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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 Open Farm Sunday event in 2017 and in 2018 started using the ticketing service to effectively manage visitor numbers.

100 visitors/ 22 acres/ Croft

Our enter­prise

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 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 OFS 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.

Our event

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​.farm​sun​day​.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. 

Unex­pect­ed visitors

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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