National Museum of Rural Life

By Bryce Kershaw, Projects Officer – Museums, Wanneroo, Australia

Before Christmas last year, in a moment of synchronicity, a holidaying couple from Scotland were driving by Buckingham House here in Wanneroo in Western Australia, noticed that the gate was open and decided to wander in for a look.

Buckingham House, the family house of a former dairy property built c.1880 and now a museum, on this day was in fact not open to the public but being cleaned prior to the shut down period of the Christmas school holidays.

Buckingham House

Buckingham House.

As they had come so far we felt it would be churlish to eject our lovely Scottish visitors and proceeded to show them around and entered into a lengthy chat. This included that they lived in East Kilbride near the National Museum of Rural Life and somehow, onto a discussion on the wonderful milkable model cow that is such a big hit with the kids in Scotland.

What a brilliant idea I thought, and having finished the cleaning, rushed back to the office to dash off an email to National Museums Scotland to ask them about this fabled model. Much to my great pleasure only a day or two later, I received an email and images from Duncan Dornan, General Manager of the National Museum of Rural Life. Based on this and other input from the dairy industry here, we designed and eventually built the pictured cow (named Ophelia) now living at Buckingham House.

Ophelia the cow

Ophelia with Bryce and Barbara, Curatorial Assistant at Buckingham House.

Ophelia the model cow

Ophelia the model cow.

Chris WaddellBy Chris Waddell, Learning Officer

The National Museum of Rural Life’s  Country Fair promises to be a great family day out. Most of us will have seen farriery or sheep dog trials on television but on Sunday 28 August 2011, visitors can experience these things first hand – and a whole lot more – at Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

Many other facets of country life will be on display, including a spinning demonstration by renowned Ayrshire fabric worker Liz Brown, or watch Richard Love – a drystane dyker – in action as he works on the repair of an ancient wall at the farm.

Sheepdog herding at the National Museum of Rural Life, Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

A reminder of school days gone by will be in evidence with our Old Fashioned Games sessions in the Buchan’s field. Budding Olympians can take part in sack racing and welly throwing, or try their hand at quoits – an ancient game of skill and pre-cursor to the game of hoop-la!

Farriery demonstration at the National Museum of Rural Life, Wester Kittochside, East Kilbride.

Meanwhile, foodies and foragers can sample a taste of Scotland’s countryside and pick up some recipe tips at Ms. Claire Bird’s wild food stand. Slow Food Scotland will also be present, providing taste tests and visitors can see an apple press in action at the Waulkmill Juice Company’s stand.

Home made preserves at the National Museum of Rural Life

Home made preserves at the National Museum of Rural Life.

By Maggie McDougall, Stockperson at National Museum of Rural Life

Earlier this month saw the first of the dairy calves arrive at National Museum of Rural Life. This year also saw a new breed of dairy calf for the first time.  Kittochside Martha’s Joy, our new arrival, is a cross bred calf: her dam, a pure bred Ayrshire, was crossed with a Jersey bull. The calf carries the Jersey characteristics of being small boned and has the giveaway large dark eyes and eyelashes against the rich brown body colour. The small bones made it all the easier on her dam, a heifer, to have her first calf.

The Jersey cow is renowned for the quality of milk she produces: the butterfat and protein levels greatly surpass any other breed, and the breed was used in the past to increase the value of the milk produced when a premium was paid for butterfat and protein levels. Jerseys are still frequently used today, in the modern commercial Holstein dairy herds.

Martha's Joy

New arrival Martha's Joy in her stall at National Museum of Rural Life.

As her name “Joy” suggests she is a great hit with all our staff and visitors and creates a new dimension to the experience at the working farm.

Bryony HopeBy Bryony Hope, Events Officer

The National Museum of Rural Life couldn’t have been more Christmassy on Sunday 12 December, with snow on the ground, crisp, clear skies, the sound of a traditional organ grinder and Santa and his elf grinning away next to a huge Christmas tree.

Santa and his elf greet visitors

Santa and his elf greet visitors.

