turkey, as well as a flock of roosters and hens. This is a peaceful pen, where every now and then a gobble-gobble and a cockadoodledoo waft through the air and the peck-peck-peck of hens’ beaks signal happy birds joyfully eating their feed at their leisure.

I’m in my happy place here on the Refuge, and it’s obvious that my feathered friends are, too.


Free just to be
In my glory, I’m
In my existence, I’m
In my friends, I
Hasn’t always been this way,
            but it is now.
Free to just

Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019










March 27, 2019

Thank You, Sweet Mama

I was saddened to hear of Sweet Mama’s passing this past week. She was the first goat resident at the Refuge. A strong-willed mother, she broke free of the slaughter auction to save herself and the two babies she was carrying, Ace and Ivy. Sweet Mama touched my life briefly, as I’m relatively new to the Refuge, but she and her kids moved me to work harder for this sanctuary and to embrace a vegan lifestyle. I am grateful for all she did and all that she left behind.

Dear Sweet Mama,

Thank you for the choices you’ve made that have influenced so many — most importantly, your kids, Ace and Ivy, and all the lives you’ve touched at the Refuge.

We miss you. But I’m sure you know that.

The sadness in Ivy’s eyes breaks my heart. Today I sat with her for a long while and listened to her cry. She’s trying to rest in the warm sunshine as she often did with you and Ace, but you’re not here. She remembers safely snuggling up against you and aches to have you near once again. Ivy knows you were struggling with pain and are now at peace, but it doesn’t ease her pain of missing you.

Ace is searching for you and wondering when you’ll be home. He’s keeping an extra-watchful eye over Ivy as he tries to reassure her of something he himself is so uncertain of. He’s staying close.

Sweet Mama, your kids will carry on your legacy of strength and unconditional love. They want you to know how grateful they are for your perseverance and your unbreakable family bond.

As the warm spring sun begins to lower and longer shadows are cast upon the pasture, a sense of peace drapes over your children. While part of them continues to expect you to peer around the corner, they know you are gone.

For Sweet Mama

Because you jumped
            we live
Because you loved
we thrive
Because you snuggled
we know comfort
Because you cared
we love
Because you left
we mourn.
Thank you, Sweet Mama.

Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019






March 19, 2019

Meeting the Flock

It is a sunny, spring-like day as I pull into the driveway of Piedmont Farm Animal Refuge. Spring begins tomorrow, and this is the perfect place to celebrate its arrival. The small, nondescript, faded yellow ranch house seems to have once been home to farmers long gone. Opening the front door, compassion spills from the house as I’m greeted with a hug by founder Lenore Braford. This is how my introduction to the Refuge begins, and I know immediately it will be a special place.

On the back side of the house, a gravel road meanders past woodlands, pastures and barns. Over 100 animals who have been rescued from traumatic conditions of abuse and neglect are residents. Here, each being is known by name and provided a sanctuary in which to live out their lives. But it’s even more than that. This is a community created around a symbiotic relationship of animals, people, land and architecture. There is a serenity to be found on this plot of land for anyone willing to sit a spell amongst these creatures and get to know them with an open heart.

Today is my first day of writing from the Refuge, and I find myself plopped in the middle of a pasture full of sheep. Counting them, there are eleven who are coated out in full wool and one, Flower, who sports a short jacket of hair rather than the wool of her pasture-mates. Sheep have been bred to grow wool, but require shearing in order to get the weight off in warmer months. Lenore tells me this needs to happen sometime soon for these eleven wool-bearers, as our warm North Carolina summer is fast approaching. It is important to find a compassionate, gentle shearer, as the process can otherwise be rather violent for sheep.

After about 45 minutes of sitting quietly and observing, I am rewarded with a greeting. All except Flower (who seems unsure of my presence) have decided that if they approach me as a group, I’ll be a safe friend. One found delight in untying my shoelaces while another smiled and left tongue prints on my metal water bottle. They all decide face pets would be fine until, curiosity squelched, eleven wooly heads turn in unison and they trot away enmass. I’m left to finish writing in the middle of their pasture with lanolin-coated hands, watching as these sweet creatures choose to nibble on their tender springtime grass rather than on my shoes.

As I get up to leave, I talk with Flower from afar, assuring her that I will take the time to get to know her. I know that she, as well as her flock of friends, has a very important story to share. I promise I will listen.

The Flock

Curious from a distance
Wooly cotton balls with legs
Stay in the flock
Don’t wander off
It’s safer that way.

Go about your business
One eye on the visitor – one eye on the grass.

Curiosity brings you closer
              Do we trust – do we scamper?
A brave one approaches
Standing still and sniffing
Then turns and walks away.

Curiosity is tempered
The grass is too tasty today.

Poem copyright Barbara Hengstenberg 2019