2004' top farm attractions show how it should be done - Farmers Weekly

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2004′ top farm attractions show how it should be done

WHETHER IT is location, attention to detail or the enthusiasm of the owners you take as your criterion, Broomey Croft Farm at Kingsbury near Birmingham ticks all the right boxes. It”s just 10 miles from the city centre and five minutes from the M42. Once there, you hardly have to step through the gates to see how lovingly looked after the whole place is and how keen-as-mustard its owners are.

SMALL BEGINNINGS

Like most such attractions, though, it started from small beginnings. September 1997 saw Val Edgcombe and her husband Andy move from Buckinghamshire to buy a 4ha (13-acre) failed rare breeds farm in the middle of a 240ha (600-acre) council-run country park. He was from a farming family while she was what she calls a “frustrated farmer”.

“We didn”t really start with enough in the way of facilities,” says Val. “We shared a toilet with the neighbouring water park, had a garden shed as an entrance building and catering consisted of crisps and sandwiches. We brought some donkeys, ponies and Golden Guernsey goats with us, then bought some pygmy goats and six commercial sheep. Rabbits and guinea pigs came from the local rescue centre.”

Visitor numbers built up steadily over the next three years, but then foot and mouth closed the attraction from February to July 2001. The six-month loss of income almost bankrupted the business, but it did bring a couple of useful benefits, says Val. One was to force them to look very closely at all costs and learn to trim any excess fat from the business. The other was to give Val a chance to hone her skills at grant-getting.

The farm received 15,000 from the F&M recovery fund, but only after Val had made a nuisance of herself by tireless lobbying of the grant-giving bodies. And she has since managed to get good grants from the Rural Enterprise Scheme and Landfill Tax Credits scheme.

GROWN STEADILY

Animal numbers and play facilities have grown steadily over the years. This is not a big farm attraction compared with many around the UK. The farm had 18,700 visitors last year and the teashop (which can be accessed separately from the farm) had a similar number again.

But, as the competition judges remarked, it is a well-maintained and well-run attraction. Tidiness is a bit of an obsession with Andy, admits Val, and the fact they are on site every day helps them keep everything spick and span. The animals all look glowingly clean and healthy, added the judges, and safety and hygiene are obviously taken very seriously.

About a third of the visitors are children on school trips and Val is keen to bang the drum for British food and farming. Broomey Croft breeds all its own replacement stock, with the surplus used to produce roast lamb, pork baps, sausages and bacon rolls that are enthusiastically devoured by customers in the tea-room.

2004′ top farm attractions show how it should be done

IF YOU are wondering what farming was like in the late Victorian era, then this is the place for you. For while many farm parks will have odd items of machinery about the place that date from anywhere in the past couple of centuries, Cogges Manor near Witney, Oxon, concentrates on a relatively precise period – the Victorian farming heyday that existed between 1890 and 1901.

It is also scrupulous in trying to make sure that everything it uses – buildings, machinery, livestock and staff dress code – is as near to how it would have been 120 years ago as modern rules and regulations allow.

It has had 30 years to perfect things, too, starting life in 1969 when Oxfordshire County Council took over a run-down farm to establish a museum of rural life. Some of the original buildings date back to the 12th century and one has the unusual bundle thatch once used in this area. But the founders still had to “unmodernise” some aspects to make things authentic. Water supplies were removed (other than from toilets and washbasins), as were electricity and other modern conveniences.

LIVESTOCK CHOICE

Livestock choice is based on what would have been common in Victorian times. Gloucester Old spot and Tamworth pigs occupy the stone pens, a single dairy cow (hand-milked, of course) provides milk for butter-making, Oxford Down and long-fleeced Cotswold Lion sheep graze the surrounding grass, a small herd of beef shorthorn cattle is being established and a Clydesdale mare, working pony and donkey and all manner of poultry complete the line-up.

Much of the success of Cogges Manor, says manager Clare Pope, comes from its working demonstrations, which appeal to those who want to experience the same sights, smells and sounds as our forebears. Local schoolchildren come to savour Victorian-style classroom lessons, while adults can see clothes being washed in coppers over an open fire, bread being baked and butter being hand-churned.

HAND-SHEARING

In May the museum holds demonstrations of hand-shearing and then in summer moves out to a local farm to cut and bind the wheat and pitchfork it on to the trailer. Then in September there is a steam threshing weekend. Staff wear original Victorian rural clothes at all times.

This focused, but hands-on formula works well, says Clare, and visitor numbers are now close to 30,000 a year despite a relatively small marketing budget. Reconciling the needs of a farm-based attraction and a museum is always a balancing act, she admits, but the result plainly works well.

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