Seymour, challenged by a herd of cows, hoofed his 3,000 pounds of stubbornness into the ground. But between the headbuts, he laid his head down and twisted his leg into his curled horn.
Chris Amerman could read the water buffalo’s face. A little help here?
He rushed over to his aid, and Seymour stood up once again. He parted ways with Amerman and tramped back to his calm life on the pasture.
But Seymour’s home is no regular farm.
He lives in Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary, a 210-acre farm located at 12626 NW County Road 231 in Gainesville. The land houses 56 farm animals: 20 pigs, 5 mini donkeys and 31 cows.
The idea of a sanctuary lingered in the back of Erin Amerman’s mind since 1997. After Chris and Erin married, she wanted to buy a 100-acre plot of land on a creek because it attracts wildlife.
Eighteen years later, the small seed of an idea sprouted into Critter Creek. Opening a sanctuary was one of Erin’s long-term goals, even from childhood.
By age 14, she gave up all animal products and became vegan.
“We feed songbirds and then we murder chickens and turkeys by the gazillions,” she said.
The farm grew, and she needed more hands to tend for animals.
Sheena Drost was drawn to Ritchie, a small red-and-white calf, when she first visited the sanctuary for Oinktoberfest, a Halloween market. She applied to volunteer when she left the farm that same day.
“He just stole my heart,” Drost said.
The 38-year-old Santa Fe zoology student began to work as the office manager at Critter Creek in September 2020. She’s now a member of the farm’s board of directors.
Drost also adores Rupert. The chunky pinkish pig snorts in crescendo as Drost calls him.
“He’s my baby,” Drost said. “He’s my big baby.”
Workers begin a typical day feeding the animals, conducting health checks and repairing its facilities. They recently opened Imperial’s Palace, a horse care area in Critter Hills, a 200-acre ranch close to Critter Creek, with one of the horses as its namesake.
As the sun fades into the night, Erin and Drost mount their buggy car, drive into one of the many fields and take in the sight of the cows, pigs and other farm animals grazing collectively.
These moments are the few in which employees get breaks. The sanctuary is bombarded with calls on a daily basis.
Some are lighthearted; others aren’t. Many people will blackmail the Amermans and tell them they’ll slaughter their animals if the couple doesn’t rehome them.
“We’re not the pound where you take your unwanted critter,” Erin said. “We can’t function that way."
The sanctuary also receives animals at the center of cruelty cases. Local law enforcement typically seizes cows on the brink of death from landowners who seek tax exemptions and mistreat them, she said.
The Lionel and Amos case was the most brutal instance of animal cruelty that the team encountered, she said. The cow and pig duo came as a package in June 2021 during the farm’s roughest rescue.
The critters were left to rot in the scalding Miami heat amid a heap of cardboard boxes — Lionel on the bottom and Amos on the top. They were dehydrated and surrounded by decomposing animals.
The two were rescued by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and were soon transferred to the Critter Creek Farm Sanctuary.
“They really attest to the power of love,” Erin said. “Through their friendship and their bond, they’ve really been able to recover remarkably well.”
The Amermans, however, felt like their work wasn’t enough. So, in 2019 they opened Critter Hills, which is reserved for the more vulnerable animals, she said.
The farm has three full-time paid workers who care for animals, who are usually severely malnourished before arriving at the farm. Critter Hills houses 162 animals: 114 cows, 11 horses, five donkeys, three turkeys, two rats, a water buffalo, a bison, a group of cats and a pack of dogs.
She is satisfied with her work but will not rest until there aren't any animals left needed to be rescued.
“I recognize that having 400 acres of animal sanctuary is great and saving the couple hundred animals we’ve saved is wonderful for them,” Erin said. “It feels like not enough. There’s so many animals in need.”
And she has found another way to do more — directly involving the community.
The sanctuary hosts a plant-based farmer’s “Moo-ket” once a month, where families can drink ice-cold lemonade, eat cupcakes and feed the dozens of cows on the land.
Her inspiration for the sanctuary stemmed back decades, specifically to when she was 7 and in search of a pet.
She walked into her local pet store; her eyes focused on the hamsters.
A worker took one out of the glass container and placed it on Erin hand. She knew hamsters weren’t her ideal pet when it bit and peed on her.
The worker recommended Templeton as an alternative option. Her face crinkled in confusion.
How are rats pets?
Her question was soon answered as the tiny black-and-white rat crawled up her arm to her shoulder.
When Erin brought the small animal to school for show-and-tell, word spread that some of the teachers were disgusted. She overheard that they wanted to throw him out.
“I was completely enamored with my little rat person and thought he was just the best thing ever,” Erin said.
And years later, her regard for the lives of animals — especially those who aren’t “typical house pets” — has never wavered.
“Farmed animals almost never get any kind of happily ever after,” she said. “To be able to offer that to even just a few is everything.”
Now, Critter Creek tries to give those animals a feel-good ending.
Contact Faith Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @_faithbuckley
Faith Buckley is a first-year journalism student at UF and The Alligator's swimming and diving beat writer. She is specializing in sports media to one day hopefully work as an NHL commentator.