“People don’t see farm animals as companions, so watching a guy feed a pig apples or a cow peppers can be fascinating.”
Six years ago, my partner Corey Siemens and I lived in Edmonton and worked as servers in 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 allow us to 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 keep animals. In the fall of 2017, I found the perfect listing: a house on four acres of land with a forest and a 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 to Rylee Ranch.
We didn’t waste time looking for animals to live with us. Corey came across a Kijiji ad for a woman who was giving away a llama because he didn’t want to take care of her anymore. He reached out to her and she dumped him the day we moved out. She backed into her trailer, opened the door, and said, “He’s your problem now.” We chased the llama, whom we later named Fernando, for hours in four feet of snow. Fernando now behaves well and follows us everywhere, but that’s how he started. Today on the farm we have Fernando, five pigs, a cow, an alpaca, 11 goats and more than 30 different birds (including turkeys, ostriches, chickens, peacocks, emus and a parrot), about 50 animals in all. Corey and I also live with our three poodles and our Bernese mountain dog, and the lake on our property has ducks and fish.
We don’t usually buy our animals, but we have bought a few rescues. Others were given to us. Abigail the cow came from a factory dairy farm near Red Deer, Alberta, when she was just two weeks old. The farmer thought she would be barren, so he put her up for sale for $50. Merida the sow, who now weighs 917 pounds, came to us when she was just three days old and eight pounds, after a woman in Edmonton realized she wouldn’t make a small pet. Our four ostriches come from an ostrich meat farm in southern Alberta. Many of our goats came from Alberta farmers who couldn’t care for 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 neighbor’s property for $230,000 (with the help of financing) and doubled our acreage. We now have a beautiful large 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 also started taking care of dogs in the garage.
There are so many things to do on a farm. I have lists all over the place with all the animals’ birthdays, tons of chores to do, and things to buy. We wake up around 8 am and go out to feed, water and clean the animals, making sure they get enough exercise and stimulation. We have a chore list that takes us most of a day to complete and includes cleaning the barns and animal enclosures, working on our compost pile, and handling repairs and maintenance on the farm. By the time we’re done with everything, it’s usually around 4:30 pm, and that’s when we head to work. Friends always ask to come visit us, but we are 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 going on behind the scenes on the farm. I posted a video where our dog was rolling around in our mowed grass and turned green. That video got 30,000 views and it was really cool. We also started posting videos of what 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 started trending in different countries.
@ryleeranch♬ original sound – RyleeRanch
Last month, I bought a giant load of tomatoes and posted a TikTok of the goats eating out of a barrel about 10 minutes before I went to 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 that there are no tomatoes available in the UK at the moment, so we think that’s why it’s all the rage in Europe. There’s also a whole ASMR angle that people love. Also, I don’t think people view farm animals as companions, so watching a guy feed a pig apples or a cow peppers can be fascinating.
I have posted on TikTok every day since I opened the account and now we have 253,700 followers. It can be hard to come up with video ideas – we don’t always have 3000 cucumbers to feed 11 hungry goats. We’ve gotten creative, sharing videos of us celebrating animals’ birthdays and cleaning their living spaces.
Despite our success on TikTok, I still have to work to financially support the farm. The cost of caring for the animals is typically $1,000 to $2,000 per month. 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 from social media to be able to hire people to help clean and care for the animals, but right now, Corey and I share those responsibilities.
We get some negative feedback from people who think it’s a waste that so much product goes to animals. We do not buy food for the animals, it is donated by supermarkets as part of a food recycling program called Loop Resource. Stores donate past-prime produce 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 the Real Canadian Superstore to pick up our haul for the week. We typically receive anywhere from 100 boxes to a truckload of food, including apples, bananas, grapes, celery, and okra, which we store in a large outdoor storage space on the farm. We went through all that food in about a week: what seems like a bunch of apples disappears in seconds when 11 goats, seven turkeys, and four emus come together. There are certain foods that animals cannot eat, such as lemons, mushrooms, and eggplants, so we have a compost pile that turns them into soil. Goats, cows, llamas and alpacas mostly eat hay, which is not always available or affordable. We also purchase many other types of feed for certain animals to ensure they receive proper nutrition.
People have messaged me to say that our videos make them smile. Everything on our page is nice and healthy – it’s just the animals living their best lives. I know that what we are doing is making people happy and that is the greatest motivation to keep going.
— As they told Lora Grady