Jered and Shawn Camp Iowa Farm Sanctuary

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Jered Camp’s job is saving lives.

When he’s not working 50 hours a week as a paramedic, he’s taking care of cows, chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs at Iowa Farm Sanctuary.

Iowa Farm Sanctuary is located in Marengo. It’s a safe haven for rescued farm animals, who otherwise would have been cast aside. Jered started the sanctuary in 2016 with his wife, Shawn Camp. They felt compelled to offer a home to abused and neglected animals in Iowa after realizing there was a tremendous need but no other sanctuary in the state.

a calf named Carl

They wanted to help animals like Carl – a calf who Jered rescued one dusty October day at a veal auction. Carl’s mother was a dairy cow. While people sometimes don’t think about it, like human females, cows only lactate after giving birth. Dairy cows are impregnated, gestate for nine months, and then deliver. After that, calves like Carl are taken away, so that the mother’s milk can go to humans instead. If the calf is a female, she’ll become a dairy cow herself. If the calf is a male, he’ll become veal or beef. Carl was supposed to have been the former, but fate had other plans.

When Jered first laid his eyes on him, little black and white Carl was only days old. He was frail and unable to stand. He’d been taken from his mother too soon. Somehow Jered was able to convince the farmer to give him Carl. Jered brought Carl back to the sanctuary to nurse him to health. Those first few days were rough. Carl was miserable in his pen with severe diarrhea. It wasn’t clear if he would make it.

His arrival also happened to occur just two days before the sanctuary’s grand opening event.

“I think a lot of people saw the agony that he was in and saw this is a victim of the dairy industry. And he’s one of millions, you know?” Shawn said.

The impact of a sanctuary

To some, the sanctuary is the embodiment of that Loren Eiseley tale about a man walking along the ocean, throwing starfish back into the sea that would otherwise perish in the sun. In the story, a passerby questioned the man about the futility of rescuing a handful of starfish while so many others would die on the beach. As he threw another starfish back to the safety of the water, the man responded, “It made a difference for that one.”

Not only does saving an animal’s life make an immeasurable difference to that individual, it also offers an opportunity for the animals to impact the visitors who meet them.

“Saving five cows out of the cow industry of Iowa is nothing. It’s not even close to a drop in the bucket, but the impact that these five cows can make is huge. To have a place that people can come out and see the animals, and meet the animals, and pet them, and see how they interact, that’s how we plant the seeds of helping them get to where they can be more mindful of the choices they’re making,” Jered said.

They kill about 2,000 runts a week at the facility.

The first rescued residents at Iowa Farm Sanctuary were Monkey and Marley, who came from Iowa’s largest breeding facility for pigs, and the 4th largest in the U.S. They were rescued on the 4th of July – their independence day.

“They weren’t going to make good wean pigs,” Jered explained. “So they wouldn’t get to 25 pounds in 4 weeks. The factory farm just kills them, because it’s more cost effective for them to terminate them than it is for them to feed them more and get them up to size. They kill about 2,000 runts a week at the facility.”

An anonymous worker contacted Jered and Shawn through Facebook regarding two pigs she was able to rescue.

Since they were so tiny, for the first couple of months, Monkey & Marley actually lived in Shawn and Jered’s home. Once they were weaned, they moved out to the chicken coop while the Camp’s got the fencing together and built stalls.

Now Monkey and Marley greet visitors at events, eager to be petted.

“We get a lot of people that, they’ll pet the pigs, and then they’re like, ‘I’ve never touched a pig before.’ That’s cool, because then they can really make a connection,” Shawn said. “You know, if you haven’t met an animal that you otherwise may consume, you wouldn’t know what their personalities are like or how human-like their eyes are. So it’s neat that we can provide the experience where they can come out and put a face to what may be their food.”

In total, there are 45 feathered and furred residents at Iowa Farm Sanctuary, and each of them has a story.

“We’ve got two chickens and three pigs that jumped off trucks. We have animals seized in undercover investigations, animals that were escape artists, and their owners wouldn’t pay the fees to get them back from the city. We got 3 goats from a farmer that used to raise them for 4-H for his grandkids, and he didn’t want to send them to slaughter, ‘cause they were all like pets to him,“ Shawn said.

