So I rocked up to Lawrence Weston Farm on the 21st May 2014. It wasn’t by chance, I had intended to make this trip, despite rarely visiting Farms since childhood and only fulfilling the interest a couple of random times post my teen years. I liked ogling at animals online, watching their hilarious videos on the social viewing phenomena that is YouTube and thinking one day it might be good fun to frequent somewhere one day that I could ogle and view such things in person. Cyber land is good to find and see things you have little chance of seeing, meeting and smelling (yes, I meant to say that) in real life, but there really isn’t anything better than the real deal if you can reach out and touch it properly. That in one is why when searching for a new volunteer job on the Volunteer Do.it.com website and seeing a Farm option listed to apply to, I thought it was an opportunity too rare and random not to ignore. There have been a few Volunteer jobs over the past years that I’ve had a jolly, so why couldn’t this one potentially be any different, I thought when sending my details through. No doubt a Farm placement would have the same benefits of any other volunteer job in equipping you with new skills, allowing you to meet new people and the bonus of working in an environment that appealed to. In this case, this particular environment you don’t get to pick very often when it comes to a local Farm. Instead of canvassing for charities, or standing front of house (or be it behind a pop up table) at some type of festival event, why not feed, cleanout and talk nonsense to pigs, sheep and various types poultry for a change, amongst doing other things. The prospect sounded good to me, and if I found the opportunity (if able to seal it) not ultimately to my liking after a few sessions, I could at least say I tried, and thank all responsible for being able to at least have a go.
I can say 9 months on from stepping on this small Farm in what feels like the middle of nowhere sometimes, despite not actually being the case at all, it was, and still is, worth it. Here are just some pictures and captions of my time so far on my Farm volunteer venture.
What sealed the deal for me to come and volunteer here at Lawrence Weston Farm was the prospect of being able to see these three porkers on a regular basis. But not just see and pet them, but feed them, clean them out, watch them pork up and hopefully bond enough with them so I could hug them one day. Jasmine is the mahoosive one laid up. She probably fell over due to the mini stampede for her milk. The small porkers sucking on Jasmine are her piggy-kiddies, Blossom, obviously a girly, and her unnamed son.
This small army of waddlers are the resident Muscovy Ducks, consisting of one male and his harem of female followers. They have this weird neck movement that they do regularly, and think they rule the duck-roost over their other closely inhabiting Indian Runner and KC ducks. They are Mexican though, so maybe the neck move is just a part of their native jig and we should all join in.
These little lambs were some of the friendliest animals I had come across. Just like dogs, they just love some attention and a good cha with a few pats. Their coats feel amazing, very snugglesome. They were small when I first clasped eyes on them, and with young public members.
The first week in June was my first official day, after having visited for casual viewing purposes before that. After a bizarre bus incident in the busy morning rush, I finally got in around 10.a.m. With my feet firmly on Farm soil (and small stones that get wedged in between your soles), it was Ian Fielder that I had the pleasure of being greeted by and being shown the first proper steps of how to.., when to… and why, regarding the animals and their care. Finally getting to walk around these animals with their bobbing animals heads (still firmly attached to bodies) in their array of sizes, facial features and ways of animal talk that make little sense to me but probably plenty to them, I decided I liked it so much that I made the easy decision to return, again, and again and again.
The experience on the Farm is a relaxed and chatty one. There isn’t the same feeling of pressure and anxiety that you can sometimes feel doing other work, Volunteer or otherwise. That is the immediate difference I found with this place when I arrived here, it’s a much more free and easy environment, and the Farm staff are friendly, helpful and informative. In my case, I have mainly worked alongside an allocated member of staff and other volunteers in a combination of Animal and Gardening activities. You have a schedule to work to on the Farm (especially in the case with daily animal feeding) and you are not left in a situation that you wouldn’t be able to handle or that staff felt you were not responsible enough to apply yourself in. This Farm has numerous volunteers, and all are helped in relation to how they can ‘muck in’ in whatever areas best suit them, whether for a part of the day or for all of it. The case may be that you will gain new interests having spent some time some that you didn’t think you would. Initially my main interest on arrival here was the animals. However, getting the opportunity to do some planting and seeing vegetables pop out of the ground after having spent time bedding them into the soil, was a rather nice thing to see. No matter how small, you can find a sense of achievement in something that you otherwise had little knowledge or contact with before.
In the early stages of becoming acquainted with the way of things, you work alongside a member of staff and, in some cases (as is with mine) sometimes other volunteers too, so you always have someone to share dialogue with and discuss farm, environment or other areas of interest, with. If you work at the Farm over a longer period of time, you are trusted to do more things individually without a staff member, and to have more input into how you spend the day in between scheduled activities. At the Farm they want you to enjoy your time here and be yourself. Talking and taking on each others’ viewpoints is a two way street.
In September, much to my delight, we had some new piggy additions to the Farm. All male and all with the potential to add to the viewing pleasure at the Farm in the meantime, along with later financial benefits when the time came for them to meet the butcher (no point in pretending that doesn’t happen, as sad as it can be). Luckily I got to choose which pigs, out of the 6 (or so) that arrived, that I wanted to come to us. We were in the market for 3, so with my piggy-eye, I chose what I thought to be the most beautiful and already porkiest specimens. As boys they weren’t allowed to mingle with Jasmine and Blossom (our lady pigs), but our longer resident male pig, that is unnamed, got the pleasure of their company instead. He was slightly bigger than the new boys, and so usually got first dibs on what bowl to feed out of first, and sometimes in addition, second to one that had already been cleaned out, the greedy pig. I found since watching the boy pigs together how, one, they really smell after going to the toilet, and, two, how they also love a bit of friendly argy-bargy. Maybe a form of pig-banter.