Barn Sanctuary founder Dan McKernan reveals how he left a high-paid job in the tech industry to rescue farm animals and how it inspired him to write his new children's book, This Farm is a Family.
Star of Saved by the Barn, Dan McKernan, left the corporate world in 2015 with a dream to transform his family’s 140-year-old farm into a safe haven for farmed animals.
Now the author of a forthcoming children’s book, “This Farm Is a Family,” Dan’s is on mission through his work at Barn Sanctuary to change the way the world views farmed animals and help lead society towards a more compassionate and plant-based lifestyle.
Out of office: Dan McKernan’s story
Picture this; I work as a well-paid computer developer and work remotely from the hippest co-working space in downtown Austin, Texas.
All my co-workers work from Canada, and here I am, working from a one-person glass office bearing witness to other start-ups working together in groups and getting a happy hour the moment the clock turns 3 pm. The office space even had craft beer on tap!
I liked my team, my job role, and appreciated my six-figure pay-check, but I knew working behind a computer screen was not what I envisioned my life to be.
After watching a few vegan documentaries on Netflix which inspired me to go plant-based, I was eager to do more than just keep animals off my plate.
I consumed Gene Baur’s book ‘Living the Farm Sanctuary Life’ on the weekend, and I admired the selfless life he chose for himself.
Gene is the founder of the largest farm animal sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary, and I am humbled to have him as a mentor and friend.
Shortly after having a woken-like change in my life, my dad gave me a call and asked what to do with our 140-year-old family farm.
My twin brother said, “Sell it to Walmart and walk away rich.” I’d say he was lacking in entrepreneurism.
I obviously didn’t want to sell the historic family farm to a large corporation, and that’s when I decided to trade my good living for a great life. I’m fully committed and all in when I have my mindset on a goal.
Giving farm animals their forever home
I quit my tech job, returned to the farm in rural Michigan, and turned my family’s centennial farm into a sanctuary for farm animals in need of a forever home.
This is no easy task; the farm had been sitting docile for over three decades. I knew very little about farming when I first started, and it has been more work than I ever imagined, but it’s been amazing to bring life back to the farm and create a home for the most abused animals on the planet.
Barn Sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates farmed animals in need, and we’ve saved more than 500 animals. Currently, 114 of those rescued reside on the 70-acre property.
The fresh air, walking on mother earth, spending more time with my family, and the personal relationships with the animals have transformed me. Barn Sanctuary saved me.
I advocate for mental health, and the animals have brought me great comfort during my most difficult times.
Andy, a Holstein calf who heroically broke out of a barn fire and suffered burns to 65% of his body, brought me great comfort after a separation from a long-term relationship.
I really needed to connect with someone, and he made me feel the human-animal connection.
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How the animals saved me
Five months after my best bud Andy passed away, my dreams were coming true. With the sanctuary’s success and landing the docuseries Saved by the Barn with Animal Planet, I struggled internally with intense feelings of hopelessness and abandonment.
The amount of pressure was too unbearable to deal with. When I tried to talk to people about how I was struggling — they’d tell me, “You need to keep rescuing animals. Working and helping animals will make you feel better”.
I wanted this pain to stop and desperately wanted to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I couldn’t see it, regardless of how hard I tried.
When I was found on my apartment floor and regained consciousness, I immediately checked myself into a hospital.
I started the lengthy process of opening up about my mental health with doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and even strangers in group therapy. Being in therapy allowed me not to depend on the animals as much for emotional support.
They continue to provide me great comfort and companionship. Being around the animals enables me to breathe and calm down when I feel anxious or stressed.
It centres me to think about the present moment – when I’m panicked, I sit with the animals, and they re-centre me.
Proceeds of Dan McKernan’s children’s book, ‘This Farm is a Family,’ go to helping the sanctuary.
‘This Farm is a Family‘
Throughout my childhood, I move around the country a lot. I was anxious and stressed when starting a new school, which helped inspire a new children’s book I wrote, This Farm is a Family.
The book is based on Buttercup the cow, a real-life rescue at Barn Sanctuary, who is having difficulty adjusting to her new home.
Despite Buttercup’s resistance and fear, the animals rally together to show Buttercup love and compassion and let her know that she’s now part of their family.
The proceeds of the book will go to continuing Barn Sanctuary’s Mission to allow me to continue to provide animals with a safe, loving home.
Through the work of Barn Sanctuary and the incredible animals I work for, I hope to change the way the world views farmed animals. My aim is to help people with their stories to lead society towards a more compassionate plant-based lifestyle.
Want to hear more from Dan McKernan? Tune into the Simply Vegan podcast for our exclusive interview!
This Farm is a Family by Dan McKernan published by Zonderkidz is on sale via Amazon now.