“A turkey that just escaped from the turkey plant and walked down the street in front of someone’s home,” Jered chimed in.

Finding purpose; creating a home

Shawn and Jered are humble and down to earth. Mild-mannered Jered laughs easily, and when he speaks, his words are graceful. But as you might guess about two people whose lives are centered around altruism – they don’t take much time to pat themselves on the back. The focus is on the work that has to be done.

Often they are up at 5 am to let the animals out and feed them, while Shawn cleans stalls. After that – breakfast and coffee.

Taking care of animals is nothing new to Jered. In some ways, it’s a return to his roots. He grew up on a small farm in Utah. His mornings were spent doing chores – feeding pigs, chickens, and cows before getting ready for school. Then at fourteen, he worked at an industrial dairy farm, where they milked 400 cows in the morning and 400 at night on a feedlot.

Having witnessed the bleakness of a feedlot firsthand, Jered recognizes that not all farms look like that.

“There are a lot of farms where the cows are free range. They get to walk around. But ultimately, when they go to the slaughterhouse, they’re all treated the same. It doesn’t matter if you came from a free-range farm or if you came from a huge feedlot. They all get lined up. They’re all terrified when they go in. They all try to fight it. They all get forced into the killing box, and they all die the same death.”

Shawn has had an interest in saving animals for as long as she can remember. As a child she would nurse baby squirrels back to health and help stray dogs find their owners. At one point she had dreams of working with Sea Shepherd to fight against the dolphin trade & slaughter.

However, her work background was in the customer service industry as the manager at Red’s Alehouse in North Liberty. (She’s since pulled back to being a bartender part-time to accommodate her work at the sanctuary.)

The first time I met Shawn, she was working at Red’s. The crowded restaurant was hopping, and Shawn looked like she could be heading out to a Hollywood club afterwards. She lived in Los Angeles for a short time, and her outfit carried a trendiness that spoke to that.

But at the sanctuary, she’s home – undone and relaxed, like a person is when settled in and comfortable. No makeup, baseball cap, shorts and a t-shirt – ready for mowing and scooping poop in the barns. The work isn’t glamorous, but it’s good for the soul.

A birthday party

The sanctuary has open barn days on Sundays in warm weather months, when the public can come out and interact with the animals. They also host regular larger events that are open to the public, like one they’re currently planning in honor of Carl’s first birthday.

Yes, one year later, and Carl is thriving. In fact, his only complaint is that he’s prone to jealousy.

“If we love on any other cow, if we start giving hugs to anybody, Carl will come over and just try to force his way in between you and him,” Jered said.

“He’s got horns now so he’ll use those, “ Shawn added. “He’ll throw a horn into you and be like, all right, my turn. Scratch my chin.”

Shawn has heard from multiple people who have changed their eating habits since meeting Carl at the grand opening event one year ago.

“We did a movie screening in Des Moines, and there was a gal there who said she’s been vegan since she met Carl. Carl’s life has such meaning. His legacy is that he’s made people make the connection. He’s the ambassador for his species,” Shawn said.

Carl’s birthday party will be held at the sanctuary on October 15th from 1 to 4. Tickets are on sale now on their website. There will be cake from Chicago Diner, an auction, raffle, and food. (All vegan, of course.) National Champion boxer, Cam Awesome, is going to emcee. They’re expecting about 300 attendees.

After bringing the dream of a sanctuary into fruition, Jered said the best part is seeing how content Carl, Monkey, Marley, and all of the animals are who live there.

“I think the best thing is just seeing the animals in the pastures and knowing that they don’t have to experience the horrors that the majority of all the other animals do. I just love it. I love seeing them play. I love looking out the window and seeing them butting heads and playing around. It’s so peaceful knowing that they’re happy, and that they’ll be happy for their entire lives. That’s definitely the best part for me.”

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Story and photos by Cadry Nelson. See more of Cadry’s work at cadryskitchen.com