Vegan Story Teller Article

Putting compassionate farming first: a rancher’s wife goes vegan

Forever Vegan Is Her Mantra. But She Didn’t Always Put Compassionate Farming And Compassion For Animals First. The Rancher’s Wife Watched For Years, Feeling Heartsick But Not Vocal, As The Cattle She Raised Were Rounded Up And Hauled Off In Large Red Transport Trailers, Headed For Slaughter.
Rancher's wife with cows

Opening her heart to compassionate farming

As she watched yet again another truck laden with cows pull away from her cattle ranch in Texas, Renee King-Sonnen experienced a moment of truth. She was gripped with the horror of her own complicity in sending animals to the death chamber. These were the very same animals that she had talked to, sang to, and danced with, in open fields. Judgment Day had come and, with it, Renee had opened her heart fully to compassion for animals and the need for compassionate farming.


Analyzing why people are conditioned to eat certain animals

Watching the transport trailer fade into the distance and then feeling the absence of the cows in the pasture haunted Renee and left her feeling bereft. Under the weight of what she was doing to cattle, her emotional state shifted and began to decline. In an effort to comprehend her conflicted emotions, Renee felt led to watch videos about slaughterhouses.

“Being a rancher’s wife wasn’t an easy transition for me. I had been a yoga instructor and struggled to accept my role in killing cows. I couldn’t stand what I was doing. I hated myself and felt trapped. But if I was going to get on with it, I needed to understand the business my husband and I were in — the business of slaughtering animals,” Renee said.

Renee watched video after video, feeling more despair and self-loathing with each video she watched. And then she stumbled upon Melanie Joy’s dissertation at Beyond Carnism on October 31, 2014. Beyond Carnism analyzes the belief system which conditions people to eat certain animals.

compassionate farming with cattle

Julie Marcha


Going vegan and turning her attention to compassionate farming after an encounter with beef stew

While still at odds with her emotions, Renee listened to Melanie tell a story about a family eating a beef stew dinner. Someone at the dinner table asks what’s in the recipe. When the response is “cooked Golden Retriever,” everyone is horrified, and nobody finishes the meal.

As fate would have it, that very night on Halloween, Renee went with her husband Tommy to Tommy’s mother’s house for dinner. Ironically, beef stew was the main course. With Melanie Joy’s story of the Golden Retriever still fresh on her mind, when dinner was served and Renee looked into her soup bowl, she saw dead animal parts floating on the surface and wondered, “Whose flesh is this?” 

In that instant, Renee made the connection between the animals she and Tommy raised on their ranch and the animals that they sold to be slaughtered for food.

A gut-wrenching realization took hold of Renee and compassion for animals bore itself front and center into her psyche and soul. Her life changed that Halloween night in 2014.

Compassionate farming and forever vegan became her mantras, and advocating for animals became her life’s work. Renee made a vow that she would never eat meat again or aid in sending cows to the sale barn for slaughter. 

“I was repulsed and became inconsolable by what my husband and I had been doing. I knew I had to prevent these horrors from ever happening again,” Renee said. 


Renee’s compassion for animals leads to destiny and a calling

As the weeks and months rolled by, Renee became obsessed with saving the cows on their ranch. It’s all she thought and talked about since her epiphany on Halloween night. She wanted to keep the cows safe in pasture where they would be happy. Tommy was a multi-generational cattle rancher and intended to sell them at auction, where Renee knew they would be terrified and ultimately killed.

“Even though I love Tommy and couldn’t imagine life without him, I had turned a page in my conscience and couldn’t go back. I went through an experience that completely changed my life. I would never be the same spiritually; I had found my destiny and a calling. I had to save the cows,” Renee said.  

Renee was willing to choose the cows over her marriage. She had reached the end of her rope and saw nothing on the horizon but divorce and 30 slaughtered cows. As she continued to battle her emotions, she poured herself into prayer and meditation.

