Mrs McQ and I finally plucked up the courage to start an agri-tourism enterprise a year ago.
Starting up a completely new farm attraction is the same as what I imagine it is like learning to fly a helicopter – without the benefit of a flying instructor.
You just have to rev up your engine and then tentatively push the joystick in any direction and wait to see what happens. Once you’re making a lot of noise and flapping about, if you don’t take off then you need to push the stick in a different direction.
A year down the road it would be misleading to suggest that our wee business has taken off like a rocket, but it is fair to say that we’re off the ground and gaining momentum.
The attraction on which we’ve based our enterprise is taking visitors out onto the hill to see our fold of Highland “coos” and then treating them to Mrs McQ’s baking back at the farm.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the effect that talking about cow poo has on unruly children. Otherwise feral youngsters immediately become transfixed when you start to talk about the ideal shape, texture and moisture content of the perfect cowpat
As everyone is playing to their strengths in our business, I tell our visitors all about cow poo and the important part it plays in enhancing a diverse ecosystem out on our hill.
Making an art form out of talking bullsh*t is something that many people have complemented me on over the years, so it would appear that I’m now fulfilling my true vocation in life.
Interestingly, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the effect that talking about cow poo has on unruly children. Otherwise feral youngsters immediately become transfixed when you start to talk about the importance of the ideal shape, texture and moisture content of the perfect cowpat.
Since we officially launched our business last September, we’ve had a steady stream of visitors to the farm. That first group who arrived in our yard will never know just how terrified we were that day.
It’s not that we don’t have experience of meeting and greeting visitors. Over the years we have welcomed scores of people who have come to see our livestock with a view to possibly buying something.
Sometimes they would buy and sometimes they didn’t, but everyone always left on good terms at the end of the day.
This was different. These people had already paid for a farm experience that we had sold to them through our website and we would now have to deliver.
Juggling the agri-tourism business
Five months later, with a good few “excellent” TripAdvisor and Facebook recommendations under our belt, we’re growing more confident by the day that we can make agri-tourism work on our farm.
Taking bookings through the cold and wet winter months has also been a pleasant surprise.
We’re also greatly encouraged that many of the local accommodation providers are starting to promote our farm attraction as something to do while visitors are in our area.
The downside of all this is that our new business is taking up more of our time than we had anticipated.
We’re currently having to make some difficult decisions about how we manage our time to ensure that our main business of breeding pedigree sheep doesn’t suffer.
Regrettably, while writing this column in Farmers Weekly over the past eight years has been an absolute pleasure and privilege, it does take up quite a bit of my time. So, it’s with a heavy heart that we have to say goodbye.