Windmill Animal Farm, Burscough

People poked fun at David Slinger when he decided to diversify but he's having the last laugh.<br/>Roger Borrell reports<br/>Pictures: John Cocks

WHEN David Slinger's grandfather first set up his farm on low lying land in West Lancashire, the family thought he was mad.

The fields flooded so badly that when the winter tides finally receded dead fish were left on the roads. It wasn't an easy existence and it didn't get an awful lot easier as the years rolled by.

David's dad Matthew took over the running of the Burscough farm, building up a business with sheep, beef and a dairy herd. The business passed down to David, but by the early 90s he was starting to look at other ways of making a living.

'I was a bit sick of going to the bank, cap in hand, every year,'

says David. He and his wife Gillian had been on holiday and he got the idea of setting up an outdoor visitor attraction while chatting to a Welsh farmer about the poor prices paid for their lambs.

'I came back and decided we needed to pull our finger out,' says David. The family put together a plan for turning the place into Windmill Animal Farm, a place where children could spend a day in a rural setting, having fun while learning more about the countryside and its way of life.

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David is a jolly man who can see the irony of a farmer having to run what is really an agricultural theme park. 'Dad was dead against it,' he says. 'He thought we were all crackers. But he came around eventually. To be honest, it took off pretty much from day one.'

Now, Windmill Farm attracts 10,000 children on school trips every year as well as families on days out. They have the chance to feed lambs and goats and pedal around the farm on toy tractors. There's also a small gauge train and, if the weather's bad, there's an indoor play barn, one of the biggest in the North West.

David is helped by his wife Gillian and they live in the farm's windmill with sons Chris and Matthew. 'We lived in a caravan while the windmill was converted....I told the wife it would take 18 months at the most. We were still in the caravan six years later! We don't go on caravan holidays.'

As well as 50 sheep and 30 assorted breeds of cattle, the site also has a flourishing cafeteria. 'I've gone from feeding animals to feeding people - the difference is I can't shout at the people,' laughs David, who is 57.

It's a seven day a week job during the season but, as farmers, they're used to long hours. He sighs a little when you ask him if he'd rather go back to being a farmer and it's clear that he regrets not having a fully-functioning farm to hand down to the next generation.

But he adds: 'I got a lot of earache when I started from people who said it wasn't proper farming. I'm never going to be a millionaire, but I feel more in control now. And it keeps me out of mischief!'

Windmill Animal Farm, Red Cat lane, Burscough.Tel: 01704 892282. For more information log onto