At Black Beauty Ranch, titles like “caregiver” and “maintenance technician” don’t do the people who hold them justice, and they don’t capture the dozens of unique tasks the team carries out every day: figuring out how to get pine sap off a goat’s horn (rub it with peanut oil), learning how to “drag” a pasture to break up cow poop (pro tip: use the correct-sized ball hitch), monitoring a trail camera to figure out which wild animal is getting into the primate enclosure (a raccoon). It takes a special kind of tenacity and commitment to thrive in positions like these. Luckily for the sanctuary’s animal residents, the 30-plus team members are up to the challenge.

We’re sharing a “typical” day at Black Beauty Ranch, compiled from our All Animals team’s observations over three blisteringly hot days in mid-June 2023. We hope you’ll be just as humbled by the staff’s dedication as we were.

6:48 a.m. 

Shane Echols, Matt Self and Devin Case sit in old white plastic yard chairs around the shop table, dividing up projects for the day, while Crispin Owen and Shon Hatfield check on equipment. Each morning, the facilities team assigns the day’s tasks. They try to get the jobs in full sun done in the morning. The day is already hot—near 80˚ F, with 91% humidity—and sweat pools on their foreheads.

A macaque eating a leaf of lettuce.
Meredith Lee

7:16 a.m.

In the primate kitchen, caregivers prepare food to deliver morning meds to the sanctuary’s 33 primates, who can be a bit picky. Julie the rhesus macaque gets an oatmeal and peanut butter bowl because she no longer likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jackie the white-faced capuchin gets pureed spinach, avocado, apples and sweet potatoes frozen in ice cube trays. Minnie and Nanette, both rhesus macaques, get banana and freshly ground cashew nuts.

7:35 a.m.

Case, Self and Jason Cogan jump in their all-terrain vehicle and head to the big cat enclosure for the morning’s job: extending a water line and installing a no-freeze water spigot near Serenity and Theodora’s habitat to make it easier for the care team to clean and refill the tigers’ pool. Elsa, whose habitat is next door, creeps toward the workers and then charges, changing course after a few seconds to run alongside the fence. Working near wild animals is going to take some getting used to, says Self, who is new to the sanctuary. “If you don’t jump, you aren’t human,” Cogan adds. Case, the tiger veteran, laughs. “Just keep working.”

 Margo, a Belgian mare rescued from the Premarin industry, during a Positive Reinforcement Training session with one of her caregivers
Kayla Parente

8:12 a.m.

Over at the equine section, it’s breakfast time for the 375 horses, donkeys and mules who call the sanctuary home. In one pasture, caregiver Erin London spends an hour coaxing each horse into an individual pen so she can feed them prescription food, supplements and medications. The horses who are quicker on the uptake are eager to be fed, groaning and nickering while the rest find their way into pens. “There’s not enough hustle for these horses,” London jokes.

8:17 a.m.

A goosebump-inducing roar echoes across the sanctuary: Douala the lioness is awake.

Douala the lion.
JP Bonnelly
For the HSUS
Two tortoises finding shade in their burrow.
JP Bonnelly
For the HSUS

9:20 a.m.

The sanctuary’s tortoises, who share outdoor space with the kangaroos, have dug dens to weather the summer heat. Caregiver Autumn Harmon kneels down and slides a plate of greens, red peppers and tomatoes to Tesla in his hole before moving on to the other tortoises.

9:46 a.m.

Tommi the turkey recently arrived from a cruelty situation. She has wounds on her feet, and today the bandages must be changed. Tommi was bred to live a short life and to grow very fat very quickly. She was dehydrated and underfed when she arrived, and her organs aren’t in great shape. A veterinary technician provides supplemental oxygen and monitors Tommi’s breathing while another tech changes her bandages and cleans her wounds.

Staff guiding horses through the equine chute at Black Beauty Ranch.
Karen Lange

9:50 a.m.

Sixteen horses need a routine weight check. The equine team leads the horses into a chute to scan their microchips and weigh them. The curved chute that gradually narrows a group of horses into a single line is specially designed by renowned academic and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin to be less stressful for the horses, who don’t like turning sharp corners. All their weights are healthy and recorded.

10:16 a.m.

As farm animal care manager Ashley Orr dumps pig feed into a trough, she notices that white pig Nike is busy building a nest. “Honey, keep walking or you’re going to miss your breakfast,” Orr calls, trying to tempt Nike by tossing tomatoes her way. Uninterested, Nike swishes her short tail (“docked,” or cut short, before she was rescued from a cruelty situation and brought to the sanctuary). As she carries straw into the nest she’s building by her wallow, a shallow muddy pool, Orr jokes that Nike is building a “lakeside cabana.”

Black Beauty staff tends to the pig enclosure.
Kelly L. Williams
A capuchin having a snack.
Kelly L. Williams

10:23 a.m.

The capuchin monkeys have their eyes on caregiver LeAnna Garza. They make high-pitched whistling sounds as she delivers their food, then blocks off an internal section of their enclosure to clean it. One capuchin watches closely, following Garza’s every move. “They’re busybodies,” she says.

