Director and co-founder Darren Appleby up close and personal with Yogi, the cow. Photograph: Malvika Hemanth

With the rise in animal conservation and eco-friendly travel, SA’s Furever Farm offers an intimate experience with their animals through feedings, socialising and rehabilitation, as well as the option to camp onsite. 

By Malvika Hemanth | @h_malvika

Tessa is a three-month-old all black dorper goat. She’s just under knee height and roams Furever Farm’s 40-acre property and now home with a confident dominance. She’s clumsy, undoubtably cute and unafraid of letting humans of all ages (including babies) know that their lap is always her resting place. 

Tessa was brought to Furever Farm, a refuge for farm animals that have suffered neglect or abuse, in August of this year.

“It was a couple that brought Tessa in after finding her buried under reeds crying for help off the side of a road,” director and co-founder of Furever Farm Darren Appleby says. “She was less than a week old when she came to us.” 

During the two days and one night I volunteered at the farm I came to think of Tessa as the farm’s unofficial animal tour guide. Wherever I was, whether that was helping with cleaning or feeding of the animals or even just sitting down for a tea break, Tessa was there. 

Her immediate affection towards anyone, though strange at first, was not uncommon among the 123 animals that now call Furever Farm home. 

Tessa in the arms of co-founder and secretary of Furever Farm Hayley Appleby. Photograph: Malvika Hemanth

As I came to learn, their journeys to the farm were harrowing.

Nat is another goat I was introduced to. Like Tessa, Nat is a dorfer. She’s mainly white aside from the black fur that masks her eyes and a strip of brown that lines her nose. She’s a little taller than Tessa, reaching just above elbow height. 

On my first day I was one of three volunteers that helped with settling Nat while Darren shaved one of her hind hooves. One volunteer cradled Nat in their arms, another held down her front hoof and I held down her other hind hoof. 

The experience was traumatic for Nat. She yelped, quivered and at times I found it difficult to keep her hoof steady so Darren could work. 

Before this hoof was shaved, it not only caused Nat to walk funnily but resulted in a lot of pain for her. Darren tells me she developed arthritis from this hoof due to neglect by her previous owner.

It was the daughter of the owner, a farmer, that brought Nat here. While I was unfamiliar with farming practices, I learnt Nat’s deterioration was something her previous owner expected.”

“Farmers account for so many deaths, so to them, it’s not a problem,” Darren says. “You know it’s one that they’ve factored into their numbers.” 

If it wasn’t for the daughter of the previous owner’s intervention into Nat’s fate and her decision to bring her here in 2018, I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet the “nanna of the goats” as Nat is loving known as on the farm.

Now eight, Nat despite having mobility issues is beaming.

Although Furever Farm is a vegan establishment which doesn’t allow non-vegan products onsite, it always welcomes vegan and non-vegan visitors and volunteers.

The farm has been a registered non-profit charity since 2017 and is solely run by Darren and co-founder and secretary of Furever Farm Hayley Appleby, with the help of a small group of dedicated volunteers.

A volunteer bottle feeding the lambs which are fed twice a day. Photograph: Malvika Hemanth

Located in Rockleigh, South Australia (an hour’s drive from Adelaide) Darren and his partner never set out on building a no-kill farm.

“It was born of a dream just to help these animals through personal beliefs after we looked into and saw what happened to them,” Darren says. 

Despite the couple admitting to always having been animal lovers, it was only after channel surfing and stumbling on an airing of 2005 documentary Earthlings in 2009, which made them question the impact their diet and lifestyle had on animals.

“After I looked at that, it was like I couldn’t have put another bit of meat in my mouth,” Darren says. 

It was this film which catalysed the Appleby’s initial step of becoming vegetarian then vegan, (as they were unaware of the abusive dairy farming practices at the time), which eventually led to the creation of Furever Farm. 

It was also a lack of rescue shelters for farm animals that contributed to the idea.

Darren admits for him and his partner the transition from vegetarian to veganism – which is the philosophy the farm is governed by – was not easy. Chocolate was Darren’s weakness, along with the odd bit of milk in tea at an auntie’s place. For Hayley, it was cheese and the lack of good quality vegan cheeses at the time. 

