Helping you to get the most out of our region

Local pets: Little donkeys

26th November 2020

Amander Meade meets Daphne and John, pet donkeys belonging to the Ball family and two of the most popular residents of Rutland Farm Park in Oakham

Daphne (left) and John (right), donkeys at Rutland Farm Park in Oakham

When she was a girl, Julie Ball’s journey to school took her past the entrance of what is now Rutland Farm Park. As a youngster, Julie often wondered about the people and animals within those gates, but fast forward a few years and she had all the answers she needed. ‘I married Clive, the fourth generation of farmers on the land, on my 18th birthday and began to farm alongside him,’ she laughs. ‘Still a working farm, the Park has been open to the public since the 1970s and was relaunched three years ago after a period of closure brought about by the foot and mouth problems of the late nineties.’

With Julie’s daughter, Amy, now making it five generations of the same family running the 18-acre farm, the animals on site are many and varied. The Park is home to cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, ponies, horses, geese, ducks, chickens, quails, llamas, alpacas and, of course, Daphne and John, the donkeys. ‘Eighty per cent of the livestock here are rare breeds, with many having been rehomed with us,’ explains Julie. ‘Daphne was a former Blackpool beach donkey, who had been rejected, as she was pregnant. She came to us in a very bad state, with badly overgrown hooves, foot problems and lice. John arrived around the same time. He had been well looked after, but his owner was going into a care home, so he came to live with us. Both partial to chopped apples and carrots, the donkeys are really popular with visitors, but, as they are both getting on in age, they no longer make public appearances outside the Farm Park; we think they have earned a peaceful, happy retirement.’

With a gift shop and tea room on site, the Farm Park is usually self-funding through hosting hundreds of local visitors, educational school visits and birthday parties, but the effects of Covid-19 during 2020 have been devastating financially. ‘Closure over the summer almost crippled us,’ reports Julie. ‘We obviously still have all the costs of food, shelter, insurance, vet and farrier fees, but minus our usual income, which has been incredibly difficult – in common with so many other local businesses. Neither were we able to use our usual team of volunteers and college placement students, so things were very challenging operationally without those extra pairs of hands.’

Despite losing a summer’s income, the Farm Park was able to safely open for business in the autumn and, although closed again due to the second national lockdown, is looking forward to reopening as soon as it can, in early December. ‘Visitors will be welcome to come and see Daphne and John and all the other animals; feed them and learn about how we look after them in a safe environment. Normally, we are open all year round for visitors to explore our tracks and fields in the fresh air with plenty to do for all the family. Parking is free, and carers are admitted without charge. We are looking forward to seeing you.’

Rutland Farm Park, Uppingham Road, Oakham LE15 6JD. Normal winter opening times are: Tue–Sun, 10am–4pm. There is a cafe, serving afternoon teas and other hot and cold food on site (accessible without entrance charge); updates on 01572 722122 and

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