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The UK's best open farms

Open farms

Cannon Hall Farm, Cawthorne, South Yorkshire
In the rolling Pennine Hills west of Barnsley, next to the stately-home museum of Cannon Hall, is this large, fun petting farm. Come in spring and the kids will go goo-goo over the 500 newly born lambs and 100 pygmy goat kids. The Shetland ponies are perennial favourites, too. Toddlers love the guinea pigs and rabbits, and older kids can check out the tusks on Jonah the boar. There's a tea room and farm shop (the sausages are a local legend) but your charges will doubtless race toward the adventure playground, which has the all-important death slide.
More info
www.cannonhallfarm.co.uk
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Downtown Open Farm, Lydford, Devon
Settings don't come much lovelier than that of Downtown, which, despite its name, sprawls in bucolic peace, below the slopes of western Dartmoor. A great innovation here is the CCTV that allows you to get a window on the lambing and calfing pens â come at the right time and you might actually see a live birth. There are recorded highlights of the farm's greatest hits to watch, too. From the farm it's but a hop, skip and jump to the moor itself, where there are wonderful walks and the Granite Way cycle path.
More info
www.downtownopenfarm.co.uk
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Mead Open Farm, Billington, Bedfordshire
The chance to bottle-feed spring lambs is a sure-fire attraction at this well-run open farm, south of Leighton Buzzard. You can watch sheep dog demos, too, complete with elaborate whistling and many a "come by" from the shepherd. Between April and October, the sheep races, complete with fences, are a hoot, and milking cows is another option. There's a great range of play stuff here, too, including an adventure playground with rope bridges and swings, and tractor-and-trailer rides. There's even crazy golf, and in the indoor playground known as Shaggy's Playworld there are some top-class slides.
More info
www.meadopenfarm.co.uk
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Ark Open Farm, Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland
Though it's called Ark, the animals don't necessarily come in twos on this 40-acre estate in County Down. Rare and endangered breeds are the speciality, with all the petting-friendly favourites on show including sheep, pigs, and donkeys. There are also rather more exotic alpacas and llamas, and Skippy and Florence, a pair of Wallabies. The outdoor play area is well-equipped, and in the event of a downpour, you can head indoors where there are pedal tractors, diggers and dumpers. There's also a pedal go-kart track for peaceful racing.
More info
www.thearkopenfarm.co.uk
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Smithills Open Farm, Bolton, Lancashire
Your kids are encouraged to hold chicks, young rabbits and other cutesy animals at this friendly farm, set in a country park adjoining the historic Smithills Hall and Restaurant. As well as doing all the classic open-farm stuff, children can go for a ride on one of the amiable donkeys, and work off any excess energy on the two bouncy castles in the play areas. There's also a nature trail to follow if you fancy venturing around the surrounding country park. Come at Easter for the special egg hunt.
More info
www.smithillsopenfarm.co.uk
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Bocketts Farm Park, Fetcham, Surrey
At this family farm near Leatherhead, there are lots of ducks, among other animals - and of course, everybody likes hearing ducks, and doing duck impressions. (Let's hope the kids have stopped doing them by the time you get home). The collection of smaller animals includes adorable chinchillas and cheeky chipmunks, and there are pony rides available once or twice a day. But Bocketts' fame rests squarely on its twice-daily piglet races - sorry, but betting is not allowed. Should you be assailed by a rainstorm, never fear - the children can try crafts such as badge-making at the activity table.
More info
www.bockettsfarm.co.uk
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Cruckley Animal Farm, Foston-on-the-Wolds, East Yorkshire
In the hatchery at Cruckley, you can actually watch those unbearably cute, fluffy little chicks breaking out of their shells, into the world. But perhaps the cutest sight of all here is the herd of miniature donkeys - just try and clap eyes on one without issuing a loud "ahhh". A pleasant walk takes you to a river, pond and lake area, perfect for a picnic. There are also lots of squirrels around here, and they're not shy about coming up to you for a photo opportunity. Peacocks strut about the place, too.
More info
www.cruckley.co.uk
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Tobermory Open Farm, Isle of Mull, Scotland
You can tick off all the boxes here in terms of open-farm activities, from bottle-feeding lambs to cuddling pet rabbits. But you can also add 'hold a ferret' onto the list - watch those teeth! Walk through the 'wee wooded walk', through a veritable forest of rhododendrons, to the pheasant aviary, where there's quite a collection of these colourful birds. As a unique memento of your day, you can buy your child the illustrated book Oscar the Lonely Pony, the story of a Shetland pony that was written by the farm's owner.
More info
www.tobermorychildrensfarm.co.uk
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Rookery Open Farm, Towcester, Northamptonshire
Rookery is a commercial sheep farm where you can get up-close and personal with lots of different animals. Lambing season (mid-March to mid-May) is a real sight, with up to 2,000 lambs being born - although it might end up with the kids asking awkward questions about the Sunday roast.
Everybody loves little versions of mammals, and here there are pygmy goats, baby calves, and not-so-small-but-still-cute-in-a-dumpy-way kune kune pigs from New Zealand. In the water-fowl area you can learn crucial things like the how to tell the difference between a moorhen and a coot.
More info
www.rookeryopenfarm.co.uk
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Middle Farm, Firle, East Sussex
Ensconced in a beautiful part of the South Downs, this family farm has 625 acres for you to grapple with. Spotted pigs are among the animal attractions, and you can watch the farm's prize Jersey cows being milked each afternoon. A nature trail winds its way around the farm and if the weather fails, there's always the 'hay play' barn. There's an excellent farm shop and a restaurant serving light meals, and while the rest of the family is distracted, dads can sneak off to the farm's National Collection of Cider and Perry for some tastings.
More info
www.middlefarm.com
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Image credit: britainonview/ Visit Peaks and Derbyshire/ Daniel Bosworth

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