Merrist Wood College is based in Guildford, Surrey on a 400 acre estate with 340 animal management students. Our aim is to inspire the next generation of animal keepers, we do this by teaching theory as well as practicals on a range of different species. In May 2018 the college achieved their zoo license allowing us to keep a more varied selection of species. This allows students to study farm, birds, reptiles, invertebrates and small mammals, it is hoped that over the next few years the zoo collection will evolve further.
In 2017 the farm opened its doors to hold private birthday parties for the public, where children get a personal experience with the animals. During school holidays the farm also open for keeper for a day where children aged 6-16 years old take part in a variety of animal husbandry tasks.
Additionally the college holds three public open events, with our largest being the annual Fleecy Frolics event which this year bought 6500 visitors across the weekend. We also plan for Oxford Sandy and Black piglets to be born over the Easter holiday, this year was the first year we didn’t have them on site for our event. Excitingly one sow named Edwina was at Whipsnade zoo to farrow and the other Whippy went to Chobham Adventure Park a new farm collection. They stayed at these establishments for the busy Summer months advertising the need for conserving rare breeds.
The college has a long history with keeping Oxford Sandy and Black pigs, with the first arriving in 2008 when the cohort of degree students clubbed together to buy two Cynthia gilts as a thank you for their time at the college. This was a very exciting time for the college as it started our passion for keeping the breed and showing our students how great the breed was. Soon after this we started running ‘Introduction to Smallholding’ courses and were able to see just how prolific this breed could be, with both gilts breeding 12 piglets we used our smallholding course to sell the offspring. We still continue to do this and in addition run on 3 to 4 males for meat, with the perfect sale conditions of students and staff the meat flies out the door before we’ve even had a chance to unpack it.
Over the next few months we plan on getting two Oxford Sandy and Black registered gilts, hopefully of the duchess bloodline as there doesn’t appear to be that bloodline in our county. We are also applying to be an RBST approved centre in 2020 which we will hope to eventually become an open farm at weekends. In the future we will be continuing to use Oxford Sandy and Black pigs to help teach our students pig husbandry and hopefully help our pledge of supporting rare breeds of livestock.