Feeding grumpy goats, checking on hooves, taking visitors for rides on his tractor – it’s all in a day’s work for Joe Cain, head of livestock at our visitor centre namesake, Kent Life Heritage Park. He tells us why he’s passionate about sharing the importance of farming with visitors of all ages.

If 5am sounds like an early start to you, spare a thought for Joe Cain, Livestock Officer at our namesake, Kent Life Heritage Farm, Maidstone. In spring, he’s up at around 2.30am, feeding the new-borns he’s brought from the farm to be taken care of in his own home. ‘We call them “sock lambs’’ explains 25-year-old Joe, ‘the name’s thought to have come from a time when shepherds would take off their socks and pop the newborns into them to keep them warm.’ Nowadays, Joe doesn’t use socks: it’s a case of taking the newborns out of the weather into a warmer space and feeding them with bottles of formula milk. And thankfully, more often than not, they’re not orphans: ‘it’s simply that their mums are either not interested in them, or they don’t have enough milk or, say, they’ve had triplets so simply can’t cope with looking after them all. Whatever, I’ll take them in and feed them – goat kids, too.’

Great British Life: Joe with daughter Lilly plus their dogs and some of their sheepJoe with daughter Lilly plus their dogs and some of their sheep

Joe’s then out of the door with his working collie dogs, Tess and Todd, at around 5am to check on his own flock of sheep – some 60 ewes that he and his partner Millie are rearing for their meat on various rented pieces of land around Maidstone. It’s a sign of just how committed his is to farming life – and his energy – that he manages to combine family life (the couple have a five-year- old daughter, Lilly, plus twins due later this year) and caring for his own sheep, with his own full-time job at Kent Life.

‘I’m not from a farming family and academically I was pretty useless at school, Brockhill in Hythe. I loved its brilliant, award-winning School Farm, though, where you could learn all the basics of farming and animal husbandry.

I went on to join Young Farmers, worked in farms across the country and met Millie – also a Young Farmers member - at the Kent County Show,’ he explains.

Great British Life: Feeding one of the kids (c) Kent Life Heritage ParkFeeding one of the kids (c) Kent Life Heritage Park

After a few years working on farms across the county, followed by a stint as a Kent Police Community Support officer, Joe spotted the advert for Livestock Officer at Kent Life last year. It’s a role that might have been tailor-made for Joe, combining as it does his farming and communication skills and giving him the opportunity to share his passion with the wider public. ‘My days are very varied, but my brief has been to revamp things here, introducing new livestock and ensuring Kent Life’s a real working farm. The ultimate aim is to rear our pigs and sheep with a view to producing meat from them in the future.’

By 7am, Joe’s on site at Kent Life and, ‘checking the gang’s OK – though we have cameras in the sheds, so if anyone’s started lambing or had any problems overnight, I’ll have spotted it and been able to come in earlier’. Of the 200 animals on the farm, first to greet him, he says, will be Truffles the Shetland pony, ready for his breakfast.

Not quite so perky is Rupert, the chestnut horse: ‘He’s the grumpy old man of the farm,’ says Joe, ‘And at the ripe old age of 24 he’s earned his place for sure.’ Ernie, Ethel and Fleur, the three pygmy goats (‘pygmies are like the Shetland ponies of the goat world’ explains Joe) are more wiley: ‘if you want them to come because you need to check them for something, they’ll ignore you. If they sense food is on the go, though, they’re fairly quick to arrive,’

Great British Life: There's a mix of old and new to enjoy on the Kent Life site (c) Kent Life Heritage ParkThere's a mix of old and new to enjoy on the Kent Life site (c) Kent Life Heritage Park

Down by the pond, the resident geese are so good at kicking up a fuss they’re relied upon to alert the team to any predators approaching and, often, to frighten them off with their powerful honking. ‘We keep muscovy ducks, too, because their bright plumage gives them a really funky look,’ says Joe, ‘But it’s got to be said they’re not the brightest of the bunch.’

Around 9am, Joe’s joined by assistants Ed and Cameron and they’ll head up to check on the pigs - a recent addition to the farm. ‘I gone for three breeds: Lithuanians because they’re small and lively, Ethel our Middle White because she’s perfect pink pig, just like in the story books and Margot, our Oxford and Sandy Black, because she’s a rare breed.

Also ready to be greeted are the sheep and, perhaps more surprisingly, the alpacas: ‘they’re so popular with visitors but they’re another animal that’s a great predator-deterrent,’ says Joe. Mostly they’re friendly to me, but I’ve been spat at by them plenty of times!’

Spitting aside, given the nature of Kent Life as a visitor attraction, it’s essential that the animals are happy to being approached, admired, sometimes touched by visitors of all ages: ‘At peak times our 28-acres site can see as many as 1,700 visitors a day, so when I’m choosing animals I need to know that they’re people-friendly breeds,’ says Joe.

Great British Life: Children love the chance to get up close and personal with the smaller creatures (c) Kent Life Heritage ParkChildren love the chance to get up close and personal with the smaller creatures (c) Kent Life Heritage Park

Once the public are on-site, the fun really starts for the Kent Life team. ‘It’s all hands on deck, really’ says Joe ‘I might be taking visitors on rides round the farm on our John Deere tractor, past many of the amazing heritage buildings we’ve got as part of our vintage village, from a farmhouse dating back to the 16th century to our 1950s homestead. I could be mucking out the animals, meeting with vets if any treatments are required and of course I'll be answering lots of questions about the animals from visitors.’

Meanwhile it’s the Entertaiments team who are responsible for showing smaller animals like rabbits and guinea pigs to visitors, where kids can get really close to the animals and handle some of them: ‘It’s a great way for them to learn more about the sort of pets they might have, or want to have, at home.’

It's always a busy, varied day for Joe and his team – but he wouldn’t have it any other way: ‘Taking care of our animals, sharing them with visitors and ensuring people are aware of that essential connection between farmyard and food is what we’re all about.’

Great British Life: A view over Kent Life (c) Kent Life Heritage ParkA view over Kent Life (c) Kent Life Heritage Park

Three other Kent Farms to visit:

Rare Breeds Centre, Woodchurch

Farm animals, birds of prey and a children’s barn rarebreeds.org.uk

Huckleberry Woods, near Faversham

Adorable little animals to meet, from micro pigs to miniature donkeys, plus teddybear sheep.


Solley’s ice cream parlour, near Deal

Ice-cream cones and the chance to walk round the arable farm and see what’s going on – sounds like a winning combo to us!


WIN a family membership to Kent Life Heritage Farm (for two adults and two children, terms & conditions apply). The winner will be able to explore the wide range of activities available at the farm, from animal encounters to paddle boating and exciting shows -  families can enjoy everything that nature brings, while also learning about Kent’s intriguing farming heritage. For your chance to win, simply <<>>