Last month, our school welcomed two new members, who were joining us very late in the school year: two pygmy goats and a tortoise.
Their arrival had been eagerly anticipated by children, staff, parents and governors because it signified the fruition of some exciting plans that we had been waiting well over a year to realise: the official opening of our farm school.
Getting our farm started has been no small task, but we have finally succeeded in pulling it all together to create a unique resource for pupils to enjoy.
The animals have a large expanse of our school playing field in which to roam freely during the day, as well as a pond area. Despite being slightly nervous when they first arrived, the new goats and tortoise have now settled in. They are in good company; chickens, ducks, bantams (a miniature breed of chicken) and other tortoises are already well-established.
And we are not finished yet. Our next steps for the farm school include introducing a rabbit to the mix and starting to produce our own fruit and vegetables in our planter area.
All of our children, from our pre-school up to Year 6, love visiting the farm school and tending to the animals’ different needs. As well as giving children practical skills and an important sense of responsibility, it also imbues our pupils with a real sense of wonder and enthusiasm about nature and the outside world. We hope that this stays with them long after they have left us.
Farm school tips
So, how did we do it? And how can your school do the same?
When we first embarked on the project, we found the book The Smallholder’s Handbook: Keeping and caring for poultry and livestock on a small scale by Suzie Baldwin hugely helpful. On many an evening, members of senior leadership could be found poring over the book, deciding which animals would suit our children and were fairly low-maintenance.
Beyond picking up some similar farm-based reading, here are our top tips for setting up a farm school are:
1. Check your staffing
Before you start on your journey towards a farm school, ensure that you have the staff capacity to take good care of the animals, taking school holidays into account. We are lucky enough to have a holiday club onsite who love looking after the animals, which helps immensely.
2. Make your farm secure
Fencing will be your largest outlay of cost. Your fencing needs to be secure and strong, if you want to avoid running around the school grounds after pygmy goats and fishing hens out classrooms.
3. Seek sponsorship
We approached local companies for sponsorship and a few loved the idea of a farm school so much that they offered to buy us the goat house and duck run.
4. Brush up on regulations
Make sure you follow DEFRA guidelines for your animals. Cloven-hoofed animals need to be registered, and your land needs to be registered, and the current bird flu outbreak means extra measures are in place.
5. Make sure staff benefit too
Most importantly – enjoy it! There is nothing more marvellous than a quiet early summer’s morning, opening up all the animals’ enclosures and watching them stretch and interact with each other, whilst frolicking in the long grass. The benefits are not just for the children.
Roxy Ashworth is headteacher and Tom Bint is assistant headteacher at St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Hampshire