13 things to do at Smithills Farm

Smithills Open Farm near Bolton is, at it’s heart, a dairy farm and as such cows feature heavily in any visit!  From hand-feeding the calves to watching them being milked, if you’re a fan of cows like our Amy, then Smithills Farm is a great place to visit. And, even if cows aren’t your thing then there’s still a wide variety of other animals to see – basically anything you’d expect on a farm – pigs, horses, goats, sheep and some you wouldn’t – like meerkats, snakes and owls!

We’ve been to Smithills Farm so many times in the last few years and think it’s a really lovely day out – with that in mind, I wanted to share thirteen things to do at Smithills Open Farm.

1. Watch the cows be milked

Watching the cows being milked is Amy’s favourite thing to do at Smithills Farm – the herd is 100 cows strong with around 50 being milked by robot and 50 being milked the old fashioned way.

The robot is super high-tech and allows the cows to be milked all day long with minimal input from the farmer. The cows wear a special necklace which the machine reads – if the cow has been milked recently she’s sent on her way but if not the machine milks her automatically whilst also doing other health checks such as taking her temperature.

But Amy really loves to watch the cows be milked the old fashioned way by Farmer Carl. It takes around an hour to milk the 50 cows in this half of the herd and Amy stands to watch every minute, chatting to Farmer Carl about what the girls are called, learning about their characters and about the routines around milking them. I must admit I find it rather fascinating too!

2. Ride one of the Smithills Farm donkeys!

Donkey rides are available at Smithills Farm throughout the day. You will need to purchase a ticket from Reception – rides cost £1 and take just a few minutes. I don’t think we’ve been to Smithills Farm and not had a donkey ride yet!

Little girl riding a donkey at Smithills Farm
Donkey rides at Smithills Farm cost £1 and tickets can be bought at reception

3. Feed the lambs in Pets’ Corner

A highlight of any trip to Smithills Farm is feeding the lambs in Pets’ Corner – the staff hand out bottles of milk and then the lambs are released into the room. And when I say released, I really do mean released! They come careering round the corner ready for their milk so it can be a bit overwhelming for little ones (especially if the lambs are quite big like they were on our most recent visit!) The lambs can be quite strong so you do need to keep tight hold of those bottles!

4. Spot the poo machine

Yes this is really a thing! The “R2 Clean Poo” is an automated barn cleaner which makes it’s way around the barn, scraping all the cow poo down the slatted floor keeping the barn fresh and clean (well as fresh and clean as any barn with 50 cows in could be!) Amy loves being able to spot it helping to look after her beloved cows!

5. Have a picnic

Although Smithills Farm serve a range of hot and cold foods in their on site cafe, they also have plenty of picnic tables and an outdoor play area so we usually just take a picnic! We’ve never struggled to find anywhere to sit and you can always leave your picnic in the car to save you lugging it around.

Picnic area at Smithills Farm

6. Take a tractor ride

This is something we’ve never actually got round to doing at Smithills Farm but you can buy tickets at Reception to take a ride in the trailer of a big tractor and see the farm from a different view!

7. Feed the animals

Bags of feed can be bought at reception and cost 50p. Many of the animals at Smithills Farm can be fed by hand including the cows, goats and sheep. Some of the animals (such as the pigs and horses) shouldn’t be fed but there are clear signs up so you know when you can and can’t feed the animals. (There are plenty of places around the farm with hot running water and soap to make sure that hands are thoroughly cleaned after feeding and handling the animals.)

8. Play on the indoor bouncy castle

For those days when the weather isn’t so kind, there is a barn filled with toys and inflatables to let your little one burn off some steam! This is really set up for the younger guests – with Little Tykes cars etc but all three of our children still love a bouncy castle!

Little girl on indoor bouncy castle at Smithills Farm

9. Touch a snake

I mean this isn’t personally top of my list of things to do but you can touch a snake if you want to along with a whole host of other animals in Pet’s Corner including an owl, a donkey and rabbits to name but a few. 

10. Hold the baby animals

As part of the Pet’s Corner experience, you can handle a range of baby animals from stroking young donkeys or alpacas to holding chicks and rabbits! Amy always loves the idea of this but then panics when the opportunity arises!

11. Play on the farm-themed play area

A well thought out play area is always a welcome bonus on a day out – especially if it means that I can sit down and chat with a friend whilst the kids tire themselves out! The play area at Smithills Farm is, as you’d expect, farm-themed and has a range of climbing equipment to suit all ages as well as spring rockers and trim trail style equipment.

12. Bottle feed the calves

The calves at Smithills Farm are fed three times a day – early in the morning, mid afternoon and late evening. You can help with the mid-afternoon feed – this takes place as soon as milking has finished at about 2pm and you can tell when it’s time as they all start shouting loudly for their milk! The calf we fed was just a week old so she was a little shy to start with. Amy has never been brave enough to feed the calves before and needed a bit of encouragement this time but just look at her little face – I’m so glad she gave it a go.

Little girl bottle feeding calves at Smithills Farm

13. Buy some Smithills Farm milk

Amy was super excited to buy a litre of milk from the onsite shop – it cos £2 for a litre but if you take the bottle back you get your next bottle for £1. We had it for breakfast this morning and it was absolutely delicious – if we were a little bit closer I’d definitely be getting it delivered! (You can also buy tubs of Smithills Farm ice cream to take home too!)

Smithills Farm milk in glass bottles

There’s so much to do at Smithills Open Farm that you can easily fill your day and not have covered everything (especially if you spend an hour watching the cows be milked!) You don’t even need to wait for a sunny day – you might think a farm wouldn’t be the best idea for a rainy day activity but with so many indoor attractions, Smithills Farm is definitely worth considering.

If you’re looking for farms to visit in the North of England, here are three of our favourites.   

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