The Christmassy weather had, however, presented several Health and Safety and logistics problems in the lead up to the event, including how to erect a large marquee for the foals on an icy forecourt, so the executive decision had to be made to cancel the stars of the show.  The foals are a huge pull for our audience so the entrance fee was reduced to normal daily rates, notices were put up online and at the entrance to the museum, and we all waited nervously to see how many visitors would still come and how they’d react.  We needn’t have worried, as nearly 1,000 people flowed through the doors and had a great day out.

The museum building was a hive of activity.  A Christmas craft fair was buzzing in the main gallery, KYBO theatre had four full-houses for “Santa’s Magic Workshop”, hot toddies were being handed out at the Christmas cooking demonstration and the museum staff were doing a great job running craft workshops in the learning centre.

The craft fair gearing up for the day ahead

The craft fair gearing up for the day ahead.

Sweet treats from the craft fair

Sweet treats from the craft fair.

Up at the farm the staff and volunteers ran a pomander-making workshop in the kitchen whilst one of our regular facilitators Jackie Lee ran traditional Victorian parlour games.

Outside in the farmyard the festive spirit continued with three visiting donkeys posing for photographs accompanied by some classic Bing Crosby Christmas tunes.  I also had a quick peek at the piglets who are now definitely teenagers in both size and mannerisms (they didn’t even look up to say hi as they were too busy eating).  Visitors also had a go at stock judging, this time trying to assess the ‘best in show’ from the donkeys and calves.

By the end of the day all the staff (and the donkeys) were ready to drop, but it was a great end to a successful year for the National Museum of Rural Life.  Here’s hoping 2011 is even better!

The donkeys chilling out to Bing Crosby

The donkeys chilling out to Bing Crosby.

Donkey at the Christmas Fair

Dreaming of a white Christmas? A donkey at the Christmas Fair.

By Maggie McDougall, Stockperson at National Museum of Rural Life

The 10th day of the 10th month of 2010, saw the smallest of offspring arrive at the National Museum of Rural Life.

Earlier that week saw the working farm extremely busy with the last of Rustic Rosie’s spring born piglets, now weaners, being sold to establish new herds of Tamworth pigs in Lanarkshire and Midlothian. Our spring lambs were also sold at market, and the harvest brought in to help feed the livestock throughout the winter months. This was fortunately all completed before our newest arrivals made their appearance.

Farm fields at National Museum of Rural Life

Farm fields at National Museum of Rural Life

Toffee our third generation Kittochside Tamworth farrowed (gave birth) to a litter of piglets. Toffee is a gilt (young female) and this was her first farrowing which can be distressing enough for a young pig, but her litter arrived a fortnight early, her due date was 31st October. We now have nine small, but very healthy piglets. This is more than plenty for a first farrowing. The piglets are now thriving and Toffee is generating plenty of milk to sustain them.

Toffee and her piglets

Toffee and her piglets at National Museum of Rural Life

They are a very welcome addition to the livestock enterprises at the working farm, and are proving as popular as ever with visitors and staff.

Chris WaddellBy Chris Waddell, Learning Officer

As we progress through autumn, our thoughts inevitably turn to the winter ahead and prospect of Christmas looms ever larger.

The festive season is marked at National Museum of Rural Life by our annual Christmas Fair and Foal Show, this year it’s on Sunday 12th December. As usual, the centrepiece to our event will be a cute collection of Shetland pony foals in the Museum courtyard – some of whom make a special effort with yuletide outfits!


Christmas Fair and Foal Show

Patting a Shetland pony at the Christmas Fair and Foal Show


The entertainment continues with pantomime performances throughout the afternoon in the Theatre provided by the ever popular KYBO theatre company. Father Christmas himself makes an appearance in these performances, when he is not to be found next the hearth in the museum, handing out treats to good children (and good adults, should any show up!)


