It was 50 years old today (26 July) that Chatsworth Farmyard opened to the public for the first time. 

The farmyard was the far-sighted idea of Duchess Deborah, who wanted to offer visitors of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to learn more about farming and farm animals, food production, and the importance of conserving rare breeds and traditional landscapes.

In the forward to the first guidebook (1973), she wrote:

'Many people who come to Chatsworth want to know what goes on in the immediate surroundings and have asked to see round farms and woods...There is a great surge of interest in food production and in all country matters...It is hoped that the live and static exhibits here will explain some of the basic facts about the production of milk, meat, wool and eggs from the farms...'

Since opening, it has welcomed over five million visitors, giving multiple generations the opportunity to meet an array of animals, learn how they are cared for, and understand the role of farming in today’s society.

Over the years, the farmyard has successfully helped the conservation of rare and critically endangered breeds native to the UK and continues to do so. This year, the farmyard's rare breed 'babies' have included Suffolk Punch horses, Derbyshire Redcap and Cochin chickens, Gloucester Old Spot and Large Black pigs, Derbyshire Gritstone sheep, Jacob sheep, Albion cows and Eriskay ponies.

This important work was officially recognised in 2021 when the farmyard was awarded Rare Breeds Survival Trust accreditation.

Arthur Parkinson, author of ‘Chicken Boy: My Life with Hens’ who was inspired by visits to the Chatsworth Farmyard, said: “Respect and compassion for farm animals can only come from both connection and education. As someone who visited as a child, each time I did, my love particularly of poultry grew thanks to the farmyard being such a wondrous and real show of a model farm. I especially remember little hen arks, smartly painted in black, all in a row on the grass where broody hens would proudly rear their chicks with the written dates of when each clutch hatched.

Today, it is very much a Noah’s ark for rare breeds, some of whom have less genetic diversity than that of the giant panda! I still love to visit and do so as often as I can. It is humbling to know that for the past 50 years, it has been a place of fun whilst ensuring an awareness of farming and farm animals, long may it do so for the benefit of us all.

Family-friendly day out

The farmyard continues to prove a popular day out for all ages, offering the opportunity to feed and get up close to an array of friendly animals, watch goat milking demonstrations, and let off steam in the woodland playground. Events this summer include Chatsworth young farmers, where children and adults can gain hands-on experience looking after the animals.

The farmyard is also complemented by a woodland playground, set into the hillside of Stand Wood, featuring equipment for children of all ages, as well as sand and a natural stream.

Visit the farmyard this weekend (29 & 30 July) and join in the birthday celebrations including face painting, crafts, rare breed talks and more.

You can also meet some of the best-loved animals, including Annabel the Shetland pony, who is the oldest resident at 36 years old! Say hello to Seamus the donkey, and the mischievous baby goats, Rosemary and Thyme. The farmyard is welcoming exciting new additions to its animal family, such as Daphne, a young Albion heifer, Maggie and Muffin, two miniature Shetland ponies, and Daisy and Goldie, two Golden Guernsey goats, which is a new breed for the farmyard.

Images 1 & 2: the old building yard before it was converted into the farmyard (circa 1972), image 3: an early milking demonstration, 1973, image 4: early animals on show in 1973, image 5: Duchess Deborah and Alan Titchmarsh, image 6: Duchess Deborah

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