I rocked up at the St Ann’s pleasure zone at 11am to a fanfare of clucks and moos. There was just enough time for a swift bacon sarnie in the onsite cafe before I was collected by Allanah, head of all things animal, to get down to it. I fancy myself summat of a modern-day Dr Dolittle, so made sure to personally introduce myself to everyone there. The pigs and I avoided each other for obvious reasons. You can’t get on with everyone.
Out in the paddocks, a couple of cows and a gnarly-looking goat with the jokest side smile made their way over to us to have a go on our food pellets. I popped up to see the ponies, but they weren’t interested in anything I had to offer, the mardy ‘osses. To be fair to ‘em, it looked like the last time a visitor had been up they’d lobbed an empty can of Skol into their yard, so I can understand the frosty welcome. Still, no skin off my back, cos I was off to where the real party was at: the barn.
One thing I’ll tell you for nowt, the barn at Stonebridge is a treasure trove. If palm-sized pets are your thing, hold onto your hats, cos there’s everything from guinea pigs to chickens, rats, lambs and a bossman tortoise named Kevin up in the place. There was talk of me feeding the lambs who were snuggled under a heat lamp in a bed of hay – proper Biblical, like – but alas, it was not to be. The little bleaters were far too small and vulnerable to let the likes of me into the mix, so I was put to work cleaning out Carmen the rabbit’s cage instead. Sleeves rolled, it weren’t long before I was elbow-deep in sawdust, disinfectant and tiny balls of rabbit poop. Just the way I like it.
Despite being positively packed to the rafters with the fluff balls, Allanah and the farm are sadly gearing up for an influx of unwanted rabbits following the Easter period. Given as gifts to kids on school holidays, once the children are back in the classroom and the novelty wears off, rabbits often find themselves neglected and lonely in unsuitable hutches at the bottom of the garden before being packed off to places like Stonebridge who’re tasked with rehoming them.
At Stonebridge, rabbits like Carmen are kept in generous-sized hutches either in pairs or solo depending on their age, size and temperment, and are let out of their hutches to have a good owd run around on a regular basis. Despite common misconceptions, rabbits need secure spaces to exercise in regularly, and Alannah was keen to impress the importance of a large hutch and run to any potential rabbit owners reading this piece.
“They need a hutch that allows them to hop three consecutive times,” she said, as she popped Carmen, an elderly rabbit quite grumpy about my disturbing him, into his enclosure. “Hutches should be seen as somewhere for them to burrow and rest, rather than be locked up in for twenty-odd hours a day.”
With Carmen’s pad now so fresh, so clean, I was sent out with Star – a young woman undertaking her required practical experience for her college course with hopes of working as a marine biologist some day – to fill the pony’s stable with the bunnies’ surplus sawdust.
There’s a lot of “reuse, recycle” mentality going on at the farm, what with budgets constantly being squeezed and our cash-strapped council having to downsize on their public spending. Stonebridge relies on donations of unsellable fruit and veg from local market-stall holders, the generosity of time from their volunteers, and contributions from visitors, so if you do make it down there with the sprogs, make sure you plonk a pound or two in the bucket before you leave.
Stonebridge City Farm, Stone Bridge Road, NG3 2FR. 0115 950 5113. Open 10am - 4pm
Stonebridge City Farm website