Friday, 26 July, 2019
South Africa’s vegan population is coming out in force to support its farm animal sanctuaries.
5.30 in the morning and it sounds like the gates of hell have opened and the tortured demons are screaming from the midst of the inferno. 91 pigs are ‘singing’ for their breakfast. They are hungry and they want food. Now.
So, despite the fact that the sun has not yet risen over the peaks of the Riviersonderend mountains in our little corner of South Africa, we weary residents and volunteers stumble out into the feed preparation room and gather up the bowls and buckets we prepped the night before. Within a few minutes the demons have been replaced with what sounds like a babbling brook as 91 snouts blow away the dirt and delicately pick up each perfectly clean pellet of food with a satisfied smack of the lips.
Pigs running free over the sanctuary
Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary sits on its own rolling 100 acres of land in the Western Cape, just 90 miles from Cape Town. I founded the sanctuary in November 2014, although my friends and I had been rescuing orphaned or abandoned lambs from the neighbouring fields for ten years prior to that. What was remarkable about that month was the arrival of Bella, a glossy, furry, black and grey pet pig who stepped daintily out of her owner’s very small car and into my heart.
From that point on I was besotted with pigs. Their eyes hold such sentience and awareness, and they are so darned smart. Just don’t try to outsmart a pig. If they want something they will get it. They are capable of playing the long game, biding their time until you think everything has been sorted and then they unleash a plan they had obviously been hatching for a while.
And yet they are one of the most abused animals on this planet. Confined to small spaces where they go quietly mad, they are reduced to mere units of production, billions of them, every year. Here in South Africa, as well as the factory farms, we have the added brutality of township backyard pig farmers who keep their animals in appalling squalor.
Our pigs come from the pet pig industry, commercial and backyard farms. We work closely with the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), bringing to their attention cases of cruelty and neglect, pushing for criminal charges to be laid against abusers and appealing for the most vulnerable animals to be confiscated and brought to safety at the sanctuary.
As well as the pigs we have 30 sheep, four goats, two geese, two chickens, one duck and a variety of cats and neurotic or disabled dogs; all rescued animals that nobody else wanted but whom we love unconditionally.
If ever there is a lesson in unconditional love, it is here at the sanctuary. Farm pigs come here and think they have landed in heaven. Pet pigs, fresh from living inside the home on their big soft dog beds, complete with pillow and duvet, think they’ve landed in hell. With the IQ of a four year old child, a pet pig arrives at the sanctuary with all the emotional baggage of a toddler being rejected by the family and placed in an orphanage. Grief, anger, petulance and tantrums manifest in rotation or simultaneously and there is nothing to do but get up close and give love, cuddles, belly rubs even when piggy wants to charge, bite and kill. My legs look like a war zone but it’s worth it when the hostility turns to wonderment as piggy finally realises it’s actually quite fun to be a pig. There’s this super powerful snout which is now allowed to dig and sniff and rootle and frootle, there’s acres of land to explore, endless pastures to graze and loads of other pigs to engage with and to snuggle up to at night in huge piles of fresh, sweet straw. In short, there’s so much to do and so much, so much love.
Providing love, comfort, safety and protection to some farm animals helps me to exist in a non-vegan world. When I became vegan ten years ago I decided to use the farm to provide a home to farm animals and create a space where other vegans could come to find peace and tranquillity. We welcome volunteers from all over the world who help us to care for the animals so the farm is always full of young people, the sing-song of different accents and plenty of life and energy, all focused on caring for animals. We have three straw bale houses on the farm which we built ourselves and our energy is provided by solar power. We catch rain water from our roofs and grow veggies in a lush, protected garden. Our self-sufficiency helps us to concentrate our resources on the animals alongside the funding we receive from our friends. Just over 70 people, the majority from the vegan community of South Africa, support the monthly living costs of a pig, sheep, goat, goose or duck, and without them we wouldn’t be able to survive.
Trustees at the sanctuary AGM
We also receive some funding from our vegan restaurant, Pure Cafe in the heart of the village of Greyton where we demonstrate how delicious and varied vegan food can be.
I am 65 years old now and a young family have moved onto the farm so my succession plan is in place. With a mother still alive and well, living in Epsom, UK, I have more time to visit her, knowing that the sanctuary is thriving in my absence. It is absolutely vital for a sanctuary to have such a plan in place so that when the founder grows older the care of the animals is not compromised and their future is secure.
If you wish to visit or to volunteer at Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary we are on the volunteering website Workaway or you can contact us direct at mike[at]greytonfarmanimalsanctuary[dot]com. Our website is www.greytonfarmanimalsanctuary.com and if you would like to donate our full details are there.
Nicola Vernon, Founder, Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary (nicola[at]greytonfarmanimalsanctuary[dot]com)