We are all missing getting out and about this year and some people are struggling with the restrictions that have been in place for so many months. Barriers and restrictions on what we can and can’t do are not new for many disabled people and some environments always pose physical accessibility difficulties, even in non-pandemic life.
In the Coalition café (every Monday at 11.00 am ), we often talk about animals and we have heard of some members who are missing contact with the animals that they would have seen out and about. Unfortunately I couldn’t persuade our (excellent) Board to back a Coalition donkey sanctuary but I did go off on a bit of an internet exploration to search out any virtual animal experiences before having to resort to re-creating our own.
My search led me to Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire. The farm is owned and managed by a brilliantly innovative farmer called Dot and the farm is run with the highest of ethical standards. Dot has been experimenting with some interesting initiatives to raise money towards buying renewable technologies and equipment for her farm. Some of these pre-pandemic initiatives included introducing ‘goat Yoga’! Since Covid-19 came into our lives, Dot has introduced ‘Goats on zoom’ where you can invite one of the goats to a zoom meeting!
The goats all have a description on the website so you can decide what kind of personality of goat you fancy spending some time with (or inviting along to a meeting!). Each ‘goat on zoom’ session is 5 minutes long and costs £5. Naturally, I wanted to quality-test this before I started sharing so I spent some time with Lisa and Mary and I can thoroughly recommend spending some virtual time with them both! If you have amazon prime you can watch a short and delightful documentary about the farm here: Watch The Great Staycation: Dot’s Farm | Prime Video (amazon.co.uk).
I think there is a brilliant pilot project to be run in the future looking at the impact that a virtual animal encounter can have on mood and wellbeing, I certainly felt my spirits lifted having had some time with the goats!
With all of this experimentation under my belt (and my wallet quite a bit lighter) we asked some of our members if they fancied doing a virtual trip to the farm and (thankfully) they were enthusiastic! The virtual farm tours last 20 minutes and can be booked through the website.
On Monday 7th December, 18 intrepid Coalition explorers met in the virtual café, had a bit of a pre-trip chat and then excitedly waited for the farmer (Dot) to arrive.
Yasmin and I were both a little apprehensive about how chaotic our trip may have been to manage and we did wonder if this might be a virtual step too far…!
We all agreed to keep chat to a minimum for the majority of the tour so that we could all hear the verbal commentary (this was really important because we had a number of blind and partially sighted members on the trip and we wanted to make sure everyone had the same richness of experience).
Dot arrived and introduced herself to the group, the sun was beaming in Lancashire whilst, back in Surrey, it was not very sunny at all! Dot was wearing headphones with a microphone, so the sound quality was very good and she had a camera to film her view and a phone to keep track of any comments.
Dot introduced us to her sheepdog called Floss who is a black and white Border Collie. Dot explained that she had an important task for Floss today, that she needed her to separate one sheep (the white one) from the rest of the sheep (the black ones) so that it could go into a separate field.
Dot took us up into the field and explained that she was going to send Floss away to do her work, she used ’come bye’ which told Floss to go clockwise around the sheep and ‘away’ to ask her to go anticlockwise. The sheep are Hebridean sheep and Dot explained that their coat is very warm but quite rough so not ideal for clothing. Floss and Dot soon got the job done and walked us back to the farmyard, answering questions from the group along the way.
When we got back to the farmyard, we went into the barn to meet one of Floss’s puppies – a Collie called Tess who is a year old and in training to be a sheep dog. Tess was certainly very excited to see us all and jumped up at the camera as soon as she could. Dot explained that Tess is very much in training and that she was going to take us to a different field (of male sheep) so that Tess could practice going around the sheep (and not just charging through them all!). We heard a lot of the ‘Steady’ command which means ‘slow down’! Tess certainly had a lot of enthusiasm and was quick as a flash.
Once Tess had successful circled the sheep, Dot picked her up as we walked back to the farm. She explained that she carried her until we were far enough away from the sheep because otherwise Tess would have wanted to have another go!
Back at the farm we went and checked on the chickens who were out enjoying the sunshine. Dot explained that they would need to go into the large shed soon due to the avian flu strain that is currently in Europe ( Avian flu article) so they were enjoying the fresh air whilst they could.
Finally, Dot took us back into the barn to meet the goats and shared lots of truly gross facts with us about male goats which has put me off my day dreams of one-day goat-ownership. Did you know that Billy Goats (male goats) rub urine onto their face and then rub faces with others to share it around?!
The female goats in a pen next door looked a bit less smelly and were all very sweet when they approached the camera to say hello. After having our final questions answered, we then said our goodbyes and thanked Dot, we were thrilled that Marge (the goat) then joined us as a guest for the end of the Coalition Café. Dot told us that Goats on Zoom has really taken off and I’m not surprised at all.
At the end of the session, we had some lovely feedback from members who said “I felt like I was really there, I thoroughly enjoyed myself” and “as a visually impaired person I felt like I didn’t miss out on the experience, I felt like I was walking around the fields with the farmer”.
I think this virtual field trip really demonstrates how technology can help to level the field for so many disabled people and give access to opportunities which would be much more challenging without it.
Thanks to Dot, Floss and Tess for an amazing morning on a beautiful farm. We will be back!
Clare and the Coalition team.
The farm website is here: Watch The Great Staycation: Dot’s Farm | Prime Video (amazon.co.uk)
Book a ‘goat on zoom’ (they can do Teams too!) here: Add a Goat to your next video call. Only £5! (cronkshawfoldfarm.co.uk)
The amazon prime documentary is here: Watch The Great Staycation: Dot’s Farm | Prime Video (amazon.co.uk)