The animals went in two by two…

If someone said to you to start counting sheep, you’d probably think they were offering advice on sleeping techniques. However, at Wimpole it was in fact time for their annual stocktake of animals down at Home Farm!

Piglets sleeping at Wimpole Home Farm, Cambridgeshire. Photo: National Trust Images / Robert Morris

Victoria Hopkins is one of our Finance Business Partners, and although she’s not confined to her desk, once a year she rather enjoys donning her welly boots and heading to Wimpole Home Farm with her calculator in hand. Because let’s face it – counting animals isn’t your average stocktake or day at the office! As Vic fills us in…

As part of our financial year end we have to value all of our assets, whether that’s items in our retail or catering outlets, or the animals we are rearing at Home Farm that we intend to sell on. So, Richard Morris, Farm Manager at Wimpole; our independent valuer, Keith Preston from Savills and myself all meet up once a year for the annual count.

Our day starts at around 8.30am and it takes us about 4 hours to count all of the animals. They are all in relatively small flocks / herds and we don’t move them during the day, so once one area is counted there is no risk of double counting them!

Cattle in the park in July at Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire.

Photo: National Trust Images / Andrew Butler

Most animals are counted where they are, with no intervention from us. This is especially important with the heavily pregnant ewes as we don’t want to put them under any unnecessary stress so close to giving birth. The only ones that are different are the lambs, which were born during 2013. We run these through a chute (narrow channel) in single file from one field / enclosure to the next. This allows us to get an incredibly accurate number.

As we’re often counting around lambing time, we have to be sure to only include animals which were born on 28 February or earlier. So, the team let us know the birth date of any lambs or calves that we see.

It does take a few days for Farm staff to get everything prepared, they draw us diagrams of the different areas of the farm and note which animals are where, and do a preliminary count so that we have a rough idea whether we’re counting the right numbers. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to count some of the animals. The sheep are definitely the hardest, as they’re spread out in fields and often lie down behind another, so you can’t see them!

The afternoon is then spent looking at the crops – what’s in the grain store and what new seeds we’ve bought in ready to sow, which takes us the rest of the afternoon. Then it’s back to the office to compare notes.

Shire horses at Wimpole Home Farm, Cambridgeshire; the farm was built in 1794 and is now home to a variety of rare animal breeds

Photo: National Trust Images / David Levenson

So how many animals did we have at the end of this year’s count? There were in fact 409 sheep, 134 cattle, 64 pigs, 7 goats, 11 horses, 320 laying hens and 2 turkeys. That makes 947 animals – many of which are rare breeds. That’s just a little shy of last year, when we had 1,070 animals. The big difference is that we have far fewer sheep this year compared to last.

I can safely say I didn’t have any trouble getting to sleep that night!




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