From suburbs to sanctuary: the tale of a family of 7 adjusting to farm life while sheltering animals in need

Ed Note: You may have read Jessica’s thought filled articles and comments previously in Stittsville Central. We are excited to present Jessica’s tales from the farm. This is the first chapter with more to come.

I’ve been asked by Stittsville Central to provide regular updates on the shenanigans of our lives, and it will be my pleasure to do so. My world is loony – full of loud kids and animals, and much hard work – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

My name is Jessica. Hard-working Federal Executive by day, accidental-farm wife by night. Mom to five kids 12 and under, and married to an amazing stay-at-home-Dad-turned-farmer.

I grew up in Munster and have deep roots in this area. I probably went to school with you or one of your siblings, and it’s likely my Mom taught someone you know at South Carleton. My parents live in the house I grew up in, and my children attend my old elementary school. They like to pick out my grade eight graduation picture in the hallway when they’re walking to the gym.

I never strayed far, attending university in town, and purchasing a house in Stittsville with my husband in 2006. We lived there for 10 years, but as the neighbourhoods continued to build up around us, the traffic grew denser, and the noise harder to escape, we started to dream of leaving Stittsville. We searched for a house for almost three years before finally agreeing on a new place to call home.

In 2016, we packed up our family of 7 and moved from the suburbs to a 105 year old farm house on 45 acres in the country. We found this piece of heaven on a whim: I agreed to come see the property only to placate my husband, as I was absolutely sure I’d never buy a (probably haunted) century house (in the middle of nowhere) and move my family to the boonies (down a dirt laneway that is literally 1km long). As fate would have it, I fell in love with this farm the instant I stepped through the doorway. Smitten further with each room we entered, by the time our viewing was finished, I was hooked. I was home.

The house is 1/3 of the size of the large, new-build we lived prior to this move: it has a stone-dungeon for a basement, complete with rusty chains hanging from the ceiling in two spots, which we haven’t yet managed to figure out the reason for. There is almost no storage, as houses of this age weren’t built with walk in pantries and enormous, deep closets in mind, which means that the normal amount of ‘kid stuff’ a child accumulates is constantly on display here – multiplied by five. There is no real garage, but a series of ancient outbuildings made of enormous logs, with cracks between the beams where mice, wind and snow can enter freely. In the winter, I traipse outside through thigh-high snowdrifts in the dark to get to my car, which I then spend unreasonable amounts of time scraping off before heading out for the long commute to work. But the space and the quiet! The nature and the contentment! In this ancient house crammed full with seven people, three cats, an enormous dog and lots of mice, bats and spiders; with 1.25 bathrooms to share between us, a fact that I acknowledge nervously as we spin toward the teenage-years; where the sighting of salamanders poking their heads out of the wall in the basement and tree frogs sticking to the windows is ordinary – I am happy.

Neither my husband nor I grew up farming, although I did spend much time on the farms of friends as a child. Favourite memories include visiting the barn cats in the milking barn, and running screaming when raccoons burst out of the round hay bales we scaled in the summer fields. (Side note: I’ve recently learned that the enormous black dog that lived on one friend’s farm for what I thought was our entire first 20 years of life, was in fact not just one dog, but a series of almost identical dogs, all named Mitzi. Mind. Blown).

Although we grew up in the suburbs, a lifestyle focused on the outdoors has always been a part of my husband’s and my life, and it’s important to us that our kids grow up appreciating nature. We’ve spent a lot of time teaching our kids about and exposing them to the environment around us. We grow as much of our own food as we can, weather permitting, and starting last year, made our own maple syrup from trees we tapped on our land. We’ve planted fruit trees to eventually have an orchard, and this spring will also welcome bees to our property.

Adding animals to our farm seemed a given step. We’ve always had cats and dogs, but until we decided on chickens, had never taken care of anything other than domesticated family pets. We purchased 24 eggs to incubate and hatch. It was absolutely incredible to watch the hatching process and begin to take care of the 19 surviving chicks. When they started laying eggs 18 weeks later, our minds were blown. Such a simple thing, this process of egg-laying, but to eat eggs that were laid by chickens that you’ve hand-raised on your own farm, who spend their days free roaming and living off your land? Pretty amazing.

Wanting to explore the experience of caring for farm animals further, we were put in touch with an individual who, for a variety of reasons, could not keep her beloved goats and pigs. We met with her with a plan of purchasing a few animals to bring to our farm. After getting to know our family, this generous woman asked if we’d consider taking them all, no cost attached, so that she would know they would be safe and happy with our family, as opposed to always wondering where they’d ended up. A few weeks later, following much work to ready our barns and fields to bring home 8 pigs, 3 goats and 3 rabbits, we were ready to go.

The animals didn’t all fit in the trailer we’d brought so one goat, Merv, sat in the van with my kids for the two-hour ride home. Much hilarity ensued. “Mom, is it raining outside?” “No, D, why do you ask?” “Well, then… Merv’s peeing.” And so it began.

We now have a total of 11 pigs, 3 goats, 1 pony, 2 donkeys, 3 rabbits, 2 feral cats and 19 chickens, all of whom (with the exception of the chickens) needed to be re-homed. Taking care of these animals is a labour of love for our family, important to us for a variety of reasons. We believe strongly that this experience is a fantastic learning opportunity for our children, and get much satisfaction from the knowledge that these animals now have a safe, loving place to live out their days.

One of the interesting realizations we’ve stumbled upon since undertaking this farm life is how very intrigued by it all many people are. What is normal to us – days spent zip-lining, having campfires, skating on the frozen pond behind the house, collecting chicken eggs, and taking the goats for a walk – is definitely not the norm for most. There is something truly fascinating about living this life. Our hope is to share it.

We plan to host Open Houses to involve more people in what we’re doing, providing opportunities for others to come to our farm, experience the incredible life we get to live, and have a chance to be up close with these animals.

Thank you for your interest and support!

Jessica Sultan

Ed Note: You can donate to the Sultan Farm Sanctuary with payments accepted by PayPal or you can sponsor an animal or animals to assist with the costs of operating a sanctuary that lets animals live out their lives with dignity and love. Visit their website



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