Smithills Open Farm
Smithills background is a story that started in hardship. The Grimshaw family after farming in Lancashire for over 100 years, moved to the Smithills country estate to set up a dairy farm. In 1999 the prices of milk were being driven lower and lower by supermarkets. Instead of closing the farm and looking for an alternative income stream, they sold the dairy cows and used the money to fund setting up the open farm for the public.
The farm opened in 2001 and has gone from strength to strength ever since! I don’t know of many other farms you can take the kids to that are open every day of the year, excluding Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. Come winter time if you want a day at the farm, you are struggling to find one, but come rain or shine Smithills is open and ready for business.
As finances got better they bought more dairy cows and took the opportunity to show children how cows are milked and explain the process to them. Whilst they still milk the cows by in the traditional way in the old dairy, they also now have an automatic milking robot. Things are on the up for the farm, anyway I digress, let’s take a look at the various elements of the farm in a little more detail.
The dairy farm at Smithills is their biggest attraction. It used to be done in the old fashioned milking parlour. There is still a daily talk and demonstration in what is now the old milking barn, thanks to the purchase of the new milking robot.
Children and adults alike can learn all about the dairy farming process. The demonstration and talk at the robotic milking machine are fascinating, they explain how the robot automatically detects which cows have already been milked and which need milking. It detects if they are ill, weighs them and milks them.
You can also see where the milk is stored after milking, it is piped underground to a big tank where it is stored ready for sale.
Smithills farm has invested heavily in the dairy farm and bringing it up to date. They also have another robot that goes in between the cows and tidies up. It pushes the cow poo down the slats in the floor, this is all stored and collected and then spread over the fields as a fertiliser!
They also make their own ice cream, which you can purchase in the shop, you can watch as they take some of the milk from the dairy farm to do so.
Arguably one of my favourite things to do on the farm. Every hour, one of the farmers takes a trailer full of eager adults and children up to the top fields whilst being attached to a shiny John Deer tractor.
The journey up is bumpy and sometimes fast, so hold on tight! Usually, if you look out of the side of the trailer you will find one of the farm’s dogs running alongside. These farmers know the turns and twists well and can turn these tractors as though they were smart cars!
Once you reach the top of the hill, everyone gets a piece of bread to find the farms donkeys and the one horse in the mix called Jack. As soon as the donkeys spot the big green tractor, they start to saunter over, in no particular rush, they will come when they are good and ready.
After the feeding is over, it is a case of trying to negotiate a tractor and trailer back down the hill without knocking donkeys over in the process. Again the farmers are very good at this and get you back down bumping and jumping all the way back.
Pets corner started its life near the entrance to the farm, it was quite a small space but served its purpose for many years. When the farm expanded a few years back, they built the are that now features most of the animals and the dairy farm. With this came two new areas dedicated to Pets Corner.
On particularly busy days they run two Pets Corners at the same time, plus the space in each is much bigger than the old location. The only negative to the new location is it’s no longer near the reptiles, so the farm snakes don’t feature anymore.
Pets Corner starts by bringing the baby lambs in to be fed, a few bottles of milk are distributed amongst the children and you are encouraged to pass them about so everyone gets a go. The lambs are then released and they come bounding in, this is amazing to see the looks on the little children’s faces. A moment of shock and panic followed by smiles all around. These little lambs are thirsty so hold on tight to the bottles of milk.
Next up they bring round some of the larger animals, alpacas (all named after chocolate bars), a donkey, some of the lambs and everyone gets the opportunity to stroke them.
A couple of the farm’s owls are brought around too, this is fantastic to see their huge wingspan and learn some really interesting facts you may not know about owls. You then get the opportunity to stroke them, they have lovely silks coats.
Finally, there is the opportunity to hold some of the farm’s baby chicks, rabbits and guinea pigs. This is a special time for the little ones to be up close and personal with some lovely soft animals. They get to spend a good 5-10 minutes getting to know these little animals. Again it is encouraged to swap them amongst yourselves so you get the opportunity to see a few of the animals.
The Farm In General
In between all of the fantastic things to do and see at the farm there is also the animals in general. Be sure to visit everything, you can purchase a bag of animal feed at the shop and this is definitely advised. The feeling of a cow’s huge tongue licking animal food from your hand is something quite different, their tongues are like sandpaper and a shock for the little ones the first time.
In the new barn, there is everything from pigs, alpacas, goats, horses and much more. Venture outside and to the right and you can walk up into the fields of Smithills. Here you will find reindeer, goats and much more. It’s a lovely walk whether it’s ice cold and you are wrapped up or a summers day and you want the breeze.
Head back down towards the beginning of the farm and you will find a really nice adventure playground – farm themed of course. Adjacent to this are some of the farms more unusual animals, wallabies, a skunk, meerkats, to name but a few.
On your way out, be sure to stop by the reptile house. This is easily missed so look out for it! In here you will find a room with two huge snakes, spiders and lizards.
Smithills open farm provides a fun-filled family day out, you really can spend the entire day there.
Prices are £8 for adults and £7 for children aged 2-16, under 2’s go free.
Address Smithills Farm, Smithills Dean Road, Bolton, BL1 7NS (Sat nav postcode BL1 7NR)
Phone 01204 595 765