Getting close to the animals – open day at Miller’s Ark

It was the second day of our holiday and I had been planning this particular adventure for the last couple of weeks. One of our friends mentioned that there is a local farm that does adult-only open days. It does ones for the whole family too, but every 4 to 6 weeks there’s one just for the adults, which appealed to me because then you don’t have to negotiate herds of small squealing people if you want to see the animals! So into the diary it went!

I checked out the Miller’s Ark Facebook page and was excited to read that they had a donkey foal who was just over a week old. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get close to her, but as it happened we could go in with her and her mum and stroke her soft woolly coat!

The weather wasn’t great, but most of the pens were indoors anyway. The donkeys weren’t fond of the rain though, so some of them huddled inside.

Lunch

We arrived around lunchtime, so went to get a snack first. There is a café on site with a range of burgers, hot food and drinks. You can bring your own lunch and eat it in the picnic area, or you can buy food and eat it in the tea room, where you can also read about the farm’s history.

The food was fine – the only problem for me was the very friendly cat, whom we had to send away a couple of times because I have a cat allergy! I’m so glad it doesn’t include all the other animals – it’s just cats!

Goats and sheep

The first animals we met were some goats and sheep that were in the same pen. We had picked up some food when we paid our entrance fees, and the goats in particular were very happy about this. They came right up to the fence, balancing on their back legs with their front legs on the bars so that they could see over and get closer to the food.

I put some food on my hand and held it out to them. A couple of times I had two little goat faces feeding from the same hand, as if they were kissing. So much goat cuteness!

There was a little one who kept getting pushed out of the way, but S distracted the bigger goats with some food, while I held some more down for the little one. He hadn’t learned to gobble the food down yet, and was much more sedate about taking it gently and chewing slowly till it was all gone.

All around the farm there were volunteers with the animals who told you more about them and answered your questions. There was another pen with goats that you could go in, so I met a few more close up, including Jeanie, the frisky goat who escaped out of the pen and had to be brought back. I had to hide my hair under my coat because some of the goats thought it was food. No, my hair is not hay!

Two of the smaller goats were lying side by side on a children’s slide – so cute!

When we were talking to the donkeys, there was a weird sound. It was a bit like a dog growling, but I didn’t think it was a dog. S went to check it out and found that it was a sheep, but I’ve never heard a sheep bleat like that before. He sounded a bit annoyed, but I think that was just his normal voice. Maybe he had been bleating at the visitors all morning and made himself a bit hoarse!

Donkeys

I think my absolute favourite of all the animals had to be the donkeys! We visited 3 enclosures and spent the most time in one with mums and foals. It was so relaxing just hanging out with them, grooming them, stroking them, and learning about their stories, likes, quirks, and donkey life in general.

Spice was making her way through a hay bale and she was really chilled out – so I spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. There were various brushes around in the enclosure and the donkeys were happy to let you groom them.

The two younger lads were up for mischief, trying to get each other to play and having to be told to calm down!

The donkeys were different sizes, but they were all miniature donkeys. They were friendly and inquisitive, and seemed perfectly happy to have visitors in their enclosure, although due to the fact that the little ones were there, there could only be a certain number of people in at a time. While we were waiting, I reached over and some of the donkeys came for pats.

I’d already read about Lavender, the foal who was just over a week old. I thought we would maybe get to see her from afar, but we were actually able to go in with her and her mum. She still had that woolly foal fur, and after a meeting with a 3-day-old horse many years ago, I was surprised how steady she was on her little legs. Her mum showed no signs of worry that we were in there. In fact her biggest concern seemed to be that she was missing out on the fuss herself!

Pigs

It said on the website that some of the pigs like their tummies being tickled, but the one I found was more interested in snuffling around all over the floor of his enclosure and munching. Still, he was happy to be stroked and I felt his little piggy ears! They had wiry coats, a bit like a terrier, and I hadn’t realised just how sociable they can be.

The volunteer who was in with the pigs was talking about her own pigs and how they like company. They come to sit with her when she drinks her coffee outside and liked to know what was going on!

Golden retriever

When S spotted the golden retriever, he knew stroking him would make my day! This is my favourite breed of dog, and Dudley was more than happy to get some fuss. He started by sitting there having his ears rubbed, then rolled over for tummy tickles! Goldies are the best!

