The story behind The BIG Sheep

What’s it like to be leader of the flock at The BIG Sheep in North Devon, one of the UK’s leading farm attractions, and Visit Devon’s Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2013? We spoke to its director Rick Turner, who founded this unique combination of sheepy fun, innovative entertainment and excellent customer care.

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Attraction Devon The BIG Sheep Rick Turner sWhen Rick Turner first set out to create a farm attraction, themed around sheep, he was strongly advised that most people in the UK would not be interested in his woolly livestock. But Rick persevered, because he could see his vision for a farm attraction taking off – and he has since been proved right, with The BIG Sheep now firmly established as one of Devon’s and the country’s favourite family attractions, with a great menu of rides, shows, entertainment and activities – and the added attraction of an on-site artisan brewery.

Tell us about your background Rick, and how The BIG Sheep came to be …
We’ve been operating now for over 25 years, but it seems like yesterday when I think back to the early days! The BIG Sheep began life as Barton Farm, a thriving sheep farm which my family had worked for six generations. But then in 1988, farming in the West Country faced extremely challenging times. So we decided to diversify, and turn the farm into an attraction where visitors could experience a real farm in action – watch the sheep being milked, and try our cheeses, fudge and ice cream.
We won awards from our first year, which was amazing, and since then we’ve gone from strength to strength with continued investment in new attractions and staff development.
I think I knew we’d really made it when our famous sheep racing was described as ‘more thrilling than Ascot’ by Michael Burke on the BBC 1 Six O’Clock National news – and then when I made The Times’ top 100 quotes, immediately below George Bush, with: ‘Our racing sheep are world class.’

www.devonphoto.comYou’ve come a long way from its beginnings – are you proud of what you’ve achieved?Yes, I am incredibly proud, and sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that I’ve created an award winning attraction from what were just green fields less than 30 years ago.  Obviously, I couldn’t have achieved all this without the commitment and dedication of all the staff so they should all be proud as well.

What do you enjoy most about running The BIG Sheep?
The best bits are without doubt the team of people I work with.  They call me the ‘director of the flock’ and they are all like family to me.  We try to create an environment where we all have fun at work because when we are having fun this energy and enthusiasm is passed to our visitors.

What’s a typical day for you?
I tend to arrive on site at 8am, grab a quick coffee and then take myself off for a look around. Early morning before visitors arrive is a great time to catch up with the rides cleaning and maintenance team who are busy getting the site ready for the day. I always have a quick chat with them all and fire them up for the day ahead. Then it’s back to the office to check emails, financial reports and set up daily target for each department.
Attraction Devon The BIG SheepI do make a point of regularly taking a walk around The BIG Sheep, seeing that everything’s going smoothly and the visitors are enjoying themselves. One of my favourite things is interacting with visitors and watching the look of joy on the little one’s faces as they feed the baby lambs or ride on the tractor and piggy-pull-along. You can glean so much from talking to the visitors but sometimes you can glean too much! A few weeks ago, I overheard a mum say she had forgotten to bring nappies to change her child. She was getting in a bit of a panic so I told her to go and have a cup of tea while I rushed off to our local supermarket and bought some nappies. It cost me very little and mum was thrilled! Making a customer’s day is central to our ethos, and it’s something we’re all passionate about.
Then, even though I’ve seen our shows a thousand times, I still like to pop my head through the door of some of our shows because I love hearing the laughs from the crowd when they first experience any of our 11 hilarious shows.
Later, I’ll sometimes take a sneaky bet on our SheepStakes and get involved with the crowd as they shout for their favourite sheep and jockey to win the race – and I have to say that I usually pick a winner!
No two days at The BIG Sheep are the same but I believe that by choosing your attitude you can have a fun day everyday.

How do you see The BIG Sheep developing in the future?
We want to continue doing what we do best – giving all our visitors a quality, value for money, fun experience, develop the flock and continually invest in new attractions and events. You might also see another ‘BIG Sheep’ attraction springing up somewhere in the UK. People on holiday often say to me, ‘I wish you were in Surrey, Cardiff, Scotland etc,’ so watch this space!

What’s your favourite spot in Devon?
When I was a child we had a holiday cottage in Bucks Mill, a few miles from the farm, and I have wonderful memories of playing with my sisters and prawning with my parents. I still love going there, and experience the same thrill when I catch loads for supper – the taste of fresh prawns still evokes so many happy childhood memories.

More about The BIG Sheep

Find more attractions in: North Devon and ExmoorDartmoorExeter and surroundsTorquay, Paignton and BrixhamSouth DevonPlymouth
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