Inside the life of a vegan animal sanctuary

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Wenda Shehata from Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary shares the story behind Hugletts, their ecoconscious way of life and some heartwarming stories

I have been vegan most of my adult life, despite being born into a family of meat eaters and hunters. I went vegetarian because I wanted my diet to be animal-friendly, but the realisation that dairy involved more killing than eating meat opened my eyes to the fact that it was impossible to live a cruelty-free life or be environmentally aware by following anything other than a vegan path. Over the years I have learned there are many more reasons that make it essential for the human race to become vegan.

Hugletts’ first residents


Exhausted from almost four months of living on the front line with numerous other protesters at the Live Export Protests at Shoreham, I felt the time was right to establish a sanctuary, primarily for cows and their friends. I wanted to create a place of healing, where the animals’ wellbeing and happiness would come before everything.

To start with, I simply rented a piece of land with a barn, which we then outgrew. Finally, I sold my home to buy Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary, which is where we have lived with everyone since 1998.

Four adolescent calves were our first residents. Sam and his three sisters, Luksa, Leena and Carrie, had been raised in a school farm and were to be auctioned at market for fattening and slaughter. A concerned parent called me to ask if we would be prepared to offer them a home for life. In 1995 they came to the sanctuary, where all of them lived together until their natural deaths occurred in their late teens and early twenties.

Over the years we have had calls from farmers’ wives, farmers themselves, calf dealers and friends who do Market Watch, telling us of someone who is in need of saving from slaughter.

These days, some of the local shepherds bring us lambs who wouldn’t otherwise make it through and who would in many cases simply be left in a ditch. We are contacted from all over the UK, specifically about cows and handicapped animals, with whom we have the greatest experience.

Sustainable living

Following a vegan path doesn’t, to our way of thinking, just involve an abstinence from certain foods – it’s a way of life. It means living simply, taking no more than one needs and being aware of one’s own footprint.

To this end, we harness the power that is naturally available through wind and solar. Water is never wasted. We are beholden only to the elements, not power companies or conglomerates. If there is a power cut locally, we are oblivious to the fact!

This means we have no washing machine, tumble drier, power shower, electric kettle or toaster. No fridge, no freezer, no central heating along with the recurrent consumerism that this involves. And d’you know what? Life is great with a wind-up radio, a wood-burning stove and rechargeable batteries that allow us the pleasure of a laptop, cameras and battery powered tools.

Maintaining 18 acres of broadleaf woodland and well over 30 acres of permanent pasture ensures that even whilst caring for all of the animals at the sanctuary, bovines especially, we have a huge carbon deficit.

We believe it is up to each individual to reduce their carbon footprint through whatever means, to under 3 tonnes per annum. Any more than this and, no matter what your diet, you are part of the problem.

SheepRehabilitating animals

As a sanctuary, it’s essential that we know everyone who lives here and their story. Otherwise, how would we best care for them? It is also imperative that the animals see us as part of their herd or flock. That makes for a special relationship, one in which they feel safe and secure.

There is both mental and physical trauma in every animal who arrives here, with or without accompanying illness. We do all that is necessary to assure the immediate comfort of a newcomer and then wait for them to show us what, if anything, they need from us to get them on that long road to recovery and sustain them through that journey.

No two beings are the same. The mental anxiety associated with the production of livestock for either flesh or dairy takes a long time to heal. Animals suffer every emotion that we as humans do. Sometimes just lying in the straw with them and talking gently is enough. Other times we need to give hands-on 24/7 support. We find knowing when to ‘do’ and not to ‘do’ is the answer, and this comes with experience and intuition.

Archie’s story

Archie No Tail was a young calf I met whilst negotiating the release of a handicapped cow. My attention was drawn to him because he stood in a corner of the barn looking inwards. When I asked why he did that the farmer told me he was brain damaged, blind in one eye and couldn’t walk straight as his pelvis was misshapen, causing him to walk sideways. He was also missing his tail. I was told that he had no chance of a quality of life, and it was recommend that he go for slaughter.

After much discussion, Archie was liberated with Syamala (the handicapped cow) and we brought them home. Archie came straight out of the horse box and stood in the corner of the barn looking inwards. If we touched him he flinched, fearing a thrashing, which is what he got at the farm if he didn’t move out of the way quickly enough. His future was painted as incredibly bleak but we knew, with a little support and gentle care, that he would be able to leave the past behind and live as good a life as his body would allow. To this end we loved him and spoke to him gently. We never pushed our attention on him and we allowed him to progress as he was comfortable.

After a year Archie came out of the corner to watch his friends in the fields. He started to wait for them as they came in to the barn at nights and one morning he simply followed them out, tagging on at the rear. He ran free, dancing sideways and screaming at the top of his lungs, his head circling so his good eye could see him safe. None of his family herd turned a hair – it was just Archie No Tail. Walkers on the bridleway stopped in their tracks at the sound and we had to run to reassure them he wasn’t being harmed.

The next year he mooed for the first time, and kept mooing until he was hoarse. These days Archie is confident enough to come and say hello to visitors he likes the look of, and is starting to walk forwards more often than walking sideways. He still has only one good eye and no tail, but this doesn’t stop him from enjoying life.

A way of life

This isn’t a job or even a vocation. It is a way of life, a way that requires sacrifices but at the same time offers the greatest of rewards. There is no typical day at Hugletts Wood. What is constant is early starts and late finishes – anything can happen in between. We are on the go at least 18 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

To be able to witness the blossoming of another being who has suffered abuse, and to see the beginnings of trust – that is worth all the material wealth in the world. I think it’s necessary to accept the fact that no matter how many animals a sanctuary can take in, it will always be a mere drop in the ocean. We know that we are doing all we can for the few hundred who live at Hugletts Wood. We don’t play the numbers game – we aim to offer a quality of life to all who come and offer it for life. We do not take it from them when the going gets tough time-wise or financially.

Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary is a sanctuary and not a visitor centre. For that reason we open for visits a maximum of five times a year during summer. The animals work their magic and touch even the hardest of hearts. There have been many occasions where a visitor has sheepishly mentioned they eat meat or dairy, then have written some weeks after to say their lives have changed after coming here.

Running a sanctuary

Maintaining a Facebook presence is essential in today’s world to keep supporters and others up to date with what is happening here. We tend to not use this as a tool for fundraising. Rather, the purpose of our online presence is to share stories and spread the word.

If people like what the sanctuary stands for and wants to support the animals, then donations are very much appreciated. Our Special Person Scheme is for guests and residents who have bonded. We find that it encourages a relationship to develop without using the animals as moneyspinners. The Special Person plays a bigger part in the life of the animal, contributing 50% of the cost of maintaining his/her friend each month in return for 1-1 visiting privileges and other goodies.

We have never expected anyone to fund our lifestyle here. As well as serving the almost 300 residents, we work the land and the woodland to provide for feed and bedding, some vet bills and general running costs. Of course we have donations coming in from people who believe in our ethics and want to support the animals here, and they are very much valued and appreciated.

By Wenda Shehata 

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