Animals and garden

Our animal friends

In the tradition of the Portuguese quinta, OIS maintains a small farm comprising chickens, donkeys, goats, ponies and bees. Our animals roam freely around (but not inside!) and are taken care of by our students as part of their service activities.

The most visible of our animals is probably ‘The Herd’ which is our three donkeys and pony. Dumbledore is a Miranda donkey with brown shaggy fur. He is two years old and very tame and friendly. He always comes over to say hello and to see if you have anything for him.

An OIS donkey called Dumbledore.
Dumbledore
Children feed a donkey.
Oliver
Alfred the grey donkey.
Alfred

Dumbledore will be quickly followed by Oliver, who at only 18 months is our youngest donkey and by far the most playful of the herd.

The grand old man of the herd is Alfred. He is a very placid and shy character who takes time to get to know. We believe he is around 30 years old, and he’s in no rush to do anything. Oliver and Alfred are standard grey donkeys. The outsider of the herd is Lollipop, our lovely, sweet pony! He is the brains of the herd and he definitely knows he’s smarter and cooler than the average donkey.

Lollipop the pony with a student.
Lollipop

All of the herd came from homes where they could no longer be looked after. Now, at OIS, they have hectares of free grazing, nice stables and a lot of love from our students. If you come to OIS for a visit, remember to bring some carrots or apples and make some friends for life!

The OIS goat flock is a part of a charitable program to raise goats for farmers in the north of Portugal. We maintain our flock by swapping billies (boy goats) with other goat owners, and limit it to no more than 10 goats at a time.

Our goats are very cheeky and we often find them on the roof or up trees. Once they even took a dip in the swimming pool. A word of advice: never leave your sandwiches or packed lunch unattended. Goats have a natural radar for these things and before you know it your food will be gone but you’ll have a happy goat!

Also, the main job of the flock is to keep the vegetation on the quinta under control. They do this by grazing as they range freely through the day. The sound of the goats calling to each other and the clanking of their bells is as much a part of OIS life as the braying of donkeys.

We keep chickens at OIS to supply eggs which go towards the local food bank, one of our longest-running service projects. One or two pigeons have seized the opportunity for free board and lodging and have moved in too. They bring a bit of calm with their gentle cooing.

Finally, we have bees. Currently the ‘Bee Team’ are working with six active hives, which are situated at a safe distance from the school. They learn how to manage bees and how to harvest honey, as well as practical skills like hive repair and bee health monitoring.

Also, we are members of our local beekeeping cooperative. There’s more to looking after bees than you might think, and yes, we do sometimes get stung despite the beekeeping suits. Nevertheless, the sweet smell of wax and honey and the gentle murmur of a busy hive more than compensate for a little discomfort.

The School Garden

The history of the quinta is that of a small farm, so it’s no surprise that the organic kitchen garden (or horta in Portuguese) is alive and well here. We don’t allow our animals to eat everything. Produce from the garden is sent to the local food bank, and some is proudly taken home by students to show delighted parents. Each PYP class has a raised bed and decides what to grow, then they plant and take care of their patches in the weekly garden lesson. Some students choose to spend lunch and break in the gardens too.

Careful hands planting in the soil.
Green-fingered students admire their produce.

The garden is also hugely popular with IB Diploma students. They too grow vegetables for the local food bank, and it is common to see students independently gardening after school and at the weekend. It’s a great way for them to escape the pressures of exams and coursework.

In addition, we recycle food waste to make compost and mulch, and our animals also make a great contribution to this process. Students see sustainable, organic farming in action and have the opportunity to learn that food doesn’t simply come from a supermarket. It has to be grown and tended with patience – things can go wrong and losses can be high. Above all, they realize that food is precious and should not be taken for granted.