Chickens are often seen as a good starter farmyard animal. A plastic coop can cost several hundred pounds, but they are durable and easy to clean. Chickens themselves cost around £15 each. (Many schools like the idea of housing former factory hens, but these tend to have health problems.) A sack of chicken feed is around £8 for 20kg, and will last for months. Once hens start laying eggs, they can cover their own costs.
The biggest outlay when keeping sheep is often the fencing. But schools tend to have excellent fences, anyway. Orphan lambs can be bought for around £10. Sheep do not need a shelter, though they do need space in which to graze. In summer, they will eat grass; in winter, feed costs around £8 a month. Worming and vaccinations will cost £40-£50 a year. Some farmers will charge to shear sheep, though others may offer to do it for free.
Often, animal associations are keen to encourage people to keep rare breeds. In many cases, they, therefore, provide animals and advice free of charge, and may contribute towards housing costs and vets’ bills.
Read up about keeping animals, and try to spend time with someone who already knows about animal husbandry. A lot of vets’ bills can be avoided simply by having an experienced contact whom you can ask, “What do I do if one of my chickens is looking a bit ropey?” Often the person you buy your animals from will offer this service.
Planning is everything. Are farming costs going to come out of the school budget? Who will take care of the animals over weekends and school holidays? If a farm is well-planned in advance, the execution can be relatively easy.
Advice from Keeley Thomas, Donna Ashlee and Hayley Simpkin. For more on keeping animals in schools, go to schoolfarms.org.uk