Farm animals Pigs, sheep and other animals can live out their days at a sanctuary in Greyton in the Overberg
Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary is a place where about 160 farm animals live the kind of happily-ever-after that few others like them are afforded – and it’s all thanks to the good deeds of their fairy godmother, Nicky Vernon.
It’s not at all difficult to come up with a title for the rather unusual fairy tale that is unfolding at Nicola Vernon’s Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary: The Showgirl and the Gentle Sow. Or perhaps The Bond Girl and the Injured Calf. Or something
along the lines of The Good Fairy and the Pigs.
The basic elements of this fairy tale are all there: the adventurous British girl who grew up in Singapore and later worked in Paris as a dancer and as an extra in the Bond movie Moonraker; the eccentric businessman who owns a castle in the English countryside where he cares for rescued farm animals… There is a love story, a death, the need to honour someone’s memory. And then, finally, a very happy ending for the animals, who are, after all, the lead characters in this story.
THE SANCTUARY can be found on the farm Tabularasa, 7 km outside Greyton. Nicola (better known as Nicky, the adventurous girl mentioned above) bought the 40 ha property in 2005.
She and her husband at the time, Dennis (the eccentric businessman), had visited South Africa for the first time in 1998, when they lost their hearts to Greyton at first sight. They bought a house in the village and for the next four years swapped their freezing English winters for summers in Greyton. When Dennis passed away in 2002, Nicky, who worked in the UK as a consultant for charitable organisations, decided to settle in Greyton.
“I felt that my skills would be useful here in South Africa and, because I receive a widow’s pension, I was able to offer my services free of charge.”
Nicky later married South African Rohan Millson. They bought the farm Tabularasa together and, before building a house, packed up and went to Arizona in the US to learn how to construct straw-bale houses. While they were building their barn and the two houses on the property, Nicky noticed that lambs belonging to neighbouring farmers were sometimes left lying out in the veld.
“I would pick them up, nurse them back to health, then return them to the owners. I understood that it was not economically viable for the farmers to find and save the lambs that remained behind in the veld, but when I discovered that they didn’t really care what became of the little creatures, I decided to start asking them whether I could keep the rescued lambs here on my farm. And that is the story of our unofficial beginning.”
NICKY HAD ALWAYS dreamt of honouring Dennis’s memory by starting an animal sanctuary similar to the one he had once run at Appleby Castle. Everything changed in 2014 when she was approached to take in a pet pig. That’s how Tabularasa officially became Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary.
“Bella was a beautiful large pig who stepped daintily out of a small car. Her intelligent eyes took in everything around her and she immediately understood that I was the one who would be looking after her now.”
Today, the sanctuary is home to 94 pigs. As was the case with Bella, every pig has a name, and Nicky knows each of their stories. The pigs come from back-yard breeders and meat factory farms, and there is even the occasional pig that was born on the back of an abattoir truck. But many of them are pets that breeders sold to unwitting buyers as so-called “teacup pigs”. >
“There’s no such thing as a teacup pig or mini pig,” says Nicky indignantly. “Breeders show buyers the immature pigs they bred with to create the impression that the pigs won’t grow any larger. But when they do reach maturity, pigs are often far too big to keep in a garden or house. A number of these pet pigs have ended up with us.”
These days, it’s only under very special circumstances that Nicky will take in pet pigs. The sanctuary first tries to assist owners to find alternative homes via Facebook or other social media platforms. “We only take them in as a last resort and with a contract stipulating that the owners will support their pig financially. But when pigs are rescued under other circumstances, we will always take them in.” Nicky’s visits to pig farms convinced her that she should focus her rescue operations on these animals. “Pigs need the most help, but they receive it the least.”
THE PIGS AT THE SANCTUARY are free to roam the farm during the day, and at night they sleep in paddocks. The ranger, Hendrik Davids, watches over the pigs during the day while they graze, and Paul Cupido takes care of their water supply by keeping mud holes and drinking troughs full. Foreman Johan Jacobs maintains the buildings and facilities, and Quintin Phlippies works around the house and keeps an eye on the animals living in the paddocks in the farmyard to make sure that they are all safe, healthy and happy, and that they want for nothing. Ricardo Deelman has worked on the farm with Nicky for 19 years, and Angie Hagermann is Nicky’s housekeeper. The workers’ salaries are paid from Nicky’s pension and are therefore not an expense for the sanctuary.
Apart from Nicky and the full-time workers, Rohan (now her ex-husband) is still on the farm and is involved with the care and maintenance of the animals. The other full-time residents are Mike Deall and Christine Streit, and Christine’s children, Leo and Ava.
Caring for the animals is hard work and the sanctuary relies largely on the help of volunteers to keep it running. Volunteers from all over the world are referred to the farm by the Workaway website and given free food and accommodation in exchange for their voluntary services.
“We teach the volunteers to work with the baby animals, because these animals require extra care. In many cases the little ones no longer have a mother, >