Special Bonds: Escalade and Cheri

Cheri and Escalade share a very special bond based on trust and respect. Cheri remembers the first time she saw Escalade, “He was running freely in the pasture with BJ and I noticed how curious he was,” says Cheri. “He came over to the fence, but when I reached out he ran away.” That’s when Cheri realized that Escalade was shy and a bit nervous. His past as a race horse had made him afraid of people, but Cheri sensed that Escalade wanted to be friends…he just didn’t know how.

“I decided to make sure I spent lots of time with Escalade, talking to him and brushing him,” explains Cheri. “I was hoping that this would create a bond between us so he could let down his guard and let go of his past.” And it worked! Cheri and Escalade ended up connecting on a very deep level and, if he is ever upset, and Cheri is within sight, he will gallop right over to her for some reassuring nuzzles.

When she’s at HEEFS, Cheri will often spend time cleaning his stall and then brushing Escalade while singing and talking to him. “Escalade’s energy is big and bold and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”

For the birds

Left to right: Heisenberg, Shelly and Richard

We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful feathered friends at HEEFS, and we deeply appreciate all of the questions you send us about them. The questions that we are asked most often are about what we do when our friends lay eggs, why some of our friends are in a coop while others are in the barn, and why we keep such a close eye on the eggs that are laid.

In order to answer all of these great questions, we thought it would make sense to take a little step back in time.

A brief history

The red jungle fowl are the presumed ancestor of the commercial chickens we know today. However, after thousands of years of hybridization and domestication, they look nothing like they once did.

And, when we talk about hybridization and domestication, it is similar to what has happened to dogs over the years. They too have been genetically selected for certain traits. Some have been bred to be large, some to be very fast, others to be great swimmers, and yet others to shed less.

So too with chickens. Some chickens have been bred for their flesh (meat), and some for their eggs.


We currently only have one friend who was bred for meat – Nancy. And, like all birds who have been bred for this purpose, they are bred to have very large breasts. In order to make that happen, these chickens are bred to be constantly hungry and to constantly eat. Nancy was bred to be at full market weight by the age of 16 weeks, and because of that, when he came to us, he was very top heavy and his little legs could not support the weight of his body. After arriving at HEEFS, Nancy went through extensive physiotherapy, lost a significant amount of weight, and, yes, he needed to be kept out of the coop so we could closely monitor his food intake. If given the chance, Nancy will eat and eat and eat – and that would not be good for him!

Hens today

Hens, or female chickens, that are used for their eggs, have been bred to lay approximately 340 eggs per year.  Had these beautiful birds not been genetically altered they would lay 10 to 15 eggs naturally per year, usually in the spring. Sadly, this constant laying takes a toll on their little bodies, rendering them susceptible to many reproductive diseases such as painful prolapses, egg-yolk peritonitis, and osteoporosis due to calcium depletion from constant egg laying. These birds have also been awarded the dubious honour of experiencing the highest rate of ovarian cancer of any animal in the world.

These countless reproductive issues have resulted in the deaths of some of HEEFS’ resident hens including, very recently, Lucy.


When the laying begins

As soon as spring begins at HEEFS, the longer daylight hours trigger hormones in our laying birds and that means that our girls, Donna, Farley, Hope, Ashley, and Heidi (on occasion) will start to lay eggs. So our animal caregivers and volunteers are on high alert when visiting the coop, checking for eggs and reporting any misshapen or soft eggs. The eggs these ladies lay can tell us a lot about their reproductive health so we are very watchful. When they do lay eggs, we are careful to remove them right away, and after they have been checked, they are hardboiled and mashed – shells and all – and fed back to the flock. The shells are particularly important as they are rich in calcium.

Helping our hens live longer and healthier

Lady Heisenberg and Shelly do not lay because they have hormonal implants, re-administered every three months, to stop them from laying indefinitely. Implants also help these ladies maintain optimal health as producing and laying is very taxing on their bodies. We should note that this implant is used only for residents who were bred to be laying chickens. Our silky hens – Farley, Hope and Ashley, for example, do not require the suppression implant as they will only lay a few eggs per year.

Top left to bottom right: Farley, Heisenberg and Hope

We have an incredible team of animal care experts and volunteers who work daily to keep all our feathered friends healthy and happy, and, most importantly, we couldn’t do any of this without the ongoing support of our monthly donors! We would be ever so grateful if you were able to become a monthly donor – every dollar helps!

You can find more information on chickens used for meat, and for egg production by visiting www.egg-truth.com and https://www.upc-online.org/.

Nancy is doing well...thanks for asking!

As you may know, Nancy lost his best friend, Dolly, a few weeks ago. They were the very best of friends and could always been found wandering around together. They met very shortly after Dolly arrived at HEEFS. She was scared and in isolation because we were treating her for several injuries and medical conditions. Sensing this, Nancy immediately positioned himself in front of Dolly’s stall and stayed there, day after day, keeping her company and helping her feel safe. Once Dolly was feeling better and was allowed out to meet the other HEEFS residents, it was Nancy who took up a permanent position by her side. Dolly was Nancy’s world.

