Vet and former rugby player set up a home for very special animals

It’s an animal sanctuary with some very special residents – including what could soon be the world’s first bionic sheep!

By Martin Shaw
Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 4:00 pm
Jake Ratcliffe with calves Ernie, left, Albert, right, and lamb Chester at Millington's Magical Barn, Thornhill.
Jake Ratcliffe with calves Ernie, left, Albert, right, and lamb Chester at Millington's Magical Barn, Thornhill.

Star, the three-legged lamb, was born a year ago with a deformed leg and has now been found a new home at Millington’s Magical Barn, a little-known animal sanctuary in Thornhill.

The hop-a-long lamb had to leave the Yorkshire Dales farm where she was born and moved to a forever home at the sanctuary run by big-hearted former rugby player Jake Ratcliffe and his partner Rosie Thompson, a veterinary nurse.

Star is now under the care of TV vet Matt Smith, of Huddersfield-based Donaldson’s, and her journey is being filmed as part of the popular Channel 5 series The Yorkshire Vet.

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Jake bottle-feeding a calf

Jake, 30, said: “Star was born with no hoof and hock, just a stump. On the farm she started to get left behind by her mother.

“Fortunately, her disability has saved her life and the farmer’s wife asked us to take her. The limb had degraded and a decision was taken to amputate below the hock and now, finally, Star is back out in the field.”

But that’s only the beginning of the story. Last week a cast was taken of Star’s stump and a mould has been sent to a company called Bionic Pets in Virginia, USA, which specialises in making prosthetics for animals.

“This has been done in America for goats but no-one has heard of it happening in the UK for sheep,” said Jake. “This is possibly the first one, and it’s all being filmed for The Yorkshire Vet.

Star the three-legged sheep

“Hopefully Star will be walking on four legs again in two or three months. She could be a little record-breaker.”

Star already has a friend at the sanctuary in Sunshine, a sheep that’s both blind and deaf. Jake lovingly refers to them as the “special needs sheep”.

The sanctuary is named after Millington, a stray cat Jake took in when he worked at a mill in Ravensthorpe. He found the scruffy stray with “a hole in its neck” and paid for veterinary treatment.

He named the cat Mill Cat at first but as the duo became close pals Jake gave him a proper name – Millington.

Millington's Magical Barn is based in Thornhill

Millington died a “happy old man” and when Jake achieved his ambition of opening an animal sanctuary in 2018 he named the place after the first animal he rescued.

Since then Millington’s Magical Barn has grown and is now home to around 60 animals.

One drunken night after a friend’s 30th birthday Jake agreed to take on a piglet. He recalled: “I woke up in the morning and instead of a stinking hangover I had taken on a stinking pig!”

Now Truffles, as the pig was named, is part of the Millington’s family. There’s another pig, too. Bobby had been abandoned on the M62 and had to be rescued by the police – hence the name Bobby.

Chester the lamb, meanwhile, is another lucky resident. His owner was going to have him put down if Jake didn’t take him in.

It was touch and go for a while and Chester had to sleep in a dog bed in the bedroom next to Jake and Rosie.

“That sounds like a dream for most people until you are woken at 3am not by the sound of a crying baby but a lamb going ‘baaa!’”

Chester is one of the sanctuary’s three orphan boys – the other two are calves Ernie and Albert, who were rescued at just a day old. They had to be bottle-fed and are now around 10 weeks old and doing well.

Other animals in Jake’s care include alpacas, donkeys, goats and hens.

So far Jake, who runs an electrical engineering business, has funded the sanctuary mainly out of his own pocket but his aim is to make it a self-supporting charity.

Plans to open for private visits from May last year were scuppered by the pandemic and a sponsored run last July helped cover costs and raise funds to rescue 20 battery hens.

It costs around £25,000 a year to run the sanctuary. Jake and a friend, Nathan Kemp, hope to raise £12,000 with a 24-hour continuous run from Newcastle to Thornhill, some 104 miles.

The run, called Round the Flock, takes place on Friday, May 21 and will pay for more animal housing including a small mammal hospital. To donate, go to