DOWN ON THE FARM…
As farmers are diversifying, the lambing season has become a memorable educational experience for youngsters across the region
Surrounded by beautiful countryside, we tend to take the sight of new-born lambs in the fields for granted. But behind the scenes, it’s a busy time down on farms all over the Ribble Valley.
For many farmers, lambing has presented an opportunity for them to diversify. The price of milk has meant that many dairy farmers, can no longer operate by relying on their dairy herds. As a result they have opened up their farms to visitors so people can see exactly what farming entails.
By developing dedicated visitor and educational centres, farmers have also paved the way for schools to gain a unique insight into not just lambing, but other aspects of farming.
Mrs Dowsons Farm in the Ribble Valley is one example of multiple diversification – it is home to Mrs Dowsons ice cream and more recently it has hosted Lambing Live, a diversification programme that has seen thousands of visitors to the open farm.
Originally a dairy farm, Mrs Dowsons now has its own flock of sheep as well as bringing in extra ewes each year for the Lambing Live event, which was inspired by TV programmes such as Countryfile.
“We had to diversify so we looked at various ways in which we could do this,” says Amanda Dowson, who has also overseen the development of the award-winning Scare Kingdom at the farm.
“Because farming is seasonal, we had to look at things that would take us through the year and Lambing Live is just one of a number of diversification projects that we have developed.”
The 460-acre farm, which has a 180-strong milking herd, began back in 1954 with just 12 cows.
“Diversification has been a necessity,” adds Amanda, who first opened a visitor centre at the farm nine years ago. Lambing Live began four years ago and has seen hundreds of youngsters visiting to learn about lambing, bottle-feed lambs and watch lambs being born.
From mid-March onwards Mrs Dowsons will see schools and families bring children to the visitor centre, where they not only learn about the animals but also real working life down on the farm.
“It’s all about fact-finding. The Lambing Live ethos is very much education based and the reason it has become so popular is that the youngsters can get up close to the animals in a very safe environment,” explains Amanda.
At the visitor centre youngsters are able to watch videos of the farm animals, feel fleeces and learn about the lambing season. They are then invited to explore the park and working farm.
“Learning is very much about the senses, seeing the animals and touching them. They can sometimes even see a lamb being born. When that happens, we explain what is happening throughout. As much time and planning as we put in, all the hard work is done by our ewes!
“We really impress upon our visitors that life on the farm can be quite unpredictable. You often don’t know what is going to happen on any given day, and that’s what we love about it.”
“Children really remember facts when they can see and touch what they are learning about,” adds Amanda, who has developed a rigorous health and safety programme around the visitor centre project.
“Health and safety is paramount for us. We have developed a one-way system around the farm, there are footbath facilities and signage reminding visitors to always wash their hands. We have additional temperature-controlled hand washing facilities that make hand washing fun for children too.”
When Lambing Live begins specially trained tour guides take visitors around the farm: “They can stroke and bottle feed the lambs throughout the season and to see the looks on the children’s faces is wonderful!”