As for Tommy, he had been dealing with Renee’s emotional despair since the life-changing dinner at his mother’s house. Renee’s obsession tormented him. The cattle rancher was ready to throw in the towel too.

rancher's wife sitting with cow

Provided Rowdy Girl Sanctuary


Vegan Journal of a Rancher’s Wife opens a pathway to change

Early one morning while she walked to the cattle pasture to greet the cows, Renee noticed the sun peeking out to welcome the new day with dew fresh on the ground where the cows were grazing. Renee was struck by the beauty of the pastoral scene and felt a sense of calm wash over her. When she looked at the cows, she felt an overwhelming sense of reverence; they were on hallowed ground.

That’s when the vision came to Renee that their cattle ranch would become an animal sanctuary. Tommy didn’t feel the same way, and the fighting between them continued.

At wit’s end, Renee turned to Facebook and began writing about her dilemma in the Vegan Journal of A Rancher’s Wife. Her concerns struck a nerve and people from around the world began offering advice, ideas, and suggestions. Facebook followers gave Renee the confidence to keep her eyes on the prize — saving her cattle and perhaps even her marriage.

After a Facebook follower suggested she start a crowdfunding campaign to save the cows, Renee approached Tommy and offered to buy his cows.

“He thought I had lost my mind, and frankly I had,” Renee said. “But Tommy was open to the idea and instead of fighting, this time we talked.”


96-acre cattle ranch becomes a safe haven for animals

Renee offered to buy the cows for $30,000 and to lease the land for $1 per year. Tommy agreed, believing Renee couldn’t come up with the money. He had no idea what she had planned with the crowdfunding campaign.

On May 2, 2015, Renee reached her crowdfunding goal with the help of vegans, animal activists, and animal lovers from around the world. She had the money to buy the cows.

As a true reflection of Tommy’s character, he kept his word and sold Renee the cattle and leased her the ranch for $1 per year. And then he decided that becoming vegan wouldn’t be such a bad transition either, especially after discovering So Delicious vegan ice cream and Follow Your Heart vegan cheese. Tommy turned to veganism on the same day Renee met her crowdfunding goal.

Tommy sacrificed a lot, according to Renee. But as time rolled on, he fell in love with the animals and became fully committed to his new vegan lifestyle on the sanctuary.

Together, they formed a nonprofit called Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, which is home to a menagerie of rescued farm animals including cows, horses, goats, ducks, sheep, chickens, pigs, and a turkey. The sanctuary is named after a calf Renee bottle-fed and hand-raised as an orphan.

“Rowdy Girl was the apple of my eye. She was my vegan advocate, the one who taught me about the sentience of animals,” Renee said.

“I love the animals on the sanctuary – I see their souls, and they see mine. I can tell they are looking at me out of the corner of their eye. They can feel our motives,” Renee said.


Compassionate farming is central to Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

Renee and Tommy are now a mighty force advocating for compassionate farming in Texas and across the United States. Their Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP) is a pioneering initiative that helps cattle ranchers and animal farmers transition their businesses to plant-based enterprises. 

Another initiative — the  Families Choosing Compassion program — supports youth in Future Farmers of America (FFA) who cannot face taking the final step in the FFA process of selling the beloved farm animals they have raised for slaughter.

In addition, Renee has hosted a number of programs at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary to help grow the vegan movement. In 2019 she co-hosted a 38-episode podcast series called Two Rowdy Vegans which examined the vegan/animal rights movement. 

She hosted a workshop with Will Tuttle, visionary author of the acclaimed best-seller The World Peace Diet, and an activist workshop with Earthling Ed, a vegan educator and public speaker recognized for his efforts in spreading the word about having compassion for animals.

Renee’s Texas Vegan May Fest was based in educational teachings about the impact of factory farming on the environment and health, the ethics of a plant based diet, and veganism as a way of life.

Renee has a strong spiritual base and rich inner life. She is mission driven and firmly believes she was placed on this earth to fulfill her true purpose of saving animals and the environment.

