How to improve holidays with children

Listen, mum, can you hear the laughing ducks?
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The Independent Travel

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by this incident. One of the first things we ever teach our children is that sheep say baa and cows go moo, but how many have a clue what our neighing, clucking, braying friends actually do for a living? For many pint-sized city dudes, mine included, the nearest they come to getting up-close and personal with a cow or a pig is when they learn the words to "Old MacDonald" (no, Stan, he doesn't serve Happy Meals).

Time to book a break on a real-life, real-animal working farm, then. Wellies at the ready, I've brought my pale-faced urban brood to the countryside - "the bit that's not in London", to them - where they've chased chickens, fed lambs, ridden tractors and, joy of joys, stood in the biggest piles of manure known to man. They've woken up to the sound of ducks laughing (well, that's what Stanley said they were doing), eaten eggs they collected themselves (even after discovering that they come from hens' bottoms), and inhaled lungfuls of pure country air - isn't this what childhood holidays are meant to be all about? And, despite the notable lack of amusement arcades, they've actually enjoyed themselves.

If you fancy a break on a British farm, farmstayuk.co.uk is good first port of call. Accommodation ranges from bed and breakfast in a family farmhouse to self-catering in converted barns, and you can even camp in the fields if you're brave enough. Although activities such as milking and operating machinery are covered by strict insurance rules (some things are best left to the professionals), there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved, including feeding the animals and even mucking out.

If you've got a baby or toddler, go for one that's tailored to accommodate them, such as Hele Payne Farm in Devon (01392 881356; helepayne.co.uk), or Uppergate Farm in West Yorkshire (01484 681369; www.iknow-yorkshire.co.uk). Both have play enclosures, cots, swimming pools and just enough rabbits and cows to give your offspring a taste of country life without scaring them off.

Our trip has certainly left my mini-muck- spreaders wanting more. They've learnt a lot about our farmyard friends, including what an udder is, and are returning home with a whole new load of jokes (what do you get if you sit under a cow? A pat on the head!). Best of all, they've developed a fondness for this green-place-that-isn't-London. As Stanley says, one of the nicest things about the countryside is "all the fresh air they put there to blow away the farm smells", and I can't help agreeing. It's certainly put a rosy glow on those little urban cheeks.

KATY'S TOP TIP

Hand-washing is imperative for kids mixing with farm animals - children are very vulnerable to the bugs and infections they carry. For extra protection, pack some antibacterial hand gel to keep in your pocket during your stay (try Milton's Antibacterial Hand Gel from high-street chemists; £1.97 for 100ml).

Katy Holland is deputy editor of 'Mother and Baby' and www.motherandbabymagazine.com. She has written several books on childcare.

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