Saved By The Barn Dan McKernan: Anti-Joe Exotic hero gives unwanted livestock a happy second act

The new Animal Planet series Saved By The Barn is so much more than a new animal rescue series. The underlying theme to it all is that animals can save people, as people, in turn, save animals.

The lesson learned here is a mind and body connection, as we are healthier and better for it in every sense.

You might have a dog or cat, but why? Dogs and cats and other pets add to our happiness and relieve stress and offer unconditional love. But you would be surprised to know that the same feelings can come from a chicken, cow, or goat.

They understand human love and kindness, and they return it too, just like a dog or cat.

Star of Saved By The Barn, Dan McKernan, was a Southern California boy whose Michigan family roots called him home. His dad needed some help with the 140-year old family farm that was beginning to be beyond his ability to maintain.

When Dan realized his dad needed help, he walked from a six-figure job in Austin’s booming tech industry and stripped down his vocation to deciding to have a life with a purpose.

That purpose became taking care of animals, the ones that farmers and breeders didn’t want. The misshapen, deformed “useless” livestock, or too old, or just plain burdensome that typically would have been euthanized or abused over time.

Dan opened up his home, that farm, creating a network of like-minded staff and networking via his non-profit status. It was his understanding of social media and how to attract attention via videos and outreach that eventually earned him a Dodo feature.

This led to Animal Planet knocking on his door. His Sanctuary became, and is a success.

And in the age of the salacious Tiger King, where ethically-challenged people brazenly barter, abuse, and sell animals for profit — and for the gawkers for fork over money for photo ops — it’s a welcome story to tell.

Make sure to record and get the family in to watch Saved By The Barn this Saturday, as kids need to see that animals — all animals — deserve these second chances, and see how they respond with love and affection while their personalities flourish.

Another subtle storyline with this is the education that animal-protein based diets are under question in this age of COVID-19, and it’s something that everyone needs to consider.

Even if just by cutting back on meat consumption from before the pandemic.

We had a great conversation with Dan, who hopes his Barnyard Sanctuary stories resonate with your family during these difficult times.

The premiere, what happens?

In the premiere episode, audiences will watch Dan and the animals itch to get out of their barns for spring, as the pasture has to be a certain height for the big May release of the pasture animals.

We learn that the arduous winter in Michigan is no joke, and everyone goes bonkers when the weather changes.

We’ll meet dwarf goats, Twitch & Portia; goats Steve, Chevy, and Martin, also known as The Three Amigos, along with many loving pigs, cows, sheep, and more.

Ginger s a sheep who needs surgery on her front legs after a birth defect has left her unable to walk.

Viewers will witness Ginger’s amazing transformation from shy sheep to becoming a part of the pack living the rest of her life on the new pasture along with the other incredible animal stories.

Dan McKdernan
Dan McKernan of Saved By The Barn takes unwanted livestock and gives then a happy retirement. Pic credit: Animal Planet

Exclusive interview with Dan McKernan of Saved By The Barn

Monsters & Critics:  So those Michigan winters. Six months of winter. I feel for you.

Dan McKernan:   Seasonal depression is a thing, but the sun’s out right now, and it’s in the 60s so unbelievable.

M&C: So your premiere episode is the opening of the pasture after this long winter when you have to close the pasture, and you have to bring the animals in when the season is done, do they look at you like, “Dan, we hate you!”

Dan: I can stare out of my office window, and I could see Henry, the large cow, just staring at me with a death stare. Like seriously. He’s like, “Come on.”

Now the pasture, now all the grass is getting greener. They just cannot wait to get out on the pasture. And luckily we have an earlier spring this year, so it’s already growing. But yeah, you’re totally right.

M&C: You had a great job in Austin, six figures. You were a computer developer. What was the catalyst that made you say, “I quit this job,” and head back up North?

Dan:  I’m a workaholic, and I hope to say that in a good way. But I’m very passionate about what I do. And so I was passionate in [computer] I believe I was in my fourth year in Austin, and my dad called me wondering what to do with the farm.

And at that time, I recently went vegan in Austin, which is a very easy town to make that decision, and I was reading a book called Living the Farm Sanctuary Life by Gene Baur about a farm sanctuary.

I was just like, “Oh my gosh, I have a family farm that’s been in our family, and we’re not doing anything with it.” And then, all of a sudden, my dad called and I was just like, “Did the stars align or what?”

My dad’s like, “Well, let’s see if we can…” Because he didn’t want to sell to a big corporation or a gas station, which he can because like right in the corner of two freeways. People can literally see me cuddling cows from the freeway. Yes, it is a perfect outreach.

Then he’s like, “Well, show me that we can pay for the feed, then we can do it.” And so I built a website in a weekend and got nonprofit status pretty fast. And I’m like, “Here you go, dad.” and he was like, “Okay, I guess we’re really doing this.”

Honestly, it started off with doing something good for good intentions and for helping the farm, making sure the farm stays in the family, but also getting to know these animals. I didn’t grow up with farm animals.

I just knew I loved animals. I always wanted to be a veterinarian.

But the first time I’m in the pasture and Cora the cow lays her head on my shoulder, that’s the first time I’ve ever experienced something like that. I was actually like filming and being able to share those pure moments, I think is what a lot of people resonate with, I think.

Being a human and relaxing with a cow… Because we relax with our best friends, our dogs, all the time.

M&C: You’re a twin. You have a twin, Chris. How long did it take for him to come back home to the farm to join you and help you?

Dan: So he was doing acting and comedy in LA. I call him ‘Hollywood.’ He was doing improv and all that. He actually comes out here to take a break from California. He’ll stay out here for a month or two.

