The Tale of Phillip the Duck
The Muscovy duck originally lived with a woman in central Wisconsin, who hoarded more animals than she could reasonably care for. And when winter came, many of Phillip's fellow ducks perished. Phillip survived, but lost both feet to frostbite. When the animals were taken away, a woman named Vicki rescued Phillip.
It was then that several important events in Phillip’s life took place. An Oshkosh middle school class offered to try to make prosthetic feet for the duck, a story that made headlines. Then the owners of the Autumn Farm Sanctuary, Alyssa and Brandon Herbst, offered to take young Phillip in.
Phillip's experience is not so uncommon. Amateur farmers or animal lovers can end up with lesser-known breeds of familiar animals, which they don't know how to care for. Muscovy ducks, unlike other duck breeds, are unable to survive in the extreme cold of Wisconsin winters.
"I don't think they were providing him with any extra shelter or bedding, so they just didn't have the protection that they needed," says Alyssa Herbst.
So why didn't Phillip just fly south for the winter when the weather dipped below zero? Farm animals, including ducks and other fowl, are domesticated. They don't migrate because their food supply isn't dependent on the weather, it's dependent on their owners.
"They know that there's free food here and there's no reason to fly. Why would you? If I have free food and plenty of shelter I wouldn't leave either," says Brandon Herbst.
The Herbsts aren't farmers by trade, so they depend on volunteers to help run the sanctuary, which is home to dozens of animals. For both Alyssa and Brandon, starting this sanctuary was a calling. They're both animal-lovers and vegans, and they found themselves yearning to help more animals in their community.
"We've all read those stories where people sell everything and get a sailboat and go around the world, and it's so romantic and wonderful," says Brandon. "To us it was just practical to sell everything we had, well, not everything we had," he admits. "We sold the house in the city, and bought the farm on the border of the city limits and it just made sense."
"We kind of live our lives in a way where we wanna help as many animals as possible," says Alyssa. "So it just kind of blossomed from that."
Their farm is home to many unusual characters, including Lumpy the Goose, who is missing one wing and has half of his other wing. He was dumped by his previous owner by a nearby river, but has quickly become a fan favorite on the farm.
Many of the animals at the sanctuary escaped heart-breaking situations like Lumpy and Phillip, or have physical and mental disabilities which can make them difficult to care for.
"Our mission is to give the animals a safe place to be and we want them to just live their lives and be happy and have kind of a peacefulness and never have an expiration date on them when they're not useful anymore," says Alyssa.