Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary is a place where animal families find their forever homes.
As the largest bovine farm sanctuary in the country, Critter Creek is home to 161 cows, 22 pigs, 10 donkeys, 10 horses, three water buffalo, two turkeys and one bison.
Erin Amerman founded the sanctuary with her husband Chris Amerman to give animals a life free from the threat of slaughterhouses, dairy farms and animal cruelty.
“All the animals have been removed from some other facility or from a property either by court order or some other reason,” Chris Amerman said. “Neglect, abuse is usually the reason they’re actually being removed.”
Since her teenage years as a pet rat owner, Erin Amerman said she knew she wanted to help rescue animals and dreamed of starting her own farm sanctuary. In 2016, she did just that and created the first Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary located on 210 acres at 12626 NW County Road 231 in Gainesville.
“She’s been able to make that dream come true,” Chris Amerman said.
One special cow family at Critter Creek has three generations of mothers and babies. Zeus and Serafina, the calves, Maia, their mother, and Gretchen, their grandmother, live together at the 200-acre ranch and hay farm called Critter Hills, one of Critter Creek’s two locations. Their previous owner was a beef farmer in Oklahoma who decided he no longer wanted to be in the production industry, so Critter Creek took the cows and calves in and provided them with a new home.
“It’s really unusual to have three generations like that because, with farmed animals, families are automatically broken up,” Erin Amerman said.
On a typical production or dairy farm, the animals are used solely for meat or milk, resulting in calves being separated from their mothers early in life.
At dairy farms, cows have to give birth to a calf for the female cow to produce milk. Within 24 hours of birth, calves are typically separated from their mother, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) website.
After separation, some of the female calves may be kept to become milk-producing cows, some of the male calves may be reared for veal and others tend to be killed.
Chris Amerman said that in the farm area surrounding Critter Hills, they know when the calves are removed from production or dairy farms based on the noise the mother cows make.
“You can tell out here when babies are removed because the moms will cry for days,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
At Critter Creek, the family of cows is able to stay together as a unit while frolicking through the tall green grass, sunbathing under the sun and munching on grass and other snacks.
“Some will eat bananas and apples and other fruits and vegetables, and some of them look like you just tried to poison them when you try to offer them stuff,” Chris Amerman said.
In addition to the generations worth of cows on the property, Critter Creek welcomed two 4-month-old baby water buffalo which arrived at the sanctuary on Feb. 12.
Rescued from a buffalo dairy farm in California, baby buffalos Elder and Wally were medically treated for intense parasitic infections and then traveled across the country to their new home. Erin Amerman predicts that the pair most likely have the same father, making them half-brothers.
Once the baby buffalos’ health is restored and they’ve become accustomed to being at the sanctuary, Erin Amerman said they will slowly be introduced to a group of medically sensitive animals known as “the preschool” at Critter Creek.
Erin Amerman said Elder and Wally “can learn how to interact with cows and learn how to do water buffalo things” in “the preschool” group before they’re moved into the big herd.
Until then, the buffalo brothers spend time together eating and growing to reach their full potential as 2,500-pound water buffalo.
With over 200 acres of land for the Critter Creek residents, the Amermans have given these cows and water buffalo a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay with their relatives and create an extended family with the rest of the animals.