The vision of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary is to become a world-class animal care facility, a plant-based/environmental resource education center, and a bridge connecting ranchers, businesses, and investors.

“All of my experience as a business woman, yoga instructor, singer in a band, and promoter have led me to do this work,” Renee said.

woman with pig in a barn

Julie Marcha


Warped in a system of violence toward animals

Renee’s deep compassion for animals and her belief that people can change are what inspire her activist work. She believes people are capable of waking up to higher levels of consciousness and changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. 

“We are warped in a system of violence so strategically manufactured that its whole purpose is to seduce the intellect, mind, emotions, and spirit into believing that slaughtering, butchering, and eating the flesh of animals is normal. 

“It’s time to see who you are eating. It’s time to feel the animals’ terror. It’s time to pray to whatever God you believe in and ask to be given the eyes to see, and the ears to hear,” Renee said.


Rancher Advocacy Program rooted in compassionate farming and compassion for animals

woman with hens

Julie Marcha


The Rancher Advocacy Program began in 2016 after CBS Evening News told the story about the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary. Soon after the story aired, ranchers, farmers, and their family members were calling Renee and Tommy, wanting to talk about traditional farm and ranching life. Mostly, people called to express the emotional and spiritual conflicts they were feeling about raising animals for slaughter. They wanted to learn about compassionate farming.

Something unique grew from these deeply personal conversations. Renee had become both an animal rights activist and rancher advocate. She created the Rancher Advocacy Program to serve as a bridge between the two extremes.

“I’m able to reach that place deep inside where we have common ground. Where we love animals and kill them; where we love the land and destroy it too; where we love our families yet pass down generations of suffering through devastating animal agriculture,” Renee said.

RAP initiatives start by providing inspiration, resources, and guidance to ranchers and farmers who are ready to adopt business practices and a lifestyle immersed in compassion for animals.


Program inspires farmers and ranchers to transition away from animal agriculture

Renee and Tommy know first-hand the struggles that ranchers and farmers face when confronting emotional, environmental, ethical, financial, and social conflicts. 

They realize that it’s not enough to offer emotional support to ranchers and farmers who want to transition away from animal agriculture. It’s important to explore viable business options that will offer alternative models for their land while also affirming family history, heritage, culture, and traditions. 

Consequently, by offering its Rancher Advocacy Program, Rowdy Girl Sanctuary facilitates the transition from animal agriculture to plant-based farming byconnecting ranchers, businesses, and investors.

Members contribute greatly to the pioneering work accomplished at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary and define where Rowdy Girl goes in the future.

“Counting on monthly donations from members allows us to project what we can do into the future to expand our mission out into the world,” Renee said.

Rowdy Girl Sanctuary aims to reach 400 members by the end of 2021. This game-changing, life-enhancing organization needs your help to succeed. Become a member today.


Summit examines what farmers can do on their land to thrive without using animals

compassionate farming summit advertisement

Rowdy Girl Sanctuary and Jane Unchained News Network have held two virtual summits through the Rancher Advocacy Program (RAP). The summits bring people together across diverse public sectors to build ideas, examine business models, and find solutions that can help ranchers and farmers create a better future for themselves while being compassionate to animals and the planet. 

“What we know,” says Renee, “is that ranchers love the land and their animals. So, how do we help them find a different way?”

The RAP summits are one way to help. The first summit took place on November 21, 2020, and the second one on February 6, 2021. The third summit will be held on July 24, 2021. 

Each summit asks expert panelists to address how farmers and ranchers can thrive on their land without using animals. The conversations are couched in growing concerns about climate, animal welfare, food safety, and the economy. They engage cattle ranchers, animal farmers, plant-based industry experts, manufacturers, activists, and environmentalists. 

Watch live recordings of the first two RAP summits on YouTube:

Learn more about the RAP Summit on July 24.


Follow Renee and Tommy

compassionate farming at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

Julie Marcha

To get the full history of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, visit the website’s section “In the News.”  

Rowdy Girl Sanctuary

Rancher Advocacy Program