Adam Henson: The lamb’s tale
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:10 21 March 2016
On our special evenings at the Farm Park, we’ll be telling visitors how to spot a ewe in labour and giving them a chance to try a lambing simulator
The depths of winter are fresh in the memory and the New Year seems to have barely begun, so I can hardly believe that we’re already opening the gates of the Farm Park once more. Visitors milling around the animal enclosures and coming face to face with our wonderful rare breed livestock always creates a welcome buzz.
We were closed for just a matter of weeks during the coldest, darkest time of the year but that mid-winter break also gave us the chance to repair, repaint and refresh the animal pens, fencing, buildings and barns as well as carry out the important annual maintenance. This is our 45th season open to the public and looking back over the decades makes me realise just how much has changed since that first summer back in the early 1970s.
The Cotswold Farm Park was Dad’s great innovation and a truly ground-breaking idea; it was the first attraction of its type anywhere and the model for hundreds of similar farm parks all over the world. Back then a visit here was mostly an all-outdoors affair with simple refreshments available from a caravan. It was exactly what people hoped for in a day out. But as time has gone on, tourist expectations have changed so we’ve adapted to keep pace; all-weather attractions, a changing programme of events, hands-on demonstrations, a well-stocked gift shop and a restaurant where good food is cooked well. They are all things that we take for granted these days and they’re a given for anyone running a visitor venue.
Actually there is one more thing that tourism attractions have to get right - clean, modern toilets. Believe me, if the loos aren’t spick and span then you can ruin someone’s day out. Just take a look at Trip Advisor and you’ll see what I mean! So while the spirit of 1971 lives on at the Farm Park, the surroundings are almost unrecognisable from the early days.
The first highlight of the season is lambing; it’s one of my favourite times of the year. I must have seen thousands of ewes give birth but each one is special and there’s not much that beats seeing a new, little life coming in to the world. We have a large flock of commercial sheep which are reared for the table but we also have our popular rare and native breeds, such as Portlands, Kerry Hills and the long-wooled Cotswold. So the coming weeks will see a few sleepless nights for all of us.
I always knew that the sight of new born lambs taking their first stumbling steps or gambolling among the daffodils was an appealing picture for millions of people. But it wasn’t until I appeared on the BBC’s Lambing Live series that I realised just how fascinated the public are in all aspects of the topic. Kate Humble and I would get hundreds of emails from viewers wanting to know everything from the biology of tupping to the gynaecological details of the birth. It really did take us all by surprise and explains why we ended up making three series of the programme. The show’s success made me realise that there is an appetite for a more detailed, but still entertaining, way of telling the story of lambing here on the farm. So towards the end of March we’re giving over two evenings for a special pre-booked event in the lambing shed, or the ‘maternity unit’ if you prefer.
One of my jobs will be to explain how to spot a ewe in labour and for the really inquisitive there will be a lambing simulator as well as a chance to help with the night feed of our new arrivals. It’s a novel way to start the new season and I’m already preparing myself for more unusual and unexpected questions!
Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamHenson