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Chester County Press

Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary: Saving animals and changing hearts

06/06/2023 11:36AM ● By Richard Gaw

By Gabbie Burton, Contributing Writer 

The five dollars you spend on your everyday latte could be spent on an entirely different Latte. That’s Latte with a capital ‘L’ and the name of a newly-rescued duck who is currently receiving medical treatment and care at Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit animal rescue located in Lincoln University.

Latte was rescued along with four other ducks from the Brandywine Park in Wilmington, Del. on May 9 by Sarah Stegeman, the founder of Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary and a longtime animal advocate. What Stegeman and a local volunteer were able to recognize that others may not was that the ducks were domestic and never intended to live unsupervised in the park.

Stegeman sought approval from the Natural Resources Police in order to facilitate the rescue of the five ducks shortly after one disappeared and was presumed dead. Ducks of their breeds, normally skittish and avoidant, had become accustomed to people during their time in the park making the rescue easier than expected, according to Stegeman.

“Domestic ducks are flightless, they don’t have the migratory instinct to leave a bad situation, they don’t really forage, they have no idea how to survive, so domestic ducks don’t belong out in the wild at all and they die horrible deaths out there,” Stegeman said.

“The volunteer was holding the food and we had our netting,” said Stegeman’s partner Kyle Leynes, who contributes to the operations of the sanctuary. “We encircled the ducks while they were eating food from her hand. These guys were so desperate that it was easy to catch them.”

The five ducks are currently undergoing quarantine and receiving treatment at the sanctuary for a handful of health issues including staph infections, malnourishment, frostbite and support for a disability as one duck lacks toe nails, impacting its mobility.

Latte and fellow rescue Macchiato are both up for adoption while the other three ducks will soon start a permanent residence at another animal sanctuary or private home.

A home for 37 ducks and more

Latte and her companions are far from alone at Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary.

Begun in 2021, the sanctuary was formed to serve animals and give them a second chance at life, while serving the surrounding community by introducing the ideals of humane education in all its endeavors. Its mission is three-fold: To provide a safe haven for unwanted and displaced farm animals in a safe, secure, loving environment; to physically and mentally rehabilitate the animal victims of exploitative farming practices; and to provide a background of compassion and humane education to its supporters and patrons.

The sanctuary currently provides care for 37 ducks and additionally welcomed four pigs, six sheep, two cows, six geese, and one Muscovy duck, making the six-acre sanctuary near capacity for the majority of animals they house, a common limitation that comes with ethically running an animal sanctuary.

Capacity limitations are not the only difficulty that comes with the job. As a rescuer of animals who are typically used for food or farming purposes, Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary, along with other similar sanctuaries, promote a message of veganism and liberation, meaning that they do not believe in the consumption of animals or animal by-products and see each animal as an individual, deserving of a long life free from exploitation.

However, this message can sometimes be met with skepticism, judgement and even safety concerns. Being located in a rural community where prevailing attitudes can conflict with their mission, Stegeman and Leynes have to confront some of these issues, even from those who are within the field of animal care.

“Farm vets are aware what sanctuaries are and of course they’re farm vets, so they are farm-minded,” Stegeman said. “Finding a vet that will not be condescending to you and provide the services that you need, not just to optimize an animal for profit but to increase their lifespan and give them a good life, it’s hard to find.”

Additionally, the sanctuary has chosen not to advertise their location as an extra precaution to best protect their residents from any potential harm. While these conflicting attitudes pose a risk, they also provide an opportunity to educate and spread the message of the sanctuary.

“I definitely think education and education initiatives that focus more on the survivors is better than just pointing fingers and saying, ‘You’re doing this wrong,’” Stegeman said.

Stegeman noted Latte and Macchiato’s increased weight and vocal presence since the rescue as part of their survivor story. Also recognized was Fudge the sheep for his health and personality transformation since arriving at the sanctuary last August.

Fudge joined the flock after one of the previous sheep residents passed away. According to Leynes and Stegeman, Fudge formed a close bond with the sister of the deceased sheep, Merry, while she mourned the loss and Fudge recovered from health complications including anemia and drug resistant parasites.

“When Fudge came, it’s like they instantly had this connection and they both healed each other,” Stegeman said. “There’s been so much transformation here, so many of the animals have come from bad circumstances and are now living their best lives. Seeing the transformation that so many of these animals have had, that definitely keeps me going.”

‘You can change the world for that animal’

Running an animal sanctuary has been a longtime goal for the 27-year-old Stegeman, who has devoted most of her adult life to the improvement of animal welfare and working and volunteering with animals since she was 16 years old. She also holds an undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology and animal sciences, a master’s in humane leadership, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in humane education.

In the leadership of her own sanctuary, Stegeman’s emphasis circles back to the ducks.

“There’s practically no focus on ducks and that’s a huge epidemic,” she said. “What I would like people to understand is that those little ducklings and chicks that are just a few dollars each at a farm supply store are actually really complicated animals that will live to be 10 years old or more, and if you put them out in the wild, they’re not going to survive.” 

Domestic ducks only appear in the wild as a result of people abandoning them. Yet another group of domestic ducks has been found at the Brandywine Park and planning is underway in order to attempt another rescue in the coming weeks.

Stegeman and Leynes have been maintaining the sanctuary’s presence through the sanctuary’s website and social media accounts, but shared their plans to offer volunteer and internship programs as they feel the sanctuary has now developed to a place to expand public involvement. The pair hopes these opportunities will grow support for their mission of improving animal welfare.

That mission, though certainly difficult, has proven more than worth it for Stegeman, Leynes and, of course, the many animals they save. Stegeman recites a mantra that reminds her of this:

“Even if you can’t change the world, you can change the world for that animal.”

To make a donation, drop off produce, offer volunteer services or wish to know more about the Sweet Peace Farm Sanctuary, visit