At Merryhue Farm the animals play a crucial part in helping people to overcome the difficulties they are experiencing in life, whether that’s learning difficulties and disabilities, mental health issues, anger, trauma, bereavement, special educational needs, or any other challenges.
Animals provide a non-judgemental listening ear and often appear to sense what someone needs from them - a donkey stands perfectly still while a physically disabled person clings to their neck; a little dog snuggles into the lap of a young person who is feeling sad; an alpaca hums gently next to an anxious veteran.
The effect of stroking soft fur or hugging a warm body, particularly where physical contact has been a negative experience for someone in the past, can be as life changing as the most specialist of talking therapies. We have seen this profound connection between people and animals make a difference again and again over the years, changing lives and bringing hope and joy.
Poitou donkeys are an endangered species from France, one of the largest breeds of donkey with an adult standing over 15hh. They have a distinctive coat of dreadlocks and can look rather unkempt! We have 4 mares and one colt, who was born at Merryhue in 2018. These donkeys are gentle giants and are loved by all the students and staff. They enjoy being cuddled and groomed, or just having their noses stroked over the gate. Favourite foods include carrots and apples, and when it’s feeding time, they let us know with their loud and distinctive braying.
The miniature donkeys (Tinkerbell and George) are very playful and can often be seen chasing each other around the paddock or taking shelter from the rain by standing underneath their giant donkey friends. They enjoy being led around the field by students and are happy to stand still to be groomed or petted, particularly if there’s a food reward involved!
The reindeer (Sven and Elsa) were new arrivals at Merryhue in 2019 and have settled in very well, becoming a firm favourite with everyone. They are being halter trained by the students who are learning how to care for these beautiful animals. Did you know that only male reindeer have antlers, which means Santa’s sleigh was pulled by female reindeer!
Living alongside the reindeer are 3 wallabies. They have spent their first winter at Merryhue in a warm cosy stable while a new paddock with a high fence is prepared for them for the summer. The wallabies are shy and quiet and have a wonderful calming influence on anyone willing to spend half an hour sitting peacefully in their stable.
Our Valais Blacknose sheep are a rare breed from Switzerland. They are the cuddly toy of the sheep world with a thick white fleece, black nose, knees and feet, and a super friendly personality. We have successfully bred several lambs with the aim of both expanding our own flock and increasing the international gene pool for the breed. They will always come to the sound of food rattling in a bucket, and love to be fussed and groomed.
The angora goats have been at Merryhue for several years. When they arrived, they were in very poor condition, having been rescued from neglect, but happily they are all now in top condition and have even had kids! They like nothing better than climbing around on the wood piles in their paddock, or being fussed over by students and staff.
Our alpaca herd is well established, and a firm favourite with everyone at Merryhue. In 2018 we were fortunate to have two babies born (a baby alpaca is called a cria) who are now the teenagers of the herd! Alpacas sometimes make a low humming noise which has a calming effect on the rest of the herd, and this also helps to reduce stress and anxiety in people. They are friendly and inquisitive animals and are happy to be halter led, groomed and petted.
The ponies have been living at Merryhue for years and have helped countless individuals to overcome difficulties in their lives. They are always happy to be cuddled, stroked and groomed, and it’s often while this basic animal care is taking place that students will talk to the ponies about their issues, allowing their thoughts to be voiced without fear of judgement or reprisal.
The poultry are an integral part of the family at Merryhue with chickens, ducks, geese and peacocks all wandering free range around the site. The therapeutic effect of being with the poultry is particularly noticeable with our less physically able groups, such as the dementia group, where simply sitting outside with chickens clucking and foraging has a calming effect and evokes childhood memories.
Our small furry animals (rabbits and guinea pigs) bring out the inner child in all of us, requiring gentle handling and stroking of their soft fur. They are handled every day which ensures they are very tame and are able to sit happily in the lap of anyone who wants to spend time with them.
We have a wonderful gang of seven little dogs living at Merryhue, many of them rescue dogs, and each with their own distinct personality. Some prefer to lie quietly under a desk in the office, while others can be seen pottering about the site or sleeping in a sunny spot. Milo is the youngest and liveliest of the pack, and spends all day out and about with students, pestering them to throw a stick for him and always ready for a cuddle with anyone who’s feeling down.