Mickelbo Farm is located in Mickelsträsk, about 4 miles north of Umeå. The farm is run by Linda Rönnlund, her partner, her parents and one employee. Linda’s grandmother and grandfather also help out where they can, although at the moment with social distancing due to the pandemic. Mickelsträsk is a fairly small village of around 25 households. "Mickelsträsk is in the middle of the forest", says Linda and laughs, 'I don't think it’s so far away but some people who visit say they have been on the road forever!’ Previously a dairy farm, nowadays Mickelbo Farm is a visitor attraction.
“It all started in 2011 with us getting camels for our own benefit but soon it became all about them; so many people were interested. We went on to look at how we could develop the farm, and we thought why not open it up to visitors. Then it just snowballed. We opened up in 2012 with eight animal species, and today we have about 30! About three years ago, we built our indoor small-animal unit and opened up the barn. There's more and more happening all the time – it's a never-ending story!” Laughs Linda.
It is mostly families with children who visit the Mickelbo Farm, mainly from Sweden but they also get visitors from Finland, Norway, Denmark and Germany. “More and more people find their way here every year”, Linda says, “it's fun!”. The farm has camels, alpacas, lamas, yak, horses, cows, pigs, teacup pigs, sheep, goats, hens, ducks, peacocks, guinea fowl, turkeys, rabbits, guinea-pigs, ferrets, mice and rats, budgerigars, chinchillas, hamsters and dwarf hamsters. "It's a beautiful medley", says Linda, "we have quite a lot of different breeds amongst the animals too, for example breeds of goat. We also have some endangered native Swedish breeds, such as Lapp goats and Linderöd pigs”.
At Mickelbo Farm, the focus is on the interaction between animals and humans. "We have a lot of interaction with animals here. That is our philosophy, and that is why the pandemic has also had quite a big impact on our business – you also don't know how human-animal infection is going to work”. says Linda. "We have both enclosed pasture where people go to pet the animals, and then you have to go with them and feed the animals. We have petting corners which are staffed all the time when we are open, and then people sit there and help visitors handle the animals. Children can hold mice and rats, rabbits and guinea pigs”. We talk a bit about how important it is to show people who aren’t use to it how to handle animals: "You see more and more people who are not used to any kind of animal, they need help along the way and guidance on how to interact with an animal. But it's always fun to see a noisy child sit down and become absolutely calm and peaceful when they pet a rabbit or another animal. We see it with adults too. We see it all the time”.
At Mickelbo Farm, sustainability is key: “We recycle, we build from natural materials, we try to keep things as natural as possible. At the beginning, we built fences from what gets left over when you saw boards from wooden logs, but that wasn’t really sustainable”, Linda laughs. "There is a lot of recycling and renewal, we take care of our wool and all of our animals. I think we have a pretty good approach to sustainability”. For example, the wool of the alpaca is very fine. At Mickelbo Farm, wool is both sold in bags to guests and sent to mills to spin yarn.
What about your own sustainability then, can you take time off when you have so many animals to take care of? “Well, that's probably the trickiest thing”, says Linda, “maybe a day here and there, but it's not easy taking time off. That has to be the worst sustainability issue", she adds laughing. “This season is usually our quietest time, but this year there has been a lot of other things to do”.
"Animals do probably have a huge impact on health. You see burned out people, those who are feeling really bad, they are able to achieve peace in a completely different way. There is probably a lot to do to make people feel good by being close to animals. We also have quite a lot of apprentices who get to come out here to work. I think taking care of the animals, rather than being taken care of, is also a great base to work from!”
/Text: Sara Kåll-Fröjdö, Yrkeshögskolan Centria, february 2021
/Photo: ©Mickelbo gård