Farm menagerie hits the road

Ian Prentice's daughter Beth feeds a young lamb.
Ian Prentice's daughter Beth feeds a young lamb.
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WHEN IAN and Carol Prentice played the good Samaritan to a couple of goats and a very overweight pig by rescuing them from a council estate property in Wakefield little did they know that it would lead to their Noah’s Ark lifestyle of today.

The couple live at North Cottage on what was formerly part of Hicklam Mill Farm in Aberford. Ian came here from nearby Bardsey in 1999 as he’d been looking for somewhere with a little more space for his landscaping equipment. Today that side of his work has taken a back seat as their menagerie has grown to over 120 animals and birds on their four-acre site and their new businesses of a small caravan and camping site and Ian’s Mobile Farm have become popular.

This week the couple have visited three schools in the Rotherham area with their long wheel base trailer containing alpacas, goats, sheep, donkey, Shetland pony, rabbits, guinea pigs, chicken, ducks and tortoises. They enjoy what they are doing and they’re meticulous about it, treating their visits very seriously.

“It’s hard work and a long day for each one,” says Ian. “It takes an hour to get all the animals loaded, then there’s the travel time, another hour to set everything up including the pens, fencing and banners. We run the displays as 45-minute sessions for Key Stage 1 children. We give them a short introduction to where we live and a bit of background about us. I’ve become known as Farmer Ian to them.

“We then start off with tortoises because they’re small and are something different to a farm animal. It grabs their attention and they can feel how hard their shells are.

“The rabbits come next and we encourage them to feel the fur, followed by guinea pigs so that they can compare them to the rabbits. They get to stroke or touch everything live apart from the alpacas. We had the alpacas sheared last year so we take out a bag of their fleece and the yarn. We also show them a scarf knitted out if it. Children don’t know that’s how scarves are made so it’s a big eye opener.

“People can’t believe it when they see it all set out and then realise we’ve got there with everything in one trailer, but the fencing goes on the trailer roof. We have a special Defra licence for moving and showing everything.”

The mobile farm might never have come about if they had moved as they were thinking about a few years ago.

“We were considering buying a caravan park in Whitby,” says Carol. “We went to view it in really bad weather. When we quizzed why the owners were selling they mentioned that they were looking to buy a certified site. We didn’t know what that meant so we checked it out on the internet saw that it was something for five caravans and ten tents and thought it would be ideal for us here, within a couple of hours we had applied for permission.

“When we first had someone out to see if it would work one industry professional told us that he didn’t think our site would be popular as we’re so close to the A1(M), but he could see people using it as a stopping off point on the way to other places. We were fine with that but what we’ve found is that most of our regulars are people with young children from the West Riding who keep coming back because of all the animals we have.”

In 2013, the site’s first year they won ‘Most Family Friendly Certified Site in the UK’ from the Caravan and Camping Club.

One of the two goats they rescued that started them out on this adventure is still with them today. The goats were quickly followed by the purchase of more pygmy goats that are still amongst Carol’s favourites.

“Pygmy goats have their own personality and cause chaos in the nicest sense of the word. Ian bought me Sally and George (pygmy goats) for my birthday one year and we ended up buying more. We now have 18 and some angora goats and boa goats. We sell the goats’ kids to other smallholders.

“Donkeys came next as we took on some that were in need of a new home that were in a bad state. Then Ian was on the internet looking for a shelter for them when he turned to me and said how did I feel about alpacas? It’s all grown from there.”

Ian has been a landscape gardener since leaving school and worked at Harewood House.

Carol, who hails from Batley, works in health and safety and has always worked in construction. They have a daughter Beth, five, who is their assistant at some of the events they attend in addition to the school visits.

“Beth classes the rabbits as her own pets and she shows people how to pick them up if they’re doing it wrong.

“We’re not proper farmers and we’re probably frowned on by some who are, but we are giving children an opportunity to learn about all kinds of animals.”

For more information about Ian’s Mobile Farm, visit www.iansmobilefarm.co.uk