The farm has always been a sanctuary for us growing up because we would come there when certain moments in our life were really tough, and we really needed to like get our moral compass back or something like that. We come to the farm. That was always the cool thing about it.

And so all of a sudden he’s like, “You’re starting a what?” And he’s like, “Why didn’t you sell to Walmart,” or something as a joke.  It was really interesting watching Chris be here this past summer because it was his first summer out on the farm, and he was being educated.

He was learning what I was so passionate about. And we’re pretty close. And so, he was learning where I was learning four years ago when I first started the sanctuary. Being able to share that with him, but also see him change throughout the season. Like you’ll see that.

We’re funny, sarcastic guys around each other. We just banter. And that there are serious moments where he’s just like in awe.  It’s really cool having him around. It’s a lot of fun.

M&C: Let’s talk about some of your other staff. Who is Kelly?

Dan: So we met in Austin, Texas and, we used to be partners. So we actually moved up here, and we separated, but we realized we work really well together, which is truly unique.

But she’s a very smart and good leader. And so she’s our Executive Director, and she leads this company.

She has our long term vision in her hands, and I fully trust her with it, and I mean, she’s a badass. We’re just close, good friends, and great coworkers with each other.

M&C:  You got a lot of really caring, smart women around you. Christine… How did you cross paths with her?

Dan: So, Christine, when I was first starting the idea of a sanctuary, you kind of get to know people through Facebook and like, “Oh, you work at this sanctuary?”  There’s a lot of animal lovers out there. And so I ask questions.

I didn’t just start the sanctuary and just start it. I went out and did my homework. I interviewed people. I went to farm animal care conferences, and Christina actually reached out and was like, “I like what you’re doing. I want to help.”

She was a volunteer at first, and when we could hire her, I hired her as our Animal Care Director. She is my animal cop. I can get excited sometimes about everything, but she’s like, “No, Dan.”

She puts me in check sometimes. I’m like, “Okay, you’re right.” I’ve learned so much from her.

I’m also fairly new when it comes to the animal welfare movement and stuff. So I’m all about educating myself and being vulnerable because I do make mistakes, but being open about that is also important.

I think that’s why a lot of people like following us online, too. I try to pretend not to be someone I’m not because I feel like when you start doing that, and you set yourself up for failure.

M&C: How many humans live in the farmhouse, your home base there? 

Dan: We all live in town. I actually don’t live in the farmhouse with dad.  I’m 30. I don’t want to live with my dad. But he lives at the farm, and he’s like the sheriff around these parts, you know?

He’s our Facilities Director, and we took over his home and just recently we got our own office trailers, and he’s gotten his life back a little bit.

He works full time at the farm too, and it’s really cool working with your family. It is definitely something interesting. I was already really close with my dad, but ever since graduating high school and then going to college and being able to reconnect as like an adult…I really love it.

It definitely has some hard times, but it’s great being family because at the end of the day, you’re family.

M&C: Social media is really your engine for getting donations and people aware. I’m sure it was probably partially or maybe even greater a conduit for you getting a TV deal.

Dan: No doubt about it. Yeah, I know. I would do social media. I would post updates of our journey, like starting the sanctuary on the family’s farm. I remember going to my first Facebook Live, and it was the most awkward Facebook Live ever.

I thought it was really funny just because I didn’t interact with anyone at the time, but The Dodo really caught on, and they did a video of as I remember it, “This guy left his 8-5 tech job to start a farm animal sanctuary, and he has no idea what he’s doing.”

I did do my homework, but okay. I think it got millions and millions of views. And I remember the production company… I got contacted by a lot of production companies and I interviewed them all.

I actually flew out to LA just to talk to them because I know how Hollywood people can be. So I picked High Noon Entertainment, and they’re like, “We found you because of The Dodo video, and you’re doing something that a lot of people aspire to do. It’s a contagious feeling, and people want it.

So they enjoy watching that, and they are like, “We think we could make a good television show and pitch through to some networks.” I trusted them, and they did. It was pretty cool.

It was like a year and a half or two years in the making. In the back of my head, I’m like, “You know what? If this doesn’t work out, don’t force it. If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.”

We’re still doing really well. We do what’s best for the animals. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. I was already really happy.
The stars aligned.

M&C: You’re so up close and personal with these animals. Has it been easy to become a vegan?

Dan: Oh, yes. I’m totally vegan. I don’t wear leather. My lifestyle, I’m vegan. Our barn sanctuary is a non-profit. Vegan is in our mission and that’s what we do. It’s about educating people, but we don’t preach it.

I remember an experience like I got preached. I was renting a room in LA, and someone was preaching me their religion, and I was like, “Hey, I’m open, and I’m listening to you, but you just keep preaching and sticking it to me.”

That just turns me away, and I’ll never look back.

When I first started with sanctuary, my dad wasn’t vegan, but the moment he did go vegan was on Thanksgiving, and he was going up North, and he’s just like, “I can’t eat a turkey, because of the Golden Girls.”

We named our turkeys after the Golden Girls. “They’re so curious.” It was just like, “I hear you, dad.” All the animals, all 160 residents here are family members.

We are vegan. We don’t discriminate any anyone, though. I want people to come here and hug a cow and then leave and just plant a seed and hope that the wheels are turning in their head.

Because I feel like more people will stick to their own decisions that they feel like they made on their own than being forced if that makes sense.

M&C: When you see a cow kicking up its heels and frolicking and jumping and how delighted they are, it completely changes your whole worldview about what’s for lunch.

Dan: Yes!

Saved By The Barn airs Saturday at 10 PM ET/PT on Animal Planet.

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Karen Zak
Karen Zak
2 years ago

We need more Dan McKernan’s in this world! There is nothing sexier than a man who loves all animals!