EDEN VALLEY, Minn. — You won’t find an animal at Broken Roads Ranch that doesn’t have a name. The livestock currently includes 12 goats, three miniature donkeys, two pigs, eight roosters, one duck, two dogs, and enough cats that any mouse headed in that direction should consider an alternate route.
Jeff and Charlene Stromwall operate Broken Roads Ranch as a rescue and sanctuary for farm animals whose owners no longer want them or are no longer able to care for them. They moved to their Eden Valley farm site in 2015 and filled to capacity quicker than they anticipated.
“It was meant to start slow,” Jeff said.
The plan was to get built up and ready to run at full throttle when he retired from the road as a trucker. In preparation, they researched sanctuaries and got their 501(c)3 status from the Internal Revenue Service. Charlene set up a web page and published it. They weren’t expecting the response.
“It went crazy — exploded,” Charlene said, “call after call.”
They knew when they moved to the farm that they wanted animals, maybe “a hobby farm with a couple animals,” Charlene said. Jeff grew up with horses and always wanted a donkey. He credits Charlene with making the suggestion that if they were going to have animals, why not provide a home for farm animals that someone else no longer wanted or could not care for.
“Everyone wants a cute animal,” Jeff said, but eventually the animal grows up and no longer fits in the family. Their menagerie arrived under varying circumstances.
Jeff did not want the first animal they received to find itself alone in the barn, so they purchased two goats — Willy and Waylon — to be “ambassadors” to the rescued animals and to give Charlene experience at caring for livestock. The first rescue was Popsicle, a Muscovy duck, found half-frozen by a freeway with an injured leg.
Next came a quartet of goats (which they named after the Golden Girls: Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy and Rose; and say they have personalities to match) from a woman who had cancer and did not want them sold for slaughter.
Others followed. A miniature donkey and two other goats from a couple who initially rescued them from a farmer who was going to dispose of them, but had grown too old to care for the animals and wanted to find a “forever home” for them. Two more miniature donkeys that had been used as pack animals on trail rides. A miniature pig that was rooting up its owner’s backyard.
(Each of their animals comes with a story, some of which are told at their website: brokenroadsranch.org.)
When the Stromwalls first started their enterprise, some folks looked suspiciously at them as animal activists. The Stromwalls emphasize they don’t support the activities of such organizations, and Jeff said he isn’t even a vegetarian. They just want animals to be treated well, and they are dedicated to providing for animals that others no longer want.
The animals at Broken Roads Ranch are not worked or used to make money. (The one exception would be bagging and selling donkey manure, if Jeff can find a system to dry it.) Nor are they a petting zoo, though they will welcome visitors by appointment. They like to educate visitors about animals.
Jeff and Charlene find working with the animals to be therapeutic. After being out in the “rude world” of trucking, Jeff likes to take a cup of coffee and sit with the animals to regain a sense of normality. There is one person with a traumatic past who will come to sit and pet the goats “for therapy.” Charlene is contemplating events for senior citizens and nursing home residents — many of whom have a farm background.
For the Stromwalls, this is all about the animals, and seeing that they are able to live out their lives in a peaceful environment. They consider Broken Roads Ranch as being a retirement home for the animals. And like a retirement home, it can be expensive. One of their largest expenses, along with feed costs and electricity, is veterinary bills.
“The minute I even think an animal has something wrong, it’s a vet call,” said Charlene.
These are not typical calls for local veterinarians. Goats are not a common animal in the area. Even more, most vets are not accustomed to treating elderly animals.
“Treating goats that are two to three years old, they usually don’t make it that long,” Jeff said. Nor do pigs — like their 500-pound sow, Wilma.
The Stromwalls are impressed how their local veterinarians have risen to the challenge. They’ve gone on the internet to tap the experience of other vets. One now carries a book on goats in her truck. The numerous calls and all of this time and effort is expensive.
That is why they are set up as a nonprofit, so they can receive tax-deductible contributions. They are grateful that a post on Facebook about some expense will bring a donation from someone they do not know. They have one annual fundraising event, a Lemonade Social, which includes a garage sale and bake sale. Many people dropped off donations for the garage sale.
“We’re not a national organization,” Jeff said, “just a little farm in Eden Valley, Minn. and these people come from everywhere and give us money because they love what we’re doing.”
The Stromwalls also love what they are doing — even if it means less material benefits for them. Charlene said, “We decided when we started this we could either live a moderate life, or be poor. When you are a real rescuer, you are financially poor. We don’t have money, but we’re rich in a whole different way.”
As for the name, Broken Roads Ranch, that was inspired by a country song, “Bless the Broken Road,” which includes the words: “This much I know is true, that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”
Jeff explained, “The reason it’s called Broken Roads Ranch is because of her and I, the broken roads we came from. Our two broken roads brought us together … broken roads led us to each other which led us to do this.”
“And every animal here came from a broken road,” Charlene added.
How much of a difference can one couple on a small acreage in central Minnesota make? There are many animals out there and only a limited number of farm animal sanctuaries, so you have to stay focused on what you can do.
“We can’t save them all,” Jeff said, “but if you go talk to Baxter (a miniature donkey), it makes a difference to him. He has a good life. It made a difference to Sage (an Appaloosa mare) for the last year of her life.”
Jeff and Charlene Stromwall are dedicated to what they can do because they know it is making a difference to each animal to whom they are giving a home to live out its life. And if the animals are happy, they’re happy.
Their website is brokenroadsranch.org. Visitors are welcome if they have scheduled ahead of time. Please don’t just drop in. Email is email@example.com. Follow the Stromwalls on Facebook at facebook.com/brokenroadsranch. To find organizations in Iowa and Minnesota involved in similar work, go to farmanimal.rescueshelter.com and click on the state. v