Mourning his friend

Sadly, we lost Dolly a few weeks ago. She was battling many ongoing health issues and it finally became too much for her. Immediately after Dolly’s passing, and for the following few days, Nancy was clearly “lost”. No doubt, he was thinking that Dolly was simply at one of the many day trips she made to OVC for check ups and treatments and would be back soon. Even when Dolly was gone for those short trips, Nancy would wander around looking for her. For the first few days, Nancy would go to the spots where he and Dolly liked to spend time together - in front of Esther’s waterfall, by the coop, in the shade eating grass together, at the back of the barn and in their stall.

He was clearly looking for his friend. All of the HEEFS staff and volunteers made sure to give Nancy the time and space he needed to grieve, but also to be there with extra love and attention.

After about four days he started to get back into his old “Nancy” habits doing things that he liked to do before Dolly arrived at the Sanctuary like visiting Len after breakfast, taking himself for walks up to the goat barn (which he couldn’t do the last month he was with Dolly because she was increasingly immobile) and going on more adventures in general.

Getting better every day

To help him out after Dolly’s passing, we would make sure to spend lots of time with him and offer lots of extra snuggles. We would even let him visit the coop - supervised. Coop visits are not something that Nancy would often be allowed to do for a variety of reasons. First, because he was bred to be used for meat, he is genetically programmed to eat continuously. He has no “I’m full” button, so being in the coop with food readily available provides a serious health risk for Nancy. There’s also the risk that he could get into a struggle with Richard which would not end well for Nancy. But we made sure to close the feed hops and let him explore and socialize, supervised, for short periods of time. This helped Nancy feel less lonely. We would also carry him around with us (he was used to that and enjoys it!) and we’d take him for rides around the Sanctuary. After a week, we sensed that he was feeling better so we backed off and let Nancy take the lead doing “Nancy” things again. Today Nancy is back to following the staff and volunteers around like he used to do and enjoying lots of love and attention.

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Showing our pride at PRIDE

What a PRIDE-tastic day!

It was our second year marching in the Toronto PRIDE parade and everything was bigger, better and more fabulous than last year! Even the weather was spectacular without a cloud in the sky!

We had an amazing day spreading our message of love and compassion to the over one million festival attendees and to countless more watching the parade at home.

There were over 200 groups marching in the Toronto PRIDE parade and we think we can say, without any fear of contradiction, that we were the only float boasting a big, metallic pink pig farting bubbles and singing show tunes. And this year, just to be extra fancy, we dressed up our pig with some comically over-sized bling.

Spreading our message of love and compassion

Joining the 21 HEEFS volunteers that marched alongside our float, there were 48 incredible supporters that came from all over southern Ontario as well as Illinois, Michigan and Virginia!

Each person that marched with us was wearing a special edition HEEFS PRIDE tee. Some people chose to wear their shirts from last year with the message, “Be Kind to All Kinds”, and others wore the new design for 2019 showing our fairy pig with a PRIDE flag and the slogan, “Love for All and All for Love”.

Marchers carried signs representing all of the HEEFS residents and we even brought out the quad filled with animal, fruit and veggie balloons!

What a beautiful day…filled with beautiful people!

Have you heard? Sammy has a herd!

Introducing a new pig, such as Sammy, into an established herd can be a tricky thing to do! Pigs organize themselves into strict hierarchies, most often with a female, or matriarch, at the head and in charge.

Order in the stall!

These social structures start very early in a pig’s life with what is called “teat order”, or the order in which the babies nurse. Teat order is generally understood by piglets and is not usually challenged. It is not until pigs are about two years old that they form a more permanent social hierarchy within their herd.  When this happens, each member of the herd has a set position of power which dictates many behaviours from eating order to sleep position. Pigs generally accept the social hierarchy that is established although challenges can and do occur for various reasons. For example, if any one pig is removed from the herd, even temporarily, they may find that upon their return, their position has been filled by another pig and that they have been relegated to a lower status. Or, if another pig is introduced into the herd, it can upset the established social order as the new member fights for a position and each member of the existing herd defends their current status.  It’s all very interesting and something that we were very aware of when we decided to introduce Sammy into Fiona’s herd. Because the piglets were still very young, their social status was not firmly established, so at this point introducing Sammy would not result in the hierarchy being shuffled.

Introducing Sammy

The introduction of Sammy into Fiona’s herd of piglets was done while Fiona was recovering from her spay surgery in a separate stall from her babies. This introduction went very well and the piglets immediately accepted Sammy as one of their herd. Sammy, however, had a bit of a learning curve ahead of him! Having spent most of his time in the company of HEEFS staff and volunteers, and not other pigs, Sammy needed to learn piggy language and behaviour.  It wasn’t long before Sammy settled in and we were ready to re-introduce Fiona to her herd + one. The introduction took place in a neutral pasture – not the one in which Fiona and her babies were living. This was done to minimize any potential for territorial behaviour, plus the neutral pasture was bigger.  With all animal caregivers on hand in case of trouble, the introductions began. Of course the piglets were super excited to see their mama and the feeling was mutual. Then there was Sammy. Fiona had never met Sammy before. Would she accept him or would there be a challenge? We are thrilled to announce that the introduction went exceptionally well and Fiona happily accepted Sammy without any fuss.

And they all lived happily ever after

Sammy is loving his new herd and the company of all of his new piggy siblings! And as for Mama Fiona? Well, we all knew that her heart was big enough to love one more baby.