These lambs are anything but silent. They bleat and cry for their moms, their milk bottles (which the orphan lambs receive), and their grain. This sheep farm where you can feed and pet the animals — and maybe even watch a lamb being born — is one of the most fun places I’ve visited in southern England.
The Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, named after the cliffs of the Sussex Downs, is a 25-year-old family-owned farm, located in East Deane not far from Brighton, England, that raises sheep and lambs for their fleece and milk. The farm is open to the public during spring (March and April) and summer (July and August) and prides itself on being a real working farm that seeks to educate the public about sheep. It’s not just another theme-park-type farm.
My favorite part of the whole experience was bottle feeding a small female lamb (called an ewe) named Dorrie whose mother didn’t have enough natural milk to sustain her. I sat on a bench with four other people, including human mothers with their babies, as we held the lambs in our laps and fed them the milk. One male lamb (a ram) named Rex gulped his milk down by standing on the floor at the feet of the person feeding him. I was surprised at how fast the lambs downed a full bottle of milk — all within 60 seconds.
The farm owner Terry Wigmore and his staff name every sheep and lamb. None of the visitors asked about it, but I don’t think the farm uses these sheep for their meat, as most other sheep farms in England do.
You can spend hours here. Here are the kinds of things you can do at this sheep farm that boasts of having 40 different breeds of sheep — more than any other farm in Great Britain:
Watch Lambs Being Born
During spring season, sit on a bench alongside where pregnant sheep await the birth of their babies. During the peak of the season, there can be 10 or more born a day. When I got there, there had already been two lambs born that morning. As I write this, I’m hoping that a birth happens…
Feed the Mothers and Their Babies Inside
Before the mothers and babies are let out onto the surrounding fields, they are raised for several days or weeks in an inside pen within the 17th-century flint farmhouse so that mother and baby will bond with each other. The farm staff also monitors their physical health. You are invited to and instructed on how to feed the ravenous creatures with special pellets from the palm of your hand. If you don’t mind some slurping on your palm, it’s a lot of fun. But watch out: One of the lambs preferred the fringes of my scarf to the official feed you can buy at the entrance.
The farm emphasizes safety and hygiene, and there are several hand-washing stations and toilet facilities you are encouraged to use after feeding the animals. I was impressed with how clean the farm is; there was hardly a smell.
Bottle Feed Orphan Lambs
Located inside the farmhouse is the pen with the orphan lambs who can’t get milk from their biological mothers. The staff explains that the mothers may have died, be ill, have rejected their lambs for some reason, or not have enough milk to feed them. The lambs seem none the worse for being orphans; they take to the bottles like crazy and seem to crave the attention from their human “parents.” Bottle feeding takes place at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every day.
Be a Shepherd for a Night or a Morning
I didn’t get the chance to have this incredible-sounding experience. But you can reserve two hours from 10 p.m. to 12 p.m. in the spring to help with the farmers with lambing (assisting with births) or from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the summer to assist with the morning feed. And you get your own breakfast and entry free for your hard work!
There is also a play area for young children; exhibits of fleece, wool, and shepherding equipment; a tea shop with great homemade cakes; and a souvenir shop. Schools and other groups can book a visit. You can also arrange a visit from the farm via Terry’s Ark, a mobile unit that brings farm animals to schools.
Seven Sisters Sheep Centre
Telephone for farm: + 44 (01) 3234-23207
Fax: +44- 01323 423302
Terry Wigmore, owner: +44 (01) 32342-3302
From 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during the season:
Lambing time – March 3 to May 7
Closed – May 8 to July 6
Shearing/Sheep milking – July 7 to September 2
2012 Entry Prices
Adult £ 5.00 (about $8.09)
Senior Citizens £ 4.50
Child £ 4.00