It’s here that Prince Charles will return this month (June 2017). To celebrate ten years since he formed the consortium that saved the historic 18th century house and grounds for the nation, Prince Charles – known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland – will officially open his new pet project, the Dumfries House Educational Farm.
Uniquely, it is home to some of the UK’s rarest native breeds such as Castlemilk Moorit sheep, Vaynol and Whitebred Shorthorn beef cattle, British Landrace pigs, Shetland geese, Scots Grey and Scots Dumpy chickens, and Pied Crowlitzer turkeys. They have all been chosen personally by the Prince to save them from extinction while helping teach thousands of primary schoolchildren from the deprived communities surrounding the estate, including Auchinleck, Cumnock, New Cumnock, Galston, Mauchline and Ochiltree, about where their food comes from.
The farm is the only one of its kind in the royal estates, and works in tandem with Home Farm, the working farm at Dumfries House, which only has rare breed cattle and sheep.
The idea is to breed them and improve the stock, thus preserving the gene pool and saving them for the future. Some of the meat and eggs from the rare breeds may in future be put on the menu of the restaurant at Dumfries House.
Preserving pure rare breeds is important to the Prince because they have increasingly been replaced by foreign breeds and breeding programmes more suited to intensive farming methods. The animals at Dumfries House are chosen for their affinity to the British farming landscape.
In a speech to the RBST, Prince Charles said: “Back in 2001 the horrors of Foot and Mouth threatened to wipe out unique breeds of cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, and that is why I was so pleased that my Charitable Foundation was able to support the expansion of the RBST’s gene bank. The threat from disease remains real today.
“I am delighted that I am able to play a small part in this with the farm at Dumfries House, which is now home to five Whitebred Shorthorn heifers which the Trust purchased with a grant from my Foundation. The RBST also used the grant to purchase a Vaynol heifer and she and her sister are being kept in Scotland in the hope of creating the third herd of this breed, which is in the critical category of the Watchlist. Keeping all these animals in Scotland will hopefully provide some insurance against a disease outbreak.”
Kenneth Dunsmuir, business development manager of the Dumfries House Trust, told The Times: “The preservation of rare breeds is really important to HRH, so it would have seemed a missed opportunity had we not incorporated rare breeds into his educational farm.
“This is not a petting farm or a theme park, it’s a real-life out-of-school experience for children with minimal contact with live animals and their welfare, husbandry and what products come from them. This is a revelation to the children, many of whom only know pre-packaged food as it comes from the supermarket. For them to see, smell, touch the source of what they eat and to discover where their eggs and meat come from is remarkable.”
As if to prove his point, 11 year old Arianna Antoniucci, a pupil at St Patrick’s Primary School in Auchinleck, said after visiting Tom the Pied Crollwitzer turkey: “We eat turkey at Christmas but I’ve never seen a live one before. He made more noise than I thought he would, but it was cool.”
* A version of this exclusive news story was first published in The Times.