Our farm’s rescue animals have become TikTok stars

“People don’t see farm animals as companions, so to watch a guy feeding apples to a pig or bell peppers to a cow can be mesmerizing.”

Kalan Rylee
Content image

Six years ago, my partner Corey Siemens and I were living in Edmonton and working as servers at a restaurant. Corey grew up on a farm in a small town in Alberta and I’ve always loved animals, so when we heard about a city-wide pilot project that would let us raise chickens in our backyard, we were intrigued. After finding out how complicated the process was, we decided to get our own acreage where we could have animals. In the fall of 2017, I found the perfect listing: a house on four acres of land with a forest and small lake. It was listed for $599,000. With the sale of our house in Edmonton, we had enough for a down payment, and on February 1, 2018, we moved into the Rylee Ranch.

We wasted no time finding animals to live with us. Corey came across a Kijiji ad from a woman who was giving away a llama because she didn’t want to take care of it any more. He reached out to her and she dropped him off the day we moved in. She backed up her trailer, opened the door and said, “He’s your problem now.” We chased the llama, who we later named Fernando, around for hours in four feet of snow. Fernando is now well behaved and follows us everywhere, but that’s how it started. On the farm today, we have Fernando, five pigs, one cow, one alpaca, 11 goats and more than 30 different birds (including turkeys, ostriches, chickens, peacocks, emus and a parrot)—about 50 animals in total. Corey and I also live with our three poodles and Bernese mountain dog, and the lake on our property has ducks and fish.

We don’t usually buy our animals, but we’ve purchased some rescues. Others were given to us. Abigail the cow came from an industrial dairy farm near Red Deer, Alberta, when she was just two weeks old. The farmer thought she would be sterile, so he put her up for sale for $50. Merida the pig, who now weighs 917 pounds, came to us when she was only three days old and eight pounds, after a woman in Edmonton realized she wouldn’t make a small pet. Our four ostriches came from an ostrich meat farm in southern Alberta. Many of our goats came from farmers in Alberta who couldn’t take care of them or didn’t want them anymore. People who want to give up their animals often find us through Instagram and TikTok.

With so many animals, it wasn’t long before we needed more land. Last year, we bought a neighbour’s property for $230,000 (with the help of financing) and doubled our acreage. We now have a nice big pasture waiting to be developed. Corey and I don’t make any money from the farm: we work at local restaurants in the evenings, and last year, Corey started grooming dogs from the garage, too.

There are so many things to do on a farm. I have lists everywhere with every animal’s birthday, piles of chores to do and things to buy. We wake up around 8 a.m. and go outside to feed, water and clean up after the animals, making sure they get enough exercise and stimulation. We have a list of tasks that takes us the majority of the day to complete and includes cleaning the animals’ stalls and enclosures, working on our compost pile and handling repairs and maintenance around the farm. By the time we’re done with everything, it’s usually around 4:30 p.m., and that’s when we head to work. Friends always ask to come over and visit, but we’re so busy that we don’t even have half an hour to sit down during the day.

About two years ago, in March 2021, we started posting short videos on TikTok so our friends and family could see what was happening behind the scenes at the farm. I posted a video where our dog was rolling in on our mowed lawn and she turned green. That video got 30,000 views and that was really cool. We also started posting videos of what the goats eat in a day, and those videos would get hundreds of thousands of views. By April, we had 100,000 followers, and our videos began trending in different countries.

@ryleeranch♬ original sound – RyleeRanch

Last month, I got a giant load of tomatoes and posted a TikTok of the goats eating out of a barrel about 10 minutes before I went into work. When I first checked, it had 100 views. That video now has over 20 million views. It was even featured on Global News Edmonton. Countless people have messaged me to say there are no tomatoes available in the U.K. right now, so we think that’s why it’s trending in Europe. There’s also a whole ASMR angle that people love. Plus, I don’t think people see farm animals as companions, so to see a guy feeding apples to a pig or bell peppers to a cow can be mesmerizing.

I’ve posted on TikTok every day since I launched the account and we’re now at 253,700 followers. It can be hard to come up with video ideas—we don’t always have 3,000 cucumbers to feed 11 hungry goats. We’ve gotten creative, sharing videos of us celebrating the animals’ birthdays and cleaning out their living spaces.

Despite our success on TikTok, I still have to work to financially sustain the farm. The cost of taking care of the animals is usually $1,000 to $2,000 monthly. The biggest expense is spaying and neutering, which is a one-time cost of up to $900 per animal. Hopefully, a brand will want to sponsor us one day. The goal is to make enough money doing social media that we could hire people to help clean and take care of the animals, but right now, Corey and I share those responsibilities.

We get some negative comments from people who think it’s wasteful for that much produce to go to animals. We don’t buy food for the animals—it’s donated from grocery stores as part of a food recycling program called Loop Resource. Stores donate produce that’s past its prime to 3,000 farms across the country: on Mondays, we go to a local Save-On-Foods grocery store and on Thursdays, we go to Real Canadian Superstore to pick up our haul for the week. We usually get between 100 boxes and an entire truckload of food—which includes apples, bananas, grapes, celery and okra—that we keep in a huge outdoor storage space on the farm. We go through all that food in about a week: what looks like a lot of apples disappears in seconds when 11 goats, seven turkeys and four emus come together. There are certain foods the animals can’t eat, like lemons, mushrooms and eggplants, so we have a compost pile that turns them into soil. The goats, cow, llama and alpaca mostly eat hay, which is not always readily available or affordable. We also buy a lot of other types of food for certain animals to ensure they’re getting the proper nutrition.

People have messaged me to say our videos put a smile on their face. Everything on our page is feel-good and wholesome—it’s just the animals living their best lives. I know what we’re doing is making people happy and that’s the biggest motivation to keep going.

— As Told To Lora Grady