Have you fed a lamb?
There are so many ways to enjoy springtime with children – noticing the flowers, enjoying being outside without gloves, eating the first season goodies such as ransoms (wild garlic) and nettle tips. This post is by Nicola, and contains some of the ideas in her new book (out 1 July) about raising children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way, Homemade Kids.
If you’ve got a farm shop nearby you may be able to get your children actively involved in the agrarian renaissance around the UK. Although farmers’ markets are great, and some farm shops have rebranded themselves as upmarket delis, like Pearce’s on the A120 in Herts – where Nell, 9, enjoyed helping me carry away a sack of tatties and a nice box of well-laid eggs – the best of the revamped farm centres offer shopping for real food and insights into making farming less mysterious, whatever your age.
My favourite farm visit offers the whole farm experience – livestock, products, info, courses, walks, did you know moments (eg, Which rural farms run car pools? Differences between old spot v tamworth pigs etc) and around springtime the chance to pet a lamb or admire fluffy chicks. My family has access to various city farms in London, but there’s some great rural visitor-centred farms around now.
At the brilliant Church Farm in Ardeley, not too far from Stevenage, Herts – open from 6am-6pm weekdays and 8am-8pm weekends (with shop, cafe etc) they run feed the lamb sessions. This costs £4.50 for a child and supervising adult, a heck of a lot given how much a lamb is actually worth. However for those of us who live in towns or with no farm friends/relations (and some cash) it makes sense to let our little children sit in a cosy straw bale-lined stable and meet – maybe even name – this season’s cade lambs.
At Church Farm Lola, 11, was the oldest child in the group patting the motherless Lleyn, four-day old boy lamb. We learnt to scratch him near the hip (just like mum) and how to hold him steadily in our arms. Of course he has to have a bottle but even the toddlers quickly learnt to tip his bottle up fully so he could drink without airlocks.
Besides doing a bit of planting (onions and potatoes) at home and other spring chores we’ve also been watching videos (from the library) of The Victorian Farm. This is a seasonal year of BBC re-enactment by three Victorian enthusiasts on a 5-acre homestead in Shropshire (the link takes you to the female presenter, Ruth). At episode three we finally got to the lambing and after a couple of rewinds I think we could probably have a go lambing now. You feel with your fingertips if the lambing ewe’s lamb is in trouble and then help by pulling it out. Exactly the sort of job my partner Pete had to do when growing up on a cattle farm which put him off farming for life…
My brother – now based in Hertfordshire – says one of his life’s dreams is to fatten his own lambs so perhaps it won’t be long before he’s got some real shepherd expertise, although as us sofa watching/farm shop enthusiasts suspect he’s got a lot of fencing to do before any sheep could be put out in his fields.
Are there any farms near you where you can watch, pet or learn more about lambs, piglets, chicks etc? Do share, thanks. Nicola