Walk in a farmer's boots!
What if you became a farmer for a few hours? This is what's on offer at the Ferme de la Papinière, in the middle of the Mayenne countryside. We tried out this activity, which allows visitors to take part in milking, feed the poultry or even make their own butter! Here's our story.
A farm dedicated to discovery
Under the milky sky, the countryside is unveiled with fields as far as the eye can see. An old tractor, tight against the right-hand side of the road, lurches laboriously along the tarmac. Suddenly, in a corner, a green sign emerges from the vegetation. "Welcome to the Ferme découverte de la Papinière". Take the track, follow the rabbit hutches and fork right. It is here, at the La Chapelle-au-Grain lieu-dit, that Elisabet and Chapelle-au-Grain, owners of the 82-acre farm, receive daytime wannabe farmers by appointment. Elisabet, a farmer's daughter, was getting exasperated to see that "children didn't know anything about animals. And because passing on knowledge is very important to me, I decided to set up this farm." Christian, her ex-soldier husband, followed her into this adventure through love. This was a real challenge for the pair, who has to juggle working at the crack of dawn with welcoming aspiring country farmers. "But we're happy to do it, we love it!".
A whole host of animals
With constant enthusiasm, Elisabet invites visitors on a little tour of the property before the activities that see them get stuck in. The lady of the house guides us to Salsa and Fendi, the farm's two Provençal donkeys, takes a few chunks of bread from her wicker basket and invites us to feed her furry friends. It's then time to head for the other enclosures, to discover Ouessant sheep, Egyptian geese, French papillon rabbits, mohair billy goats, a stunning golden pheasant, ducks in a thousand colours, and more. "Did you know that ducks eat their own feathers? It's a way for them to stock up on vitamin D." A little further on parades the royal turkey, which children invited into the enclosure take mischievous delight in winding up, to see its head turn from red to blue. Approaching the stables, it's time to grab a little bucket and roll up your sleeves to feed the Flemish Red, Austrian Simmental, German Brown, Petite Pie Bretonne or Canadian cows, the latter of which has only around fifty representatives in France. "Their feed is made up of grass, cereals and hay only, we prefer organic to silage!".
Make your own butter
We then make our way to the farm buildings to make butter! "You have to heat the cream from the cow's milk to between 4 and 19°C." The operation takes place in a churn, with the boss inviting us to vigorously turn the crank handle to beat the contents. After a few minutes, as if by magic, through the sides we see the white mass turn yellow and transform into butter! Tasting the product, it is nothing like the supermarket packs... "After this step, we generally hold a little teatime for visitors."
All kinds of workshops
The farm also offers other workshops, such as making jam from hawthorn, dog rose or elderberry, with fruit from the farm. Visitors can also make little leather objects such as bracelets, purses or knife holders. "People can build their day or half-day as they like, with the events that interest them. Some choose to have a picnic on site, others enjoy pony or cart rides... Oh my, I hadn't noticed, it's 5.30 pm already!" Time for milking, which takes place in the special hangar.
Take part in milking cows
Forget the common image of a farmer glued to his stool, teats in hand. The operation is performed using sophisticated machinery that can extract 300 litres of milk on average. The udders are first cleaned with a wipe. "We often invite children to take part in this step, they love it." The session lasts an average of three quarters of an hour, during which the animals walk along the milking platform. A dairy then comes to collect the product, which is used to make a local cheese called l'Entrammes. The family also keeps three litres of it, which it skims for its own consumption. This is where the cream comes from that we used for the butter...
It is 6.15 pm and the day is drawing to a close. It's time to say goodbye to the visitors, do a few last-minute animal tasks, cut grass for the cows, and our duo can finally enjoy a well-deserved rest. As for the guest, they will long retain the memory of this bucolic adventure in which a group of schoolchildren will take part tomorrow. Who knows, some might even find their vocation!!