Birds and small animals

I didn’t hold any of the birds or guinea pigs, but you could visit them as well. There were also chickens and ducks wandering around. It went from drizzling to raining quite heavily throughout the day, and the ducks definitely weren’t a fan of the umbrella going up!

Overall impressions and future events

I really enjoyed our visit to the farm and will be sure to go again.

The animals were well cared for. The volunteers and staff clearly cared about them and were able to answer questions about the individual animals, their life on the farm, their behaviour, what they ate, and to tell stories of their antics.

I liked the idea of an adult only open day because it was so chilled out in a way that it never is if there are lots of children around and I generally try to avoid really noisy events. If you have children though, there are open days that everyone can join in and learn about the animals. Under 2s go free.

There are also some special events coming up during the Christmas period such as carrols in the barn and living nativities. You can also book children’s parties at the venue, or the animals can travel to events such as fairs, schools, or private functions. I got the impression that this was to help educate people about the animals and give them the chance to meet them. I never got the impression that they were being used as an attraction, so anyone who is thinking about booking an event should do so for the love of animals and the relationships we can have with them – not just as a way to entertain the little ones.

I did suggest that our honeymoon suite could have a massive garden area outside for donkeys, but if we did that on our big day, the guests might not see that much of me, so S said it wasn’t one of my better ideas!

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Visit to the small breeds farm and owl centre

After surprising my partner with a trip to the wolf sanctuary, he surprised me with a trip to the owl centre!

The owl centre is in Herefordshire, and it is home to a wide variety of owls, as well as a number of small animals.

The owls live in the owl garden, and here you can see the five native British owls, as well as owls from all around the world. Some of these owl species are not on public display anywhere else in Europe.

The five owl species that you’ll find in Britain are the British Barn owl, the Tawny owl, the Little owl, the Short-eared owl, and the Long-eared owl. My favourite is the barn owl!

All of these owls are facing challenges at the moment due to changes in farming practices (better pest control means less rodents to feed upon), new roads, and fewer suitable feeding sites. These challenges are particularly intense in the winter time, especially when snowy conditions make it harder to find food. There are a number of charities that work to help the owls to thrive and survive, particularly as falling population numbers have been a cause for concern in recent years.

I’ve been collecting owls for years, but I think Harry Potter contributed to an increased interest in all things with owls on them! Products with owl designs are everywhere in the shops, and I hope this increased interest in them will also translate into people learning more about them and supporting them. A good way to do this is to visit the owl centre. There is information outside every cage about the species, where it’s from, and more general information about its appearance, feeding habits and preferred nesting sites.

If you want to see more owl pictures, visit the owl page on the owl sanctuary’s website.

It was probably a good time to visit because there were lots of tiny animals. We went in the pen with some lambs. They were rather cautious, but as soon as one headed over, the others dared to come a bit closer.
The farm encourages petting and stroking of the animals, so it’s a good experience for visually impaired people too. We didn’t ask about handling any of the owls, apart from the one that greeted people at the entrance, but my partner read the information to me so I could imagine how the different species looked. In any event, it was daytime, so some of them probably wanted to sleep!

There are a number of different types of goat, including pygmies, boer goats, and Golden Guernsey Goats, all of which were eager to chomp anything they could find, and not just the food that was offered to them. One larger goat tried to munch my hair, and one of the tiny kids, that were the size of small cats, tried to nibble the bottom of my dress.

The miniature horses and donkeys have often been featured on TV.

The farm would not be complete without the farm dogs! When my boyfriend said “I’ve seen someone whom you’ll want to meet,” I wasn’t expecting a Labrador, in fact there were two of them, but I was very happy to give them a pat!

Other animals that you can visit are reindeer, alpaca, pigs, cows (including the miniature zebu, the world’s smallest breed of cow), sheep, horses, and donkeys.

This is where you can see some pictures of the other animals on the Owl Centre’s website.

There is also a house for small animals. I stroked some floppy bunny ears, but there weren’t so many opportunities for interaction here. Still you could see the guinea pigs, mice, chipmunks and chinchillas.

After our visit, we had lunch in the gift shop, where I also bought an owl necklace, an owl bracelet and a little bag with an owl face on it to add to my ever-growing owl collection.

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