End of Whirlow’s Winter

Easter lambing day at Whirlow Hall Farm: Assistnat farm manager Ash Malia showing a lamb to Lola Rhodes (2)
Easter lambing day at Whirlow Hall Farm: Assistnat farm manager Ash Malia showing a lamb to Lola Rhodes (2)

Events like lambing days help to keep Whirlow Hall Farm going. David Bocking joins 2,500 visitors and hears about the centre’s first wine

“I’M looking forward to tasting the first bottle of Whirlow wine,” said Sarah Kerrigan as the wind from Siberia blew across Whirlow Hall Farm.

“We have red and white grapes in our vineyard, we’re hoping for our first vintage next year,” she added optimistically.

Sarah and colleague Lindsay Fieldhouse were delighted that, despite the temperatures, the sun finally broke through for the farm’s family lambing days.

“Our Easter lambing is now established on the Easter holiday calendar, so the weather this week has been quite kind,” said Sarah, “although we were a bit worried.”

This was the first two-day Easter lambing celebration at the farm, and organisers estimated 2,500 people attended raising close to £7,000 towards the farm’s running expenses.

The day also included pony rides, craft activities and farm tours, and an Easter egg hunt with 300 eggs supplied by one of the farm’s sponsors, the Sainsbury’s store at Archer Road.

Eight lambs were born on Thursday and Friday, and were joined by 15 piglets and a calf, more births than any previous Whirlow lambing event, perhaps inspired by the sunnier weather. The arrivals at the farm’s earlier lambing day, in February, were less timely. Luckily, events organiser Lindsay Fieldhouse had ordered racoons, lizards and meercats as back-up.

“We held our Furry Fun Time on the same day,” said Lindsay. “The early lambing lambs only started that evening, but the raccoons were arranged anyway in case the lambs were late.” The Whirlow team have learned they have to be flexible to raise the £300,000 extra per year needed from their fundraising efforts to keep the farm going, along with income from produce sales and educational visits.

“Fundraising is very difficult at the moment with a lot of charities in the city fighting for the same money,” said Sarah. “Times are hard, so we have to pull on our unique selling point, which is the farm.

“We also have to move with the times and tap into different markets, like holding opera in our barn and our Dig Deep running event.”

Despite growing interest in locally grown and well reared food, the working farm itself runs at a loss, said Sarah.

The main purpose of Whirlow Hall is to provide educational visits to around 10,000 children a year, often from disadvantaged backgrounds. This community involvement helps to draw over 100 members of the Sheffield public to help as regular volunteers – 65 of these volunteers were on hand over the Easter lambing days.

“The volunteers love the animals, and love the farm and what it stands for,” said Sarah.

Unlike hill farmers in recent news reports, Whirlow has not lost any lambs due to the extended winter weather. Over 150 Whirlow lambs have been born so far this year. The earlier ones just stayed in their barn for longer while the foot-and-a-half of spring snow was on the ground (with much deeper drifts in some fields). Some of the older lambs are now finally venturing out into the fields.

Visiting families were delighted to be on hand when the new baby animals were arriving. “One little boy said: ‘Seeing those piglets born has made my day!’”said Lindsay.

Attendances at Whirlow events are rising, said Sarah Kerrigan, as the farm looks at new ideas for visitors such as the barn dance and Beer and Bangers comedy night in June, the Peak District running weekend in July and the more traditional farm fair in September. Becoming a ‘friend’ of Whirlow Hall allows free entry to many events, and Sarah is keen to promote the farm’s ‘480 club’ to local businesses.

“Businesses or individuals donate £480 and are matched to a school catering for low income households,” said Sarah. “The donation covers a day visit for a whole class, or a two night residential visit for half a class.

“Businesses that sign up get the opportunity to meet the the children to see what their donation achieves - sometimes the donor may have been to the school themselves as a child. We have 60 companies signed up so far, but this year we’d like to get to 100.”

Tel 2352678, visit Whirlow Hall Farm