Millington's Magical Barn: The Yorkshire animal rescue owned by an electrician who had only been on a farm once before

The south of France or Dewsbury? Which would you choose? Four years ago, animal lover Jake Ratcliffe chose the latter and started Millington’s Magical Barn that is currently home to 83 animals of many different species, but he wouldn’t change it for the world, would he?

“I’ve always been a big lover of the south of France,” said Jake. “At the time I was juggling between a place down there as a holiday home before I set up the sanctuary. Don’t get me wrong, some winter mornings and nights I still question my sanity but yeah, I went for a sanctuary and it has given and still gives me immense enjoyment.

Jake has sheep, cattle, pigs, goats, hens and alpacas, as well as many smaller animals but has no farming background. On leaving school he trained as an electrician and set up his own business twelve years ago. Today he works mainly within the textile world installing and maintaining machinery. Such has been his success that he employs a team of fourteen, but it was a stray cat at one of the mills that was to be the catalyst for the idea of running an animal sanctuary.

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“Millington was outside one of the factories I was working. I noticed he had a big hole in his neck. I took him to the vets and helped him back to good health. He became known as Mill Cat, then we named him Millington.

Jake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animals at Millington's Magical Barn,  Low Farm Low Road Thornhill, DewsburyJake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animals at Millington's Magical Barn,  Low Farm Low Road Thornhill, Dewsbury
Jake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animals at Millington's Magical Barn, Low Farm Low Road Thornhill, Dewsbury

“I’d had my first cat when I’d moved out from my parents’ and began realising how much I loved animals. I then started fostering cats through Cats Protection and then followed sanctuaries on Instagram. I said to my mates that I’d love to work more with animals and when this farm came up, not far from where I live, it gave me the opportunity to set up my own sanctaury.

Jake said it was a familiar farmyard aroma that sealed the deal when he made his first visit to view the seven-acre farm, farmhouse and outbuildings, but that all was not quite as ideal as it had first looked when he began bringing animals on the farm.

“I’d only ever been on a farm once before, on a school trip, but I’d seen sheep and horses in the fields here when I was younger. When I came to have a walk around with Savile Estates who own the farm it brought back to me how much I love the smell of manure.

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“I was massively impressed by what I saw. All the fences looked good. It wasn’t until I took on some rescued goats that I realised everything wasn’t quite fine. My animals were escaping four or five times a day and so we began the renovation project.

Jake Ratcliffe pictured with the animalsJake Ratcliffe pictured with the animals
Jake Ratcliffe pictured with the animals

“We have renovated the farm from top to bottom. We have installed stables; we’ve put water and electric in the fields, we’ve built walkways. I’ve put in the best part of my life savings. A lot of people question why I’d do that for a leased property, but in my eyes it is a case of what is the point in having a property that doesn’t meet your needs.

Millington’s Magical Barn now has chickens, sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, alpacas, donkeys, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, ducks, geese, roosters and more besides.

Jake said he knew very little about any of the animals he would be taking on when he first started and that his partner Rosie, whom he met through having started the sanctuary, has helped him enormously.

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“Everything I’ve learned has been from studying books, YouTube tutorials and advice from our local vet who has been massively helpful. Rosie is a veterinary nurse and so a lot of minor animal problems that would have been outside of my capabilities are things that Rosie can look after and mean we don’t necessarily require a vet at every touch and turn.

Jake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animalsJake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animals
Jake Ratcliffe with partner Rosie Thompson pictured with the animals

“Rosie is from a small animal veterinary background. We never had guinea pigs here before Rosie got here and we’ve since expanded. This means we are now able to rehome more of our animals. If we can help get more small animals into new, caring homes it means there is more small animal space at the sanctuary and we can help even more animals.

“Rosie took up one of the spare rooms in the farmhouse and built an animal hospital where we’ve nursed hedgehogs and many other small animals back to good health.

Farm animals still make up a reasonable amount of the animals at Millington’s Magical Barn.

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“We have 11 sheep, three are Black Ryelands, including former show sheep Pumpkin and Pebble; and a couple of Texels, with the rest being crossbreeds. One Ryeland is a retired ram. We have two rams called Mr Tup and Barney.

“We say that we have five cattle going on six, because Chester one of our sheep thinks he’s a cow. He eats, sleeps and plays with the cows.

“Eddie, Rusty and Frank were rescued together by a Hindu group in Birmingham having been found malnourished. We were contacted by the group and were asked if they raised the money to buy from the farmer would we take them on. Two are Herefords and we have one Simmental plus Albert & Ernie, bull calves born through dairy herds.

Jake runs Millington’s Magical Barn as a not-for-profit animal sanctuary. So how does he make it work?

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“I always believe that whether it is an electrical company or an animal sanctuary to create a successful and sustainable entity you’ve got to do four or five years of hard yards. It is important that, like a baby, it is cared for and then gets to stage where it doesn’t need my support.

“Our costs are the tenancy agreement, anything we have to do around the farm, feed for the animals and vet bills. We are not currently registered as a charity but we are trying.

“Hopefully next year we will achieve that status, but currently we have monthly subscribers who receive regular updates about developments, photos and a free tour around the sanctuary. That all helps with about 50-60 per cent of outgoings and there are occasional donations. In summer we offer tours around the sanctuary and once a year we have a big fund raiser. Last year one of our 18 volunteers ran 31 marathons in 31 days. In 2023 myself and Josh, a volunteer, are going to try and run 200 miles in 48 hours from a sanctuary in Glasgow to Dewsbury.

Jake and Rosie are both vegan. Jake said they are not trying to force anything on others.

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“We like people to make their own minds up about things. We just want animals to have a good, healthy life without having to be part of a food chain. Get in touch and arrange a visit. You might even want to become part of us.