The pair have since learnt to live without the familiar tastes of a traditional western diet which they grew up with. Yet, their decision to start a farmhouse has caused uproar in their social circles. Darren tells me despite not declaring his decision to become vegan to the world as some vegans do via social media, it has resulted in him losing a few friends.

“You just get shit hung on you all the time, like you’ve got two heads or something,” Darren said. “While meeting up with them we didn’t attempt to like, convert them or talk to them about it or anything but they just thought you were ridiculous.”

And for those wondering whether Darren is an angry vegan, he tells me that he thinks he isn’t and has always tried to steer clear from the all-too-common stereotype. 

“It doesn’t matter what sort of movement you get into, you’re always going to have your zealots,” he says. “I was never going to be one of those, and I don’t think I ever have been because I’ve never been one to bark orders.” 

“I’ll always have a conversation and when people tour here, I’ll give them information, but I’m not going to turn around and say you’re bad for eating meat.” 

During my time at Furever Farm I met four other volunteers: three vegan and one non-vegan.

Tanya, a former stockwoman, is one of those volunteers who has been helping out at the farm for a year now. Her vegan journey and eventual fortnightly commitment to the farm is one I find especially intriguing. 

Prior to becoming vegan, Tanya was married to a butcher. She witnessed the ruthless slaughter of livestock and at the time thought animal slaughter was sad but something humans had to do to survive. 

It was only after doing more research on human diets and a vegan lifestyle that she realised she didn’t need meat to survive.

“From there it was an easy transition [to veganism],” she says. 

Tanya has been vegan for five years now and when asked what she gets out of volunteering on the farm she said it is the unconditional love she receives from the animals.

“If I’ve had a bad week and I come up here all that bad goes away.”

Horses Blackie and Sparkle that have become an inseparable pair since arriving at Furever Farm. Photograph: Malvika Hemanth

Furever Farm, as well as being a rescue home for farm animals, also hosts work experience, educational tours and university placements.

Amy is in her third year of an animal behaviour degree. After we finish feeding the animals an assortment of vegetables and bread Darren has gathered from numerous shelters across South Australia, I see her take out her pen and clipboard. 

She tells me she’s studying the social hierarchy of the animals in the back paddock. She makes me aware of Bebe, a sole sheep among the horses and cows. 

Hayley tells me Bebe refuses to be with the other sheep on the farm. 

Amy aims to understand how the hierarchy impacts each animal’s access to feed. She says so far, she’s got a pretty good idea of the order. Yogi, she points out to me, a ginormous cow with horns, is at the top. 

Amy feeding Gizmo, a former racehorse who came to the farm in August, 2017. Photograph: Malvika Hemanth

And as I watch him plough his 1500 kg, black and white spotted body past the other horses, cattle and one sheep, I can see why. Darren tells me Yogi who has been at the farm for two years now has always been quite boisterous. 

Yogi is a rescued bobby calf and it is his rowdy behaviour which led his previous owner, an elderly woman, to send him here. 

As I reflect on my stay at Furever Farm, it is clear Darren and Hayley’s connection to the animals, as they fittingly say, is one of a mum and dad. Though they don’t have kids of their own, I find it ironic when first introducing myself to Hayley that she says that she’s not good with names despite knowing the names of the 123 animals on the farm. 

While sitting at their dining table on my last night I asked them what they’ve gotten out of running the farm so far.

“Headaches,” they said, as Hayley motions to the lack of hair on Darren’s head. 

As they compose themselves, the pair admits running the farm which Darren does full-time and Hayley does part-time while also working full-time at the local chemist is “long hard work.” 

But they say that it’s the sudden feeling of satisfaction that erodes any doubts.

“When you stand back and you look at the animals, you’re made aware that they would have been dead if they weren’t here, or they’d be getting mistreated.” 

As for the future of the farm, Darren hopes to acquire more land so they can accommodate more animals.

“The dream is 200 acres so we can have onsite vet rooms, an education centre and an area to grow feed.”