Each day at Merrymac Farm Sanctuary, when 8 a.m. rolls around, it’s feeding time. And like clockwork there’s always a rowdy bunch, ready to eat.
Take a recent morning at the Charlotte sanctuary as proof: Quacking ducks, the baas of sheep and bleats of goats, horses snorting, pigs and turkeys roaming about — another day was beginning for the crew of rescued animals who live new lives in this haven off Lime Kiln Road.
The goal of the sanctuary is to provide lifelong care for farm animals who have been rescued from neglect or abandonment. It aims to educate the public about animal welfare issues and promote compassionate treatment of all animals.
Founder Era MacDonald calls herself a small-town “Kentucky girl in Vermont.” She’s had animals in her life since her youth and appreciates that in the rescue realm, people work together for a common goal, rather than compete.
In her experience these last few years running Merrymac, she has been “all in” with her team to take care of the animals day and night and to accept calls for those in need of her help. Right now, the sanctuary has 125 residents, MacDonald said.
“Animal intakes are never-ending,” she said, describing how she constantly receives calls from those finding animals in need.
What’s new for the sanctuary is its status as a nonprofit, formalizing its bevy of volunteers and putting in place a board of directors. It’s the latest step in putting Merrymac on the map.
Every animal there has a story, and Era remembers every single one. Take Shadow and Queen, two goats rescued from a local property last year. They had been forced to eat rotten food and were suffering from permanent foot issues and viral infections.
Or one of the sanctuary’s newest residents, a pig named Tucker, who arrived in September after he outgrew his home in Pennsylvania and his owner decided to find a better place for him. Farm animals from all backgrounds are welcomed at the sanctuary — not just those who’ve been abused.
Teaching people about the animals they house is another priority for the sanctuary’s team. Merrymac hosts an afterschool program on Monday afternoons for kids from Charlotte and Shelburne schools to come and learn.
“People want to get involved in the cause; they just need an outlet,” said MacDonald. They do that through donations to fund treatment and care for the animals, volunteering to do chores or helping build new spaces for the residents.
MacDonald said it “makes her heart sing” when people reach out to help, especially those who don’t have much to give but believe in the cause.
Recently, sanctuary leadership has been working to build a new indoor space for the animals to keep them more comfortable in the colder months. MacDonald said some pigs are going to be moved into the new heated area due to their lack of fur. Additionally, the team wants to use some of the new space for educational events.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “But we’ve had this whole group of volunteer builders helping us.”
People such as Merrymac board member Russ Colvin, who is a retired structural engineer, and an additional crew of volunteers have donated hours helping build.
MacDonald said that “it’s been amazing how people come on a Sunday and donate their time to help.”
She predicts the new space should be finished around mid-December.
But it’s getting chillier, and Charlotte has seen snow already. With all the electrical heating that needs to be put into animals’ stalls to keep them warm, Macdonald said, “prepping for winter is a nightmare.”
Sanctuary staff are “running on gas fumes right now” since everything is in startup mode, she said. But Macdonald has hope that Merrymac will garner “support from this community to stay alive.”
(Meryl Hartmann reported this story on assignment for The Charlotte News. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.)