River Croft, Farr, Inverness-Shire
River Croft is a 22 acre croft in the foot hills of the Monadhliath Mountains. For the last 4 years, Michelle and her husband have bred and raised pedigree Oxford Sandy & Black pigs to pork weight, Greyface Dartmoor sheep and Cayuga ducks. They held their first LEAF Open Farm Sunday event in 2017 and in 2018 started using the ticketing service to effectively manage visitor numbers.
100 visitors/ 22 acres/ Croft
River Croft is 1000ft above sea-level in the mountains and the weather can be pretty harsh, but we only use native breeds so all our animals are free-range. Our work is for the conservation of our countryside and our native endangered species and our croft’s biosecurity is incredibly important to us.
Effectively engaging with the public
We first took part in LEAF Open Farm Sunday in 2017, then again in 2018 and we plan to open this year too. The majority that come along are families with children. The best part of the day for us is the happiness on the faces of children and the lovely feedback we receive after the event from people who have learned something from their visit.
Visitors are inquisitive and want to know more about farming. They come to see the reality of small-scale farming and what that involves. We have people from all walks of life who come primarily for a free day out for their children, which is fine with us. We have a regular visitor with a disabled child who absolutely loves to see the animals – being able to offer such a simple pleasure is truly heart warming. We also like the educational aspect and just seeing the pure joy that kids get when they get out into the countryside.
Many of our followers on social media have been with us since we started – so opening our croft is an opportunity to meet them. As our followers know us quite well already, it feels like we’re inviting family and friends, rather than opening our doors to complete strangers.
Managing visitor numbers & the LOFS Ticketing service
Visitor numbers are so unpredictable and the weather dictates numbers too. In our first year, we ran two one-hour long tours and had around 80 visitors – a lot more than we were expecting!
In 2018, we decided to use the LOFS Ticketing system that LEAF offers (using Trybooking) and it really is brilliant! We set-up 2 bookable tours but with a more manageable number of 35 visitors on each and promoted the link on Facebook. Each event was booked up quickly, but we also maintained a waiting list on the system. Some visitors did cancel at the last minute and were kind enough to let us know, which meant that we were able to contact those on the waiting list the evening before our event and offer them a place on the tours.
It also really helped us with knowing when people were arriving too. The track to our croft is a mile long with very few places for cars to pass – so before the second tour started, we asked the visitors from the first tour not to leave until the second wave of visitors had arrived.
The ticketing system was simple to use and really helped manage everybody’s enjoyment. We will definitely use it again this year.
We take visitors for a walk around the croft and to meet the piglets and our breeding stock. Although visitor cannot bring food along on the tours, they can bring their own picnic and stay on for a little while longer. Our local police come along to talk to visitors about rural issues, putting a particular emphasis on the importance of people to put dogs on leads around livestock. They bring their police van with its cage in the back for children to sit in and they also put on their flashing lights and sirens too.
The free Science on the Farm posters from LEAF were dotted around the place and were brilliant. We created a quiz for the children using the information on the posters, so visitors were reading and learning as they went. Some plastic medals, crayons and colouring books were given as prizes.
We don’t ask visitors for an entry fee or donations to our event but in 2018, we held a rubber duck race down the river for £1 per duck, with donations going to the British Heart Foundation.
Promoting our event
Our event is promoted on the website www.farmsunday.org. We use Facebook to engage with River Croft’s customer base and we send out the link to the ticketing service through Facebook. The resources we use from LEAF are the gate banner and the Science on the Farm information posters.
A helping hand
We have a small group of friends who support us on the day. A couple help with traffic management and parking, another on an information table that we created and another who supervises hand-washing. Biosecurity is so important to us that as soon as the visitors come off their tour, we ask them to queue up and wash their hands and drop their paper towels in the bin.
All our visitors were relatively local, but we did have an unexpected situation. On the morning of our event we took a call from a tour operator whose plans for the day had fallen through and they asked if they could bring a coach-load of American tourists to the Croft! We said yes and those visitors stuck around for most of the day!
Health & Safety
We were lucky to have a visiting police presence and so from a security point of view, we were able to turn our back and get on with our event. Potential hazards are the river flowing through the middle of the croft, three big ponds and a junk yard. We ran an electric fence line around a chunk of the croft that included the residence, the junk yead and the ponds near the residence. We created a disclaimer that everyone arriving on our croft read and signed. It included information about the electric fence and that visitors were responsible for their children. We ensured that cars drove through disinfectant. We asked that wellies were cleaned and visitors dipped their boots in a disinfectant foot dip too.
We gave a talk at the beginning of each tour explaining that they were on a working croft. Even though we’d informed visitors in advance that dogs weren’t allowed, a surprising number still pitched up with their dogs. The dogs were put back in the vehicles and not allowed out. People really need to be informed of the health risks – it’s part of learning what farming is about and the country code too.
Questions from visitors
A lot of questions were about us – what we do in our day; are the days long; what time did we start? Others want to know what farm animals ate – people seem to think that you can feed farm animals whatever you want. One visitor asked if he could buy a pig, take it home to slaughter and butcher himself - but we declined!
How would you encourage other farmers to get involved? We were contacted last year by another farmer thinking of taking part in Open Farm Sunday. They then ran their first event in 2018 and we have stayed in touch and talk about what we’re doing at each of our events.
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