An ex-farmer passionate about Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter runs a retirement home for more than 30 sheep in Boston, and The Lincolnite went to meet him to find out more about his ewe-nique work.
Andy Bailey used to be a farmer and milked cows in Leicestershire until around 15 years ago. After inheriting some money from his father he wanted to “play at being a farmer again” and decided to set up home in Boston in Lincolnshire, where Mirkwood Rest Home for Retired Sheep is based.
The retirement home is named after a forest called Mirkwood in Lord of the Rings and, after the first sheep arrived from Yorkshire and were entrusted into his care, it very soon changed his life overnight. The sheep would have gone for slaughter had Andy not purchased them and his love for the animals blossomed from there.
The original intention was for the home to make money, but when his first five Ryeland sheep (Molly, Sybil, Minerva, Olympe and Tonks) walked through the gate, he said they “trampled all over my heart on the way through”.
The 67-year-old is a full-time team manager for metering systems provider Lowri Beck. He said he can’t afford to retire yet and he dedicates all his spare time and money to giving the sheep the best possible life he can until they naturally die or have to be euthanised due to deteriorating health.
The sheep cost around £150 a week to keep, feed and medicate and, although Andy doesn’t like to ask for help, he admitted “I can no longer ignore the expense” and anyone who is able to help Andy “to continue to offer these beautiful, gentle, placid animals the twilight years that they truly deserve” can make a donation here.
Andy told The Lincolnite: “Just literally from a minute of them walking through the gate I thought ‘this is it my farming life is done’. I went from a meat eating, couldn’t care less farmer, to an animal loving vegetarian overnight, and that was it.
“My mum couldn’t walk very well towards the end and there’s no way on god’s green earth I’d have had her put to sleep, so while they [the sheep] stay as happy and healthy as they are, then I shall continue to look after them.”
It wasn’t long before Andy bought another five sheep from a woman in Yorkshire who was no longer able to keep them, so he once again stepped in to save animals from being slaughtered, and when we visited he had a total of 36 sheep. He said he gives them food, water, and “a life free from predators”.
There were 24 female ewes and three castrated young males together, and in his other field a mile and a half away a further nine males. Andy also built an infirmary called the Norton Wing where the most poorly female sheep who struggle to move can be kept and cared for.
Since we visited Andy has collected a further two sheep – Vera and Wendy – and three more will be arriving this week.
The eight sheep Andy bred himself are all named after characters from the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter, Sirius (Black), Cedric Diggory, Severus Snape, Padma and Parvati Patil, and Albus & Aberforth Dumbledore. Sirius is the youngest, aged three, and the eldest is Sproxton Nancy who is 12.
Although he has more than 30 sheep, the majority of which are the Ryeland breed, Andy can still tell them all apart.
He said: “I see and feed them at least twice a day. I work from home mainly and I’m out here at lunchtime making sure they’re alright, and you just get to know their different features.
“They are just such gentle, docile characters. They’re very underrated and are more clever than people take them for.
“I just love them to bits. I think they’re just the nicest, most wonderful little animals. They’ll never hurt a soul.
“I’m from Leicester originally, but I’d never move away again. I love this, I love what I’ve got, I just love everything about it.”
The rest home is nearly at full capacity so Andy can’t take in too many more sheep, but he is appealing for any volunteers who would be interested in helping him to look after the animals.
After recently purchasing a tractor to help move the muck heaps, he admitted it’s the “physical help I struggle with” and anyone interested in helping at the rest home should contact him via email at [email protected] or by messaging the Facebook page here.The same contact information can also be used to arrange visits to go and meet the sheep.
Although the rest home is mostly financed from Andy’s own pocket, there is an event held every summer called the Sheepy Shuffle – virtual half marathon and 5k events – to help raise donations to help keep it running.
Costs for bedding, food, and vet supplies continue to add up and any donations raised from the event will be greatly received – you can register and enter online here.