Festive crafts at the Christmas Fair and Foal show

Festive crafts at the Christmas Fair and Foal show


Some Christmas gifts can be purchased at the craft fair in the Tools Gallery, which features some twenty or so different stands offering locally produced goods. For those youngsters more interested in an invigorating and traditional winter sport we have an indoor curling rink set up by our friends from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. For those of a more creative frame of mind, some Christmas Craft items can be made in the Learning Centre Craft Room.  All of these activities are set against a backdrop of traditional Yuletide music played for us by the North Wind Street Organ.


Farm Explorer rides at the Christmas Fair and Foal show.

Farm Explorer rides at the Christmas Fair and Foal show.


At the farm, visitors can meet our guest donkeys who come and spend Christmas with us each year. Also, find out what people did for entertainment on Christmas afternoon before the invention of James Bond films by joining in our Edwardian Parlour Games and pomander making sessions. Finally, why not try your hand at stock judging and guess which of our farm animals you think are the best.


Farmhouse at Wester Kittochside

Farmhouse at Wester Kittochside


By Raymond McAllister, Visitor Services Assistant

This was an extremely busy event with over double the amount of visitors compared to 2009. With nearly 1,800 Halloween revellers joining in the fun, the museum was almost full to bursting!

Spooky Halloween character at the National Museum of Rural Life's party

There were plenty of activities to keep the children busy with spooky games, storytelling, dooking for apples and our ever popular Halloween crafts. The event was certainly a challenge this year with the unprecedented numbers but good fun was had by all.

Spooky entrance to National Museum of Rural Life's Halloween party.

By Raymond McAllister, Visitor Services Assistant

On Wednesday 13 October the Museum of Rural Life held its Autumn Stargazing event. This proved to be very popular as we were fully booked and on the night we had a full house of 40. Unfortunately the weather was against us and the sky remained overcast the whole evening. Luckily Lynne from the Clydesdale Astronomical Society came prepared and gave a fascinating presentation on the solar system, so many thanks to Lynne and the society for rescuing the night.

The next event will be our Halloween Party, which takes place on Sunday 31 October from 3pm till 5pm. This should be another busy event, with plenty to keep the kids entertained, including spooky games, Halloween crafts and dooking for apples.

Halloween pumpkins

Halloween pumpkins.

At the farm it has quietened down as we have sold off a lot of stock. However, there has been some new life injected into the farm with the arrival of new piglets. The mother in question is Toffee, who is one of the pigs that we kept from last year, so well done Toffee as this is her first litter. At the moment the piglets are still quarantined as they are very small and Toffee is easily upset so we will keep our fingers crossed and hope all turns out well.

Toffee and her piglets

Toffee and her piglets.

By Maggie McDougall, Stockperson at National Museum of Rural Life

The National Museum of Rural Life’s Ayrshire dairy herd recently enjoyed great success at East Kilbride Show. They secured four 1st prizes, four 2nd prizes, the group championship rosette and a society medal for best calf in show!

Following this we were invited to take part in the Lanarkshire Ayrshire Herd’s competition for the first time. The competition itself is run annually and covers all Ayrshire dairy herds in Lanarkshire. Judging takes place at the entrant’s farm and the cattle are judged in the field in their natural state.

Ayrshire cow in field

Award winning Ayrshire in field at Wester Kittochside, National Museum of Rural Life.

The judging this year took place on the evening of the 24 August with the cows selected being the top four in our herd: Kittochside Nora Louise EX90, Ruby EX90, Nora VG79 and Candy VG89. The judging took place in the Longcroft field with the historic working farm as a backdrop on a better dry warm evening than we have seen of late.  This made for a very pleasant evening for judges and visitors from other competition farms.

Two Ayrshire cows in field

Two Ayrshire cows grazing in the field at Wester Kittochside, National Museum of Rural Life.

Out of a total of 12 herds in the small herds section, the National Museum of Rural Life fought off extremely tough competition from well known herds to win a respectable 3rd place.

Over the past nine years the dairy herd at the museum has undergone some very positive changes and achieved competition success against herds which have been developed over several generations.

