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 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.

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

17 August 2010. Tonight’s bat walk at the National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride is the second in a series of six weekly walks taking place on Tuesday evenings. The walk is scheduled to begin at 8:45pm and it’s a wonderful, calm evening following a pleasant sunny afternoon.

We have seven adults and three children booked onto tonight’s walk and we are very pleased to welcome Anita from National Museums Scotland, in Edinburgh.

After our usual introductory talk and issue of bat detectors, reflective arm bands and torches, we set off. It isn’t long before we hear our first bat twittering through the bat detectors at 9:11pm. It is a soprano pipistrelle echo-locating at about 55 kHz. I am asked  ‘Do I give bats names’? Well no, but very soon we have a ‘Jimmy’ and a’ Fred’ flying round about us! There is great excitement as the bat detectors are increasingly busy with twitters and more bats come into view against the still bright sky.

Anita captures the moment with her camera. The results are excellent – take a look.

We move on and witness more and more bats joining the party. By 9:25pm there is a real buzz about the place. Bats, all of them soprano pipistrelles, are flying in all directions   – some of them come skimming quite close to us now as they fly beneath the tree canopy. It’s brilliant!

Of course, these bats are feeding and, like all our eighteen species of British bat, they eat insects. Pipistrelles specialise in eating midges   ~   lots of them. Apparently a single bat can consume about 3,000 midges in one night! One can’t help but think what a great job they are doing, but at the same time wish they’d eat more!

More questions are forthcoming  – ‘If bats damage their wings can the damage be repaired, and will it leave a scar?’, and ‘Can you identify individual bats, and young from adults, and males from females?’ I’ll try to answer them here. Small holes in bat wings heal up very quickly but larger tears are more of a problem and may never heal properly. Broken bones can have miniature splints applied and will repair as well as if we were treated for such injuries by the National Health Service. Young bats are distinguishable from adults, at least until the young go into their first winter hibernation. Apart from checking the obvious, male and female bats are pretty much indistinguishable to look at, but some of their calls are different.

Like other mammals, bats can sometimes be identified as individuals. Perhaps there is a bump on their face or a particular mark on their wing, and so on. In addition, bats have personalities and it is often the way they behave that identifies them. For research purposes individually numbered tags are attached to the bats.

At last we reach the farm and Mairi the Clydesdale horse comes across the field to welcome us. She seems pleased to see us but alas we have no polos to offer.  Maybe next time. The two black farm cats also spot us and come to say hello.

Mairi the Clydesdale at National Museum of Rural Life

Mairi the Clydesdale at National Museum of Rural Life

At the farm house garden we hit another hot spot for bats. Again, all of them soprano pipistrelles, but it’s great to see them and hear the bat detectors conveying their otherwise silent messages to us. It has been a really good evening.

Friendly cats at National Museum of Rural Life

Friendly cats at National Museum of Rural Life

We make our way back through the farm to our starting point. There is just an occasional bat now; they don’t like to fly over the open fields. The two cats follow us, both black in the darkness. Not easy to see but we know they are there. Last year we were worried they might get lost if they followed us, and follow us they did. Ewan and his dad used to take them back to the farm in their car afterwards. Not this year though – we’re now wise to their ploy for a free ride!

The walk finishes just after 10:00pm. It has remained calm, warm and dry throughout, and we’ve seen loads of bats – plus the bonus of Mairi the Clydesdale and the two friendly farm cats! We are all well satisfied and bid everybody a good night.


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