I have a bit of a soft spot for Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom (Telford) – I first visited when I was about seven years old on a youth group trip and have now been with the Smalls a good three times and it is always a great day out.
With over 125 different breeds of animal, Hoo Farm is great fun to explore with everything from noisy parrots through to meerkats and foxes. It is somewhere between being a small zoo and a large farm, hidden away in the Shropshire countryside.
As well as looking at all the animals, there are numerous opportunities for you to get up close and personal with them. As soon as you walk in the entrance it is highly likely that you will meet a goat or two wandering over for a scratch behind the ears (and a nibble on your coat sleeve/shoe laces) and you can buy bags of food to feed to the goats, sheep and pigs both in the shop and from little vending machines positioned next to the enclosures. They do try and keep the goats in enclosures some of the time but they are very good at getting back out – we had a great laugh watching them trying to persuade two particularly Houdini-esque characters to stay put last time we visited. It took about four people and they still gave up in the end.
There is also lamb and goat feeding time where children (and grown-ups!) can bottle feed the baby lambs and goats milk. This is always popular so it is a good idea to check the timetable for the day when you arrive and make sure you are in the main farm yard in plenty of time.
For the more adventurous they have the Exotic Meet and Greet in the yard (providing the weather isn’t too bad) where keepers bring out a few of the more unusual small animals for you to say hello to and stroke. We met a teeny tiny baby ferret, a bearded dragon and an albino skunk called Blossom – I think I was far more excited about stroking a skunk than any of the kids were…
There is the opportunity for pony rides, hand-feeding the deer, a wallaby walk and the Play Barn full of toys, books, soft play foam blocks and a ball pool if the littlies need a play-break (or the grown-ups need a sit down!)
As if all this wasn’t enough, there are a couple of beautiful woodland walks to explore too. One of these is full of models of the animals you can find in the British countryside (and the odd gnome and faerie!) which is great for pretending you are explorers on a wildlife trail – you are guaranteed to spot the animals and they sit still for photographs!!
The other walk is a faerie tale adventure, featuring the houses of a whole host of characters everyone knows and loves – from Beauty and the Beast through to the Elves and the Shoemaker. The Three Little Pigs are there as well, although the pigs aren’t so little when you spot them!
As if all this wasn’t enough, there is then my favourite part of the whole day – the sheep race!
Eight sheep are fitted up with cuddly mini jockeys and you are invited to lay your bets on who you think will win (50p a bet and you get a cute badge featuring a sheep wearing your chosen number) – then the feed trough at the end of the course is filled and the sheep released. They run down the course, over a few little fences and the first to stick their head in the trough is the winner. It’s always great fun to watch and cheer along and there is always one sheep that either can’t be bothered and walks or else nudges down the barrier at the side and walks around the jumps (and this is usually the one I have bet on…) The rest of the flock are then released after the official eight so they all get to frolic their way over the jumps to their dinner.
Anyone who has picked the winning sheep gets a cool rosette to take home as well as their badge, which is a really nice touch.
There is a little café on-site selling hot food as well as sandwiches and drinks and plenty of places for you to sit and eat a picnic of your own. There is an outdoor play area with swings, a mini zip line and tunnels along with a covered sandpit complete with cool digger things to play in as well as the indoor Play Barn for anyone who has energy left after exploring everywhere else and a gift shop for you to buy ice creams and keepsakes to remember your visit.
Hoo Farm does seasonal themes and events and is open all year round, whatever the weather – there is plenty to do and see and priced at under £8 per person (under 2s go free) even at peak times, it is very reasonably priced.
Hoo Farm hasn’t lost its magic for me as I’ve grown up and I still look forward to visiting it when we decide to go. There aren’t many things like this on our doorstep – this is the only zoo in Shropshire in fact – so it is probably on my Top 5 things to do should you ever be visiting our fine county with your kids (or even without them!)
To find out more about Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom, visit their website here
Follow them on Twitter: @HooFarmTelford
And find them on Facebook here: Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom