This is number 6 in the Down on the Farm series and visiting Cairnton Farm, near Banchory in Aberdeenshire, has to be the closest experience to normal farm life that we’ve covered. Guests don’t visit land especially sectioned off for the public, you’re thrown into the midst of a working farm, and the tour is all the stronger for that.
First off we arrive at the meeting point, Deeside Activity Park, which is run by the farmer Ken Howie and his family. Another family had canceled so we had the whole trip to ourselves. The kids were bundled into the back of a Landrover, complete with a gorgeous black labrador, and Ken and his teenage daughter Nicola took us up to the farm. The kids loved the Landrover, and I think they would have been happy simply driving round in circles with the dog in the back.
Upon arriving at the farm we had to disinfect our feet. In a farmer’s eyes we were seen as the potentially dirty ones, rather than the cattle, and protecting the land and the herd is paramount. Young Nicola was in charge of opening all the gates to allow access into the fields and we were loaded into the back of a trailer, towed by Ken in his John Deere tractor. This was as good as any fairground ride for the boys, they absolutely loved it, but it isn’t a converted toy tractor, this is the real deal. The kids and the adults had to hold on tight as it was an uneven, bumpy ride over a rough field. Most of the time I held onto the bar directly in front of my kid’s face in case he whacked his nose or teeth against the metal, he never did but I’m just saying this is real farming equipment rather than a ride at the amusements – take a look at the video here. Nicola was particularly good at helping out with the boys and looking after them.
Ken drove to the centre of his pride and joy, his herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle. Because it’s quite a one-on-one experience he told us a lot about the breed, we chatted, asked questions and it worked well because it was such a personal tour. Ken’s not a tour guide, he’s a farmer and he’s a character, so make the most of it. The boys ran about in the trailer, getting up close and personal with the cows, which were quite timid and naturally shied away. Our kids looked like the caged animals in a zoo, meanwhile the cows were free to come and go as they chose, possibly feeling sorry for the children behind bars.
Ken was down to earth about what’s required in farming right now. For example one year they might put a cow to calf, the next year harvest the embryos and sell them. The cows are artificially inseminated and a bull is then put in amongst them for good measure, breeding livestock is a technical business. If a cow bears multi-sex twins the female is always infertile – that’s a factoid I never knew. There’s a lot of matter of fact info about farming and meat production that you don’t know or think about when you pop out to buy a steak or a burger. Cairnton slaughters about sixty animals a year, and that’s how it works.
After leaving the herd we passed the horses Henry and Ruby, the wind turbine that generates enough electricity for five houses, and entered the barn to meet the big boys. Ken took out a huge bull for us to see, apparently he’s not even that big. The meat and power of the beast were quite a sight. I was naturally wary having my precious babies around this hulk of beef, meanwhile my husband, who grew up on a dairy farm, and led bulls back from market by a rope as a boy, was pretty chilled. [I’m feel that just because my husband did something in his youth doesn’t necessarily make it cool, a good idea or safe!] Next Nicola took the reins of the bull, as they plan for her to show it at the Royal Highland Show in June, and I felt like such an urbanite, absolutely in awe of this teenage girl facing up to Goliath. It was no bother to her. I wouldn’t have taken that rope for all the tea in China. Once the bull was led back to his enclosure Ken took out the cutest calf called Black Beard, and I exhaled a sigh of relief.
Black Beard, we were told, has a particularly good temperament and has always enjoyed social interaction so the boys were allowed to gently pat him. They didn’t think this outing could get much better until we were taken back to Deeside Activity Park for a traditional afternoon tea.
The tea was affa fine (lovely) and it’s north-east fare, fine pieces, fancy pieces, tray bakes, whatever you want to call them and huge scones, rather than delicate fouterie stuff. After the tots had eaten their body weight in chocolate, and the sugar rush led them to start properly capering, we sent them outside to the small playground to run off steam. Mr Husband bought some steak at the farm shop and we knew we’d had an authentic day out in the Scottish countryside.
Cairnton Farm is on the Aberdeen-Angus Trail and is one of the few sites on the route where you actually get to see the animals. They are so sleek, so handsome and probably the area’s biggest global brand. It was rewarding to go on a farming experience that felt real, because (especially for city kids) real farms are a total novelty.
LOWDOWN – We drove inland from Aberdeen to Banchory, about 45 minutes west. To book a tour you have to phone Deeside Activity Park to arrange it. Cairnton don’t really shout about this experience, although perhaps they should, so you can’t book online etc. as each tour has to work around the farm.
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