Monday, 3 August 2015

Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary

 Yesterday we were privileged to go to an open day of a local Farm Animal Sanctuary.

This place is like no other farm animal experience you might go to.  It's neither a working farm with visitors, nor a visitors farm attraction with animals. 

This is a sanctuary where unwanted farm animals come to live out their lives in a loving and respectful environment, and occasionally have a group of admirers brought to meet them by their two legged herd members.
 We expected to be seeing animals in the distance over a fence, so wore sandals.  What we got was so much more hands on.  Want to pet the lambs?  You are invited to jump right in with them (removing earrings and bags first).  The boys kept coming back to these sturdy little survivors who had been too small, too sick or too many (i.e. a triplet) to be commercially viable.

We were then taken to meet the first of two herds.  The first introduction is to the herd leader, after which we could move around and meet the rest of the herd.
If you have any illusions that a herd of cows are a homogenous mass of brainless brawn, a trip here will quickly disillusion you.  Each cow had a distinct personality and a unique mind, some shy, some curious, most calm, a couple more boisterous.  Toby was hot, tired, hungry, thirsty and generally grumpy and vociferous about being grumpy so Matt took him out of the field, but Ollie was astonishing, curbing his natural high energy to stay calm and quiet, talking to the cows and stroking them gently in what we normally see when he is in 'baby whisperer' mode (he has a knack and an affinity with babies that leads us to call him 'magic Ollie' for his ability to calm them and make them laugh).

After a trip to the long drop toilet and a good hand wash we enjoyed our picnic in the cherry orchard, complete with chickens, ducks and geese running around under foot.  Plentiful and tempting vegan food and tea was also on offer.

After lunch it was time to meet the other herd, including a beautiful old lady who was born with no eyes but navigates her way around flawlessly without bumping into anything or anyone.  This part of the visit was definitely the boys favourite because, in Toby's words 'that cow did a wee ahahahaha, it did a wee right there, it did a wee, ahahahaha, look, that other cow stepped in it, ahahaha, it did a wee ahahaha'.

If you want to know more, keep an eye out for open days or make a donation, Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary has a lovely Facebook Page.



Note for families: facilities are 'adventurous' (single long drop toilet) and I think the nature of the site makes it more suitable for adults and slightly older children - at 3 I think Toby was a little young for some of it, although everyone's kids are different and someone else's 2 year old might be fine.  Personally I wouldn't have enjoyed the visit with two young children if I didn't have another adult with me to help to provide one-to-one supervision.  Old clothes and wellies recommended.  We loved it, but it's not somewhere you can leisurely push a pristine pram around wearing new clothes and shoes.


Keep reading if you're interested in my thoughts on the ethics bit:

It's fortunately common to meet folk with general good intentions who try to help people or animals, but to meet folk who have given up so much to practice what they preach is amazing.

How many of us would follow our dreams and our instincts for what is right to the extent that we sold our home and moved into a caravan, giving up modern conveniences and often spending nights and days caring for a sick or dying animal, while enduring the hostility of a neighbour damaging your property and mutilating the creatures you had taken into your care?  How many of us would have the resilience and the energy to keep going when, after spending months nurturing an animal on a farm to the point it is fit for transport, the farmer changes his mind about you having it and sends it for slaughter? 

I've been lucky to have lived on a really conscientious and caring farm where tiddlins and triplets aren't abandoned for the foxes, where my friends genuinely strived for a good environment and life for their animals.  I've also helped for a week on another friend's smallholding, where as a meat eater he saw the way to square the circle of wanting to eat meat while being concerned that animals are kept well was by keeping his own.  I know there is always a lot of backlash from folk against vegans saying 'well, if we didn't eat meat these animals wouldn't exist at all'.  Whatever the personal choice we make however, I don't think we should go into it ever believing that it's ok for an animal to be mistreated by intent or neglect simply because it is 'just an animal'.  I am just an animal too. It is important that places like Hugletts Wood exist so we can make dietary and purchasing decisions having seen animals as individuals and not just a commodity, a packet in the supermarket. 

I think this awareness is fuelling the rise of the 'flexitarian' and all sorts of plant based diets where people are reducing meat consumption and becoming more interested in animal welfare - the all or nothing days when your diet is picked apart because you are a 'hypocrite' for not being 'vegetarian enough' or 'vegan enough' is getting tired. However you feel about eating animals, it's certainly worth a visit to Hugletts Wood as this is an experience you won't easily match.