Maggie McDougall feeding Ayrshire calves

Maggie McDougall feeding hungry Ayrshire calves at Wester Kittochside, National Museum of Rural Life.

From the initial six commercial Ayrshire cows purchased it has developed quickly and is now fully pedigreed, prize winning, and classified. In addition our first bull will be going for sale at a forthcoming pedigree bull sale, showing the quality of animals bred at the Museum.

Find out more about the Ayrshire herd at National Museum of Rural Life and what’s happening on the farm on our website.

John HawellA guest post by John Hawell of the Clyde Bat Group

24 August 2010. The nights are gradually drawing in and we start tonight’s bat walk a wee bit earlier, at 8:30pm. There is a strong and chilly wind blowing from the south-west and the cloud cover is almost complete  - but it’s bright, following a pleasant sunny afternoon, and dry.

We have a small group assembled tonight, just three adults and three children. After the usual introduction we set off. A fox dashes across the road behind us   ~   just a fleeting glimpse. We then hear our first bat at 8:58pm, a soprano pipistrelle. It takes a while before we see it. Only when the bat flies clear of the tree canopy and against the light sky does it comes into view. Soon there are others flitting about.

Red fox

Red fox from Skandinavisk Dyrepark, Denmark by Malene Thyssen.

Pipistrelles are our smallest and most common species of bat in the UK. In fact we have two species of common pipistrelles that until just a few years ago were considered to be a single species. Bat detectors alerted bat workers to the realisation that some bats were echo-locating at about 45 kHz, while others were echo-locating at about 55 kHz. Further research revealed that the bats looked different - those calling at about 45 kHz had black faces and because of their resemblance to bandits, now tend to be called bandit pipistrelles! The others, because they ‘sing’ at a higher level, are commonly called soprano pipistrelles.

Further research revealed that these two species don’t just look different, and have distinguishably different calls, they behave differently as well. Sometimes the two species are encountered in the same general area but normally one would expect to encounter either one or the other, depending what type of habitat you find them in.

Common pipistrelle by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust

Common pipistrelle by Hugh Clark / Bat Conservation Trust.

Of course, it is impossible to hear these echo-location calls without the aid of a bat detector. The electronic bat detector brings these calls down to a level that the human ear can appreciate. The high frequency calls emitted by the bat are bounced back off any objects in their path. Their brains compute the echoing sound and form it into an audio image of their surroundings. In this way bats can move about freely, and catch their food, even in total darkness.

Despite using high frequency calls, much higher pitched than human beings would ever be able to hear, bats do also make calls that we can hear  – and they have eyes too! Anybody that has stood near a bat maternity roost at dusk on a summer evening will hear bats twittering and chirping in their excitement to leave the roost as soon as it is dark enough. But once bats are airborne, their high frequency echo-location system kicks in and they become silent to our ears, unless we use an electronic bat detector: then their secret world is suddenly revealed to us.

From 9:05pm onwards there are loads of bats about. The bat detectors are busy and the two young boys in particular are excited by the sight and sound of so many bats whizzing about in the twilight.

We encounter another swarm of feeding bats in the farmhouse garden. This is great. From a distance we investigate a bat roost in an old tree but we don’t see any bats emerge  - they are probably all out and whizzing about by now. We hear feeding buzzes through the detectors. The bats are feeding  - on midges!

Common snail

Common snail (Helix aspersa) by the champ on Flickr.

It is time to move on. As we leave the garden, in the torchlight we spot a large garden snail being closely followed by a large leopard slug. The boys have never seen such things before and they are fascinated.

Limax maximum part of Blaschka models at National Museum of Scotland

Leopard slug or Limax maximum part of Blaschka models at National Museum of Scotland.

The full moon is rising higher into the sky as we make our way back through the farm to our starting point. We hear an occasional bat as we proceed but most of them are behind us now, still feeding in the vicinity of the large trees and old buildings. One of the black farm cats joins us now and seems very pleased to see us. We finally finish tonight’s walk at 9:45pm.

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