What makes a farm animal sanctuary ethical?

By Samantha Smith

A farm animal sanctuary is a safe haven for rescued, abandoned or surrendered farm animals. It provides for their nutritional, veterinary and housing needs, and enables them to live out the rest of their natural lives in peace and dignity. Sanctuaries are living responses to the suffering and death imposed upon animal bodies by the meat, egg and dairy industries, so the ethics of operating these safe spaces are intimately entwined with the vegan principles of non-violence and non-exploitation. With the growing number of farm animal sanctuaries in South Africa, it is incumbent on these establishments to function as ethically as possible.

An ethical farm animal sanctuary does not buy, sell, trade or breed the animals in its care. The rudimentary purpose of a sanctuary is to provide refuge for animals, not to derive a commercial benefit from their bodies. Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary (Overberg, Western Cape), for example, operates according to a strict no-breeding policy. In this regard, it is essential that farm animal sanctuaries implement effective spay-and-neuter programmes to eliminate breeding and optimise space management.

While it isn’t always possible to convince someone to willingly surrender an animal, sanctuaries should avoid buying animals. Purchasing animals from meat, dairy and egg farms sustains the commercial trade in farmed species and perpetuates exploitation. In this light, sanctuaries should seek to adopt farm animals who are confiscated in cruelty investigations, abandoned in fields or surrendered to local SPCAs. The newly established Asher’s Farm Sanctuary (Pretoria East, Gauteng) has adopted several animals from CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare), which rescued them from dire circumstances.

A farm animal sanctuary must prioritise the needs and interests of their animal residents over the interests of human visitors. A sanctuary is not a petting zoo which displays animals for commercial and entertainment purposes. By contrast, a sanctuary does not permit activities that would impose undue stress on its animal residents. Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary, for example, purposefully has not tamed the pigs or sheep in its care. This enables the animals to embody their natural behaviour in a protected environment where they can choose when and how to interact with humans. Farm Sanctuary SA (Franschhoek, Western Cape) limits visiting times to a three-hour period to avoid overburdening the animals.

It is imperative that the dignity and bodily integrity of animal residents is respected in life and death by those who operate, visit and work at farm animal sanctuaries. To this end, a fully ethical sanctuary does not exploit the animals in its care for their eggs, wool, milk or flesh, or endorse the consumption of animal products. Instead of selling the eggs of spent hens and sheared sheep wool for profit, Greyton feeds the eggs back to their hens, and shears their sheep solely to relieve discomfort during the hot summer months. Out of respect for their animal residents, Farm Sanctuary SA asks visitors not to consume any animal products on their premises.

‘Rescued farm animals are ambassadors for change. Their missing horns, disfigured beaks, docked tails and mutilated ears bear witness to their former lives and provide members of the public with insight into the unrelenting suffering of farmed animals.’

Sanctuaries should find sustainable forms of funding that don’t compromise the well-being of the animals in their care. Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary (McGregor, Western Cape) holds a three-day book fair every year to generate additional funds. The Karoo Donkey Sanctuary (Prince Albert, Western Cape) runs an adoption programme where donors can ‘adopt’ a donkey by covering the monthly costs of their feed, veterinary care and upkeep. Pigs ’n’ Paws (Hennops River Valley, Gauteng) similarly asks supporters to sponsor the living costs of the pigs in their care. Greyton requests a minimum cash donation of R50 per visitor, and rents out an eco-friendly cottage, The Shepherd’s Hut, to overnight visitors.

Farm animal sanctuaries should strive to provide educational programmes to the public. Rescued farm animals are ambassadors for change. Their missing horns, disfigured beaks, docked tails and mutilated ears bear witness to their former lives and provide members of the public with insight into the unrelenting suffering of farmed animals. Greyton’s sanctuary is a resource for the town’s humane education programme which seeks to inspire empathy and compassion in children by teaching them how to care for animals, and the importance of sterilisation and vegetable gardens. Eseltjiesrus conducts outreach training for donkey guardians and hosts school groups for educational tours of the sanctuary.

While there is an abundance of wildlife sanctuaries and shelters for abandoned dogs and cats, farm animal sanctuaries are relatively new to South Africa. Nevertheless, a number of legal requirements must be met for a facility to operate as a refuge for farm animals. It is necessary for a sanctuary to register as an NPO in accordance with the Nonprofit Organisations Act under the auspices of the Department of Social Development. In addition, the sanctuary has to register with the municipality of the nearest district, and the landowner may also have to apply for consent use (permission to use the land for a purpose that does not disturb primary use) in accordance with zoning scheme regulations.

Crucially, a sanctuary must apply for a registered identification mark with the Department of Agriculture to identify the animals in their care in the event that they escape or get lost. Finally, it is imperative that sanctuary operators familiarise themselves with the Animals Protection Act and the Department of Agriculture’s rules on keeping and transporting farm animals, stocking animal feed, and preventing infectious diseases.

How to help a sanctuary in need:

  • Become a monthly sponsor
  • Organise challenges, raffles, theme/game/quiz evenings or parties to raise funds for your chosen sanctuary
  • Make a cash donation when visiting the sanctuary
  • When visiting, take along a donation of fruit and vegetables, specialised formula, blankets or old towels
  • Before visiting, call ahead to ask what the sanctuary needs

Every farm animal sanctuary should endeavour to have:

  • An ethos of respect, compassion, non-exploitation and equality for all its animal residents
  • Compassionate, trained staff
  • A policy of accepting every surrendered animal (financial and spatial circumstances permitting)
  • A no-fee policy for surrendered animals
  • A strict no-breeding policy, and an effective spay-and-neuter programme
  • A sick ward and designated isolation area for animals who may be ill or require special veterinary care
  • A veterinarian on call 24 hours a day
  • Access to a humane method of euthanasia
  • An active public education programme that promotes anti-speciesism and veganism
  • A policy that prohibits anyone from consuming animal products on the sanctuary’s premises
  • A variety of sustainable, non-exploitative sources of funding

Samantha is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Private Law at the University of Cape Town who enjoys going to the movies, snorkeling along coral reefs and spending time with her eight rescue dogs.

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