It’s no secret that our family is composed of some hardcore animal lovers. We have a small wolf pack of dogs in our home, and Avery (and maybe me, too) wants to bring home just about any animal she meets. We spend our summers raising tadpoles, hatching butterfly cocoons and catching frogs and every bug under the Florida sun. We visit animal sanctuaries and experiences as often as we can throughout the state.
Fall is the perfect time for this because, just like us, the animals thoroughly enjoy the cooler temperatures. Rooterville Animal Sanctuary in Melrose is an animal lover’s delight, and home to hundreds of farm animals living their best lives.
Rooterville, named for a pig’s favorite activity of rooting, is a sprawling farm full of friendly rescued farm critters that are just as pleased to meet you (and your snacks) as you are to see them. Home to over one hundred pot-bellied and farm pigs, plus cows, goats, turkeys, chickens, horses and more, the farm is a place where unwanted, abused or neglected animals go to become friends, not food.
Sadly, the myth of teacup and micro pigs has led many unknowing pet owners to purchase pot-bellied pigs that later grow much larger than expected and are no longer able, or willing, to care for them. Most humane societies and animal shelters don’t accept pigs or any other farm animals, leaving them nowhere to go. Elaine West founded Rooterville in 2004 to create the loving home these animals needed. She was inspired to do so after she took in Stella, a factory farm pig that fell off an overcrowded transport truck and was emaciated and injured. She thrived at Rooterville, just like the rest of the animals there.
It’s best to start your farm day early. The day kicks off at 10:30 a.m., when the pigs are fed and absolute chaos ensues. The yard of squealing piggies rush to their troughs and chow down. Avery thought it was absolutely hilarious watching them pig out, and was squealing with joy right along with them. The ringleader is a massive, 900-pound pig named Jason. He may call the shots in the pig yard, but he is a gentle giant that will gleefully accept treats of all kinds at the fence.
Once fed and content with full bellies, some of the pigs are released to wander the farm, while others lounge in the sun, go for a dip in the pond or many mudholes, and still more wander to the property’s shady woods to root and relax. At 11 a.m., you can hop on board the tractor-pulled trolley for a ride through the pig yard and tour the ins and outs of the farm.
The kids got a chance to feed the resident fish in the pond, while pigs and turkeys gently nudged them to check their pockets for snacks. On this happy and quaint farm, the pigs act more like oversized dogs looking for scratches and treats, particularly around the kid/pig height picnic table at lunchtime.
Bananas and bags of animal feed are available at the gift shop for purchase, or you can bring your own from home, such as carrots and other veggies or fruits. We met an absolutely enormous cow named Tinsel, who was deemed too small and weak for meat sale and left for dead at an auction when he was rescued and brought to Rooterville. Since then, he has flourished and towers over the rest of the farm, alongside his best buddy Holly. The two of them are exceptionally fond of bananas, peel and all, and if they spot you with them, they will moo with delight to call you over.
An adventure-filled playground offers a shady spot for the kids to play and get grubby in the dirt, right alongside the animals. Curious friendships can be found all over Rooterville, such as Lulu, a huge female pig (pictured above) and her best friend, Temple – a small red heeler dog. The two are never more than a few feet apart as they roam the farm.
Billy Bob the turkey struts the pig yard and lets everyone know he’s really the one in charge. Avery fell head over heels in love with Leo, a large goat who enjoys cuddles, hugs around the neck, and tasty pocket treats – luckily, Avery’s overalls were brimming with those.
Once you visit, you’ll find it’s easy to find someone to fall in love with at Rooterville. All of the residents are thriving and thrilled to have a new lease on life where they are loved. Happy rooting!
ROOTERVILLE ANIMAL SANCTUARY
Open Sat – Sun: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Admission by donation – suggested admission $15/person or $45/family
All photos by Kelsey Walters