Updated February 2020. A farmer of 47 years performed an unprecedented animal rescue and swapped animal farming for vegetables. In a story reported by the BBC last year, a Devon lamb farmer said he’d had a change of heart about sending his lambs to slaughter.
Sivalingam Vasanthakumar, originally from Sri Lanka, now resides in Totnes, Devon, where he’s been raising animals for decades. In Sri Lanka, Vasanthakumar raised dairy cows with his parents. But it took 47 years for Vasanthakumar to come to terms with his profession.
“I just couldn’t cope any more and I had to say no,” Vasanthakumar said. “I couldn’t do it. The emotional toll had become too much.” He added, “it was taking them to the slaughterhouse and that was stressing me out a lot.”
In a new video produced by the American animal protection group Farm Sanctuary, he said that at first, he carried on because he “just couldn’t tell anybody.” But Vasanthakumar explained that the animals could tell when they were at the slaughterhouse and that this upset both him and them.
Vasanthakumar chose to rehome his flock with Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries, as it meant they could go together. Goodheart said that this was the first time a farmer has brought lambs to the sanctuary.
“I’m happy there watching them,” said Vasanthakumar, while visiting the sheep. “You can’t talk about monetary value for that.”
“My message was, you know, give up livestock farming, that’s my personal decision,” continued Vasanthakumar. “But I had a lot of other farming friends, I mentioned [it] to them and they did say that they felt the same when they take the animals to [the] slaughterhouse. So every farmer feels that. But it’s their livelihood.”
According to Farm Sanctuary, more than 500 million sheep are slaughtered globally every year.
Shifting Trends in Farming
It’s not the first time a farmer has had a change of heart about the business of raising animals. A growing number of farmers are shifting away from animal agriculture for both the emotional and financial tolls.
The 2018 documentary “73 Cows” tells the story of Jay Wilde, the first farmer in the UK to trade beef farming for sustainable organic vegan farming, giving up his entire herd of cattle in the process. The film won the “Best Overall Film Award” and the “Best Lifestyle Film” award out of the 29 entries at the First Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival last November.
It was also recently nominated for a BAFTA award.
“When we set out to make ’73 Cows’ I knew that the film had potential as Jay’s story was so inspiring, but I never anticipated the reaction it’s receiving,” director Alex Lockwood told LIVEKINDLY.
“The film really seems to have struck a chord with people all around the world. When we released the film online, we thought that it would be viewed by a few hundred people within the first few days, so we were amazed when the viewing figures kept going up and up into the tens of thousands,” Lockwood said.
U.S. based vegan milk brand Elmhurst Milk used to be in the dairy business. It was one of the longest-running and largest dairy plants in New York City. But as the market shifted, sales began to decline, and the brand made the decision to shutter its operations and pivot into the booming plant-based milk market, where it’s now considered one of the category leaders.
“Plant milk has a much lower carbon footprint than dairy,” Elmhurst’s owner Henry Schwartz, told the Sierra Club. “It’s also more ethical to animals.”
The 82-year-old grew up in the dairy business started by his father nearly a century ago. But he says times are changing and other dairy farmers need to keep pace.
“Whether through capital investment or some other means, businesses will have to evolve their offerings to keep up with consumer demands and trends,” Schwartz said. “If you can get this from nuts or grains,” he added, “I don’t see how cows can have a monopoly on the term.”
Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries
Although Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries is a relatively new animal rescue charity, it has already been involved in important work. In addition to securing the charity’s HQ, Nickless Farm in Worcestershire, the team has helped two other struggling animal sanctuaries.
Farm Animal Sanctuary and Wiccaweys Rescued Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs were both in need of new premises. Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries aided both and continued to work with them whilst they finish setting up Nickless Farm.
Sanctuary manager, David Bourne said there are only a handful of shelters that have the facilities to rehome farm animals. Vasanthakumar now runs the all-vegan Kumar’s Dosa Bar in Devon, England.