Written by Beth Nicholson,
27th September 2022

Some people looking to start their new life in France, arrive as retirees. Perhaps searching for a change of lifestyle and to live out their golden years in a peace. But others still have to work. And sometimes, despite best-laid plans, life can start to take you in completely different directions than you originally envisaged.

When Cheryl McAssey first moved to France with her family in 2020, the original intention was to buy a small holding. A place to live and enjoy a different way of life in the rural countryside. She wanted to live more sustainably in France, and teach her young children about the value of nature.

Having previously lived in the Netherlands, the McAssey family were well versed in moving to different countries. As well as integrating into new communities. But she couldn’t have predicted how much their original plans and lives would evolve over time, into what is now their daily lives.

This unstoppable force of nature has not stopped Cheryl planning and creating since. And more importantly “doing” rather than talking. Transforming their new life in France into a proper family affair, because they need all the hands on board that they can get!

Cheryl McAssey and others outside her shop Antique Rose Interiors

Original Plans

As an interior stylist, alongside buying a small-holding, she envisaged relocating her existing business here as a stockist for Annie Sloan chalk paint™. The first phase of the plan was to open her shop. Being a stockist fo upcycled furniture, Cheryl visits brocantes and vide greniers and uses the products she sells and promotes to illustrate giving a new lease of life to unwanted or outdated furniture. These items she sells in her shop “Antique Rose”, alongside home décor and local artisan giftware products locally produced within the region.

Bringing her family, of course meant bringing her existing menagerie of horses, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. And she wanted to add to this, two pot-bellied pigs – a life dream. She saw the family’s future as truly living the good life in France. And being an animal lover, was happily looking forward to getting stuck in.

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One of Cheryl’s pot-bellied piglets

Animal Rescue

However, all this changed on joining groups online to search for those pigs. Becoming deeply aware and touched by the number of sanctuaries pleading for help within her local area. And the association pages looking for help with animals in need of rescue and rehoming.

After finding her pigs, she felt obliged to take action. Quickly becoming a go to person to ask for help with rehoming animal after animal. A staunch animal lover, as well as having the land to accommodate them, finding it increasingly hard to say no, this quickly escalated. And her husband swiftly found himself (when coming back for supposed relaxing “breaks” whilst working away) with a never ending list of animal shelters to knock up in quick succession.

And so their life in France forced them to learn new skills, becoming overnight experts in fencing and building. The family menagerie quickly grew from 8 to around 45 (not counting the numerous hens, ducks and family dogs). Pigs, goats, donkeys, horses, sheep. The cries for help coming thick and fast. Only limited by the laws and regulations of France, dictating a maximum count that thereafter, she will need to register with the farming association.

Two donkeys Cheryl saved

Evolution of plans

Touched by the plight of each animal, her mission rapidly became to spread awareness of animal abandonment and rescue as part of her new life in France. And of course, worries of financing her ability to provide a safe haven for them set in. The answer came in the form of creating a place for people to visit with family and friends, educating them about the subject. And when people come, they need to be fed and watered too.

This sparked the idea of offering authentic afternoon English cream teas from a fully licenced bar and bistro, also providing pizzas, paninis. And thus, Stoney Oak Family Farm was officially rebranded and launched in June. A place where people come to socialise, experiencing a magnificently deluxe authentic cream tea and subsequently tour the farm. Stoney Oak Faily Farm is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 12 – 6pm by reservation, and has been fully booked since opening.

After tea, people are encouraged to see the animals and learn about their care needs, what they eat and to spread awareness of what is involved in the upkeep of those animals. All proceeds made from associated ventures, return directly back towards the animals upkeep, feed and healthcare. And for anyone looking to relocate to France, gives a real insight into what their new life in France could become, should they so wish.

The community came to help Cheryl

Local community support

Finances for a project like this are of course, important and concerning. The cost of upkeep, shelter construction, fencing, vet bills and farriers is by no means negligible.

Local people donate fallen fruit, which the family can collect if it delivery is not possible. Deals are made with local bakeries, buying stale bread products for the animals. Yet it’s no small feat to provide 100 kilos of cereal, 600 kilos of hay and 250 kg straw for bedding, on a weekly basis for the farms residents.

Through spreading awareness and promoting the farm, a cooperative of sorts amongst local people and businesses with a shared interest has been created. The farm sells eggs produced on site to local businesses and restaurants. In the shop, artisanal products including ale, and the local speciality “Pineau” of other local suppliers are showcased and promoted. And of course, new connections, friends and support networks are constantly being created.

Local interest has been not only supportive, but practical. In the winter months, the donkeys will go to a local chateau in order to graze there. Whilst being provided new areas of grazing, they will in return render a service of clearing the grounds in a natural way rather than having to use machinery. And this highlights one of the other joys of life in France, people readily looking to exchange services and goods for mutual benefit.

Animals on the farm

Future plans

Immediate plans involve registering the farm as an association. This will enable them to seek invaluable government and community funding. It will also allow the site to hold charity events of other businesses, in order to raise funds to help with the financial burden of the animals and their upkeep.

Cheryl also plans to start upcycling workshops, teaching people how to upcycle their own furniture using the products she sells. Something that the local community has been vocal about requesting.

She is also looking to host other events at the farm, generating revenue by serving food and drink from her bar/bistro. This will not only allow her to feed  money back into the farm, but will continue her mission of spreading awareness of the importance of animal rescue and educating visitors through real life visuals. And will of course, continue to expand her connections within the area.

Challenges on the way

The main concern of course of this new life in France, is the financial side. Planning doesn’t stop. Money simply cannot run out. In

addition, all the animals must have meticulously kept records for tracking purposes, as required by French law. So it’s not all practical work, a lot of it is administrative.

Each new project invariably requires a permit or new administrative task. Whether that be applying for planning permission, licences or maintaining accurate records of all activities and animals. Quite apart from the day to day activities involved in the business as a whole.

A tasty looking sandwich that you can buy on the farm

What would you change?

When asked what she would change, the incredibly driven woman in front of me breaks into the biggest smile and starts to laugh.

“Absolutely nothing. No regrets at all! I love my life in France.”

“We simply aspire to do more and more” she continues, “do more, help more, be bigger, and become better. Whilst I was expecting to wear wellies in my new life in France, I didn’t predict wearing wellies and a pinny at the same time”.

Stoney Oak Family Farm is located at Bel Air, 16190, Poullignac, France and can be contacted on 06 07 43 19 70. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

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