10:41 a.m.

Orr is attempting to put ointment on a goat. Johnny Bravo has a small lesion on his chin, and Orr’s been treating it for a few weeks. She offers snacks and horn scratches, trying to lure him closer, but he’s wary. Orr gives up for the moment and wipes the ointment off her hand, wadding it up in a napkin and leaving the paddock. Johnny Bravo immediately comes over for scritches through the metal gate. Orr pets him with one hand and stealthily applies a fresh blob of ointment with the other.

11:08 a.m.

Harmon makes her rounds among the wildlife section for “truck feeds.” Lily, a bighorn sheep who lives in a habitat with six emus, enjoys chasing and playing with the caregivers (learn more about Lily on p. 18). “I’m sorry, Lily, not today,” says Harmon, who—like the other staff members—has a long to-do list. Undeterred, Lily chases Harmon all the way to the gate.

Black Beauty staff takes animal feed from the back of a truck.
Danielle Tepper
Bison roam at Black Beauty Ranch.

1:07 p.m.

Driving an ATV, then senior caregiver Christi Gilbreth (now senior coordinator of outreach and development) rings a bell signaling mealtime for the bison herd. They stare at her. She rings the bell again, and they begin strolling over. Mika lies in the grass, watching the five other bison munch grain, before joining.

1:42 p.m.

Rain has washed away parts of the dirt path by Douala’s enclosure. While the lioness is inside escaping the heat, the facilities team tackles the job. Across the sanctuary, Self uses a wheel loader to hoist fill dirt into the dump truck, then Echols drives it to the pathway, where Case waits with the skid steer to level and pack it down. The job takes four trips and some 80,000 pounds of dirt. “It ain’t glamorous,” Echols quips, wiping sweat from his brow after dumping the final load. But it’s vital: Without pathways, care teams can’t deliver food, supplies and other resources where they’re needed.

2:15 a.m

There’s rain in the forecast, so the wildlife team decides the tigers should spend the night indoors. They don’t want to use a game of chase to persuade the tigers to come inside, because they don’t want them to think of their caregivers as playmates. Caregiver Will Eschberger hopes food will work. He slides steel trays of food through slots into the bedrooms, then opens the doors leading into the rooms and waits.

2:20 p.m.

Two interns are stationed in a pasture, attempting to cover pigs in mud. Pigs bred for food aren’t meant to live long lives outdoors, exposed to the sun, and they’re susceptible to skin cancer. Orr has been experimenting with different sunscreens, including natural options (such as mud) and those meant for horses. Orr says the decades of breeding that make pigs grow quickly also make cancer cells grow quickly. One pig—Maggie—needs a topical chemotherapy ointment to treat recurring skin cancer. Tomorrow, Orr and the vet techs will give her a soothing oatmeal bath before applying the treatment “It’s really heartbreaking when nothing you do will fix everything centuries of breeding have done,” says Orr.

2:52 p.m.

Back at the farm team’s headquarters, intern Reyna Alcantar helps Orr adapt a milking stand for use as a holding device for goats who need their hooves trimmed. They discuss adding a “snacky tray” to make the experience a positive one. They’re modifying a device used to take something from the goats—their milk—into a tool to keep them healthy, Orr points out.

Shaun Echols uses a stick to gently guide a snapping turtle off the road.
Emily Hamlin Smith

3:14 p.m.

On his way to check lightbulbs in the primate kitchen, Echols comes across a snapping turtle in the dirt road. He tries to entice the turtle to chomp the end of a long stick so he can gently pull him across the road to safety. When that fails, Echols grabs a long metal hook (used to clear culverts) from his truck to snag the turtle from a safe distance. “Come on, fella, move it along,” he says. This approach works, and Echols is back on the road.

A llama stands in a field at Black Beauty Ranch.
Christi Gilbreth

3:52 p.m.

From the back of a truck, the equine team snaps photos of the horses. They’ll be used to update a “bio book,” which includes a photo of each animal to help the team with identification. They start with a dozen horses gathered together: a chestnut named DiGiorno (or “pizza horse”), a bay with a big star on her forehead named Diana, a bay with a little star named Dolce …

4:36 p.m.

The equipment is parked for the day, and Echols tidies up a few things in the shop before pushing in the white plastic lawn chairs around the table. His face is still flushed from the sun and the heat, streaks of dirt and grease on his arms and pants. “Let’s do it again tomorrow, yeah?”

6:07 p.m.

It might be after hours, but Orr and a few other caregivers have returned to the sanctuary. They’re taking advantage of the (relatively) cool evening by shearing a pair of llamas. The animals have recently arrived from a shuttered zoo in Puerto Rico, and their overgrown fleece needs shearing so they can better regulate their body temperature.

Each day at Black Beauty Ranch brings unique problems to solve—and moments to enjoy. Through it all, the caregivers keep one goal in mind: doing what’s best for the resident animals. 

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