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From journalist to animal saviour

To celebrate Veganuary month, Maria Slough talks to Jan Taylor, founder of the UK’s original Farm Animal Sanctuary

I never imagined I would be a shepherdess, but in the name of rescue that is exactly what I had to become. It was a few years back and some sheep needed a safe place after their guardian passed away, so I took up the challenge and registered as a keeper of sheep and was duly sent a collection of ear tags along with a lot of paperwork.

I can still recall how brutal those tags felt in my fingers and could not contemplate breaking the delicate tissue of their pink ears. So with the fully registered tags in the glove compartment and a hired animal transporter I set off towards their new safe haven, The Farm Animal Sanctuary in Evesham.

This very special place was not new to me. I had met Jan Taylor, its founder, many years before. As we arrived that night after a long journey across land and sea, the warm welcome of peace rose up to meet us as I led my ‘flock’ to a beautiful new barn filled with hay and snacks. Jan Taylor was a journalist by trade, something she admits to happening by default. “I had no training.

I was asked to support a friend, a trained journalist, who was just trying her luck as a freelancer in Fleet Street. I had knowledge of horses, dogs, sheep, all as friends, so I specialised in animal welfare issues, exposing those people who were breaking the law. I was able to get work in a lab that illegally supplied primates for medical research, the animals weren’t properly quarantined and it took off from there.”

“I went on to investigate Harrods for selling animals with false pedigrees and puppy farmers. I followed illegal consignments of sheep and cattle into abattoirs across Europe and exposed the illegal transport of horses going for slaughter in Europe. I investigated a British slaughterhouse who took in horses without passports or ID and exposed badger baiters who were successfully prosecuted and sent to prison.

I looked into a man who was supposedly transporting calves to Holland. He wasn’t, he was smuggling arms.” Jan’s work also took her to some of the worst zoos which she visited with the compassionate Virginia McKenna and Dr. Roger Mugford, something that she found heartbreaking.

“After having contact with the worst of the worst, seeing how such a broad range of domestic and wild animals were treated with such brutality and lack of respect, it wasn’t possible to go home”

“After having contact with the worst of the worst, seeing how such a broad range of domestic and wild animals were treated with such brutality and lack of respect, it wasn’t possible to go home, close the door, draw the curtains and move on but still I was a flesh and dairy consumer.” Jan has been vegan for five years now and vegetarian before that for just over 20 years. What was the trigger to take her on that journey?

“My first time in a livestock market I thought I’d walked through the gates of hell. Seeing so many sick and injured animals there, they were just goods, the bruises couldn’t be seen. I watched a skinny aged little ewe, too weak to stand, being auctioned for the starting price of 50p. Much laughter from the onlookers jeering, ‘She wouldn’t even make half a sandwich.’ I paid £1 for her, took her home and cared for her. I gave up eating meat and she lived a happy life for another five years.”

“It was never my intention to become a full time ‘animal saviour’, but once you have the knowledge of what can go on behind closed doors you become programmed to keep on looking and listening. It creeps up on you.”

The Farm Animal Sanctuary was started in the early 1990s and registered as a charity in 1998, following an investigation into the welfare of animals in markets for The News of The World newspaper. The first rescued animal was a pony, bought from an auction.

Skinny with sores on his body from scratching himself raw, he was infested with lice and spent the whole day tied up to railings staring at the floor. Saved by Jan, he moved to a rented field close to where she lived and made a full recovery. Jan eventually managed to rent a nearby smallholding and 19 years ago Farm Animal Sanctuary moved to their present site, Manor Orchard Farm. The move to fully plant-based came after Jan took a step back into her investigative roots.

“I became vegan after following calves to a veal rearing unit in Holland. Some were less than a week old. They had been taken from their mothers, shoved into a lorry, driven a long journey to the docks where they were then pushed, manhandled and beaten, to force them up a very steep ramp and down into the hold of a very rusty unstable small ship. They were totally bewildered and traumatised, calling out repeatedly for their mothers. After a rough passage they were unloaded with brute force from the ship down an even steeper ramp and pushed onto a lorry.”

“We followed the lorry through the countryside for just over two hours. At one stage we passed a herd of cows grazing in a field. The calves were still calling; the cows lifted their heads and began to run, following the lorry along the hedge line until it disappeared from view.”

I take a moment to let that sink in.

“On arrival at the veal unit the calves were exhausted. They were lifted down the ramp into a low, dark, windowless concrete building. A faceless woman and a farm worker pushed the calves, one at a time into their crates; this was the last time that any of them would be able to get any comfort or companionship from one of their own kind.

They would stay in their crates for the next six months, unable to turn round, no sunlight, no bedding, just a slatted floor to lie on, no roughage to satisfy their dietary needs, just liquid milk replacement.”

“This was when I lost it — I’d offered a tiny black and white calf my fingers, which he took and began to suck on, I wanted to get him out, get all of them out, and scream at these two smiling jailers, who were totally oblivious to the suffering they were causing. I had to walk away, in defeat. It’s never left me.”

I ask, how do we stop this, Jan? Is there any hope that this kind of brutal torture will end? “If more people could be encouraged to meet the animals in a sanctuary setting, where the animals have lost all fear, can behave in a natural way, demonstrate their own special brand of intelligence and curiosity, and talk to the people who care for them.

I believe it would have a greater effect on persuading them to review their thoughts and feelings. All we need to do is let the animals do the talking.”

“More in-depth information is available now, with reference to the intensive rearing of farm animals, the practices commonly used within the dairy industry where cows are treated like machines, intensive rearing of poultry, battery hens, all accompanied with graphic photographs.

For most people it’s hard to ignore, although there will always be people who will resist change — it is human nature. With the destruction of the planet in rearing animals for food, caused by greed and more greed it is becoming obvious to all of us that this is unsustainable, like it or not.

I believe that all vegans, old, young, in between, who have cared enough about animals that they might never have met, never touched, never looked into their eyes, but have had their hearts and their senses touched by their stories are heroes and heroines.

All animal welfare issues need their army of supporters to bring about change and after visiting here on our open days we find many families adopt a plant-based lifestyle once they have met those they once ate.”

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The Farm Animal Sanctuary is now home to around 600 animals, counting the hens and other poultry. It’s a fluctuating number as the team accepts they are going to lose animals due to age related illnesses but spaces are soon filled as there are still so few places for unwanted farm animals to go. In the farmhouse kitchen, the dogs snooze as rescued birds are perched on a window ledge.

“Now, I’m officially classed as ‘ancient’, although not retired, my rescued dogs are my life and my family. Working from home means that they are with me all the time, we have an understanding that doesn’t need any words. Tilly the old basset doesn’t have to look guilty when she pees on the floor — it’s an age thing. Zero the young terrier doesn’t have to look guilty when she occasionally poos on the floor — she has a medical condition.

Lottie the old blind dog can’t look guilty even if she wanted too, after raiding the cupboards for food, again. Bailey the basset looks a bit guilty sometimes after she’s threatened someone, and Jessie, the peacemaker just looks at me and shrugs.”

When you walk around the sanctuary you are greeted by an eclectic animal family all with their own distinct personalities but the one thing that these sentient beings all have in common is the total lack of fear amongst them; they know this is their safe space and until you have sat in the company of animals who hold no fear you cannot really understand just how intoxicating yet calming that is.

I would encourage everyone to experience that just once with an open heart. Jan and her team are waiting to welcome you.

For more info, visit thefarmanimalsanctuary.co.uk.

Follow Maria’s photography journey at mariasloughphotography.com and Instagram @mariasloughphotography

VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.