Battling to keep things ticking over in all weathers down on the farm

Winter at Whirlow Hall Farm: Will Davidson checking a ewe
Winter at Whirlow Hall Farm: Will Davidson checking a ewe

“There’s no opportunity to have a ‘snow day’ here,” said Sam Trepte of Whirlow Hall Farm. “You can’t ring in and say: ‘I’ll come in at lunch time when the snow has cleared,’ because the animals have to be fed, watered and bedded down, irrespective of the weather. For example Steve, who looks after the pigs, has been setting off at about 5am to walk in from Totley.”

Whirlow, near Sheffield’s western moors, has its own weather, said farm education officer Will Davidson. “We have our own micro-climate, a few days ago we had snow, sun, thunder and lightning all in one day. You just zip up and get on with everything.”

That is: pigs, sheep, lambs, ducks, geese, turkeys, horses, cattle, goats, chickens, assorted rabbits and guinea pigs, two ponies - and a lion.

“That’s what we call Frankie the Shetland pony,” said Sam. “A young boy who’d visited wrote a letter to say his favourite animal here was the lion. We worked out he meant Frankie, who has a big red mane.”

Whirlow is unique as a city farm offering residential stays for inner-city children from all over the country, said Sam. In 2015 the farm will expand its provision for older children with bespoke educational sessions for 14 to 18-year-olds, linking with Sheffield College.

“Some of the children will never have seen snow as deep as we get here,” said Will Davidson. “You can see they’re often quite shocked by it.”

The wind sometimes forms drifts over five feet deep, said Sam, which causes its own problems when feeding the ewes who stay out in the fields before the farm’s second lambing period in April.

“Sometimes the sheep are hard to find, as they tend to hunker down together near the walls. But they usually come out when they hear the tractor coming.”

The farm’s tractor fleet had other uses this year. Staff usually grit nearby roads and footpaths, but this year they were also called in to rescue a local car that had slipped off an icy driveway. “We got two tractors in to pull it sideways out of a ditch,” said Sam.

The first lambs of the year are due any moment, ready for the ‘February Farm Fun’ day on February 19. They’ll be equipped with hi-viz vests, said Sam, to keep warm and if the weather holds, to make them visible once they get out in the inconveniently lamb-coloured snow fields.

The farm is keen to point out it needs £300,000 a year to stay open, and public events and fairs are part of the fundraising effort, as well as donations from local companies such as the 480 scheme, where businesses can donate £480 to help disadvantaged schoolchildren visit the farm.

Sam also has plans for the Whirlow cafe and farm shop, which sells meat, eggs and vegetables from Whirlow as well as other local produce to raise funds for the cause.

A growth of sales over Christmas suggests the market for high-welfare food is returning, Sam said. And as the ewes in the nearby barn prepared to give birth to May’s new season lamb stock, he said: “Here we have everything from conception to consumption.”

Although livestock leaves the farm to be slaughtered, Sam plans to set up a butchery department this year to produce cured meats and sausages. Many butchers gave up on more obscure cuts in the recent past, Sam noted, as they weren’t cost effective to prepare, but he hopes Whirlow can step into the growing market for the likes of pig cheeks, lamb neck, brisket and belly pork.

And for those who enjoy even more challenging anatomical delicacies extolled by certain celebrity chefs, he said: “We might even have Whirlow sweetbreads. We know if Jamie or Nigella cook it, the phone starts going.”

Visit Whirlow Farm for information.