Suffolk farmers who organised an Open Farm Sunday event were left astounded as visitors started pouring through their gates from early morning in what seemed like an unending queue.

Kenton Hall Estate at Debenham stopped counting at 8,500 as families started arriving for a free fun day on the farm on Sunday, June 9, on a rare fine and rain-free day. 

Farmers had to open up an extra field for people to park on so that they could relieve the pressure and get people on farm as quickly as possible.

Visitors to Kenton Hall Estate at the farm machinery exhibition (Image: Katherine Mager)

The estate is  run by farmers Tom McVeigh, Lucy Davenport and Emily Aitchison who have taken over the reins from parents David and Sharon McVeigh.

They were delighted and amazed at the response after deciding to take part in the annual event this year.

"We finished our team briefing at 9.45am to see cars descended onto the farm and it didn’t stop until nearly closing time," said Lucy.

But they were also struck by how cost-conscious families were being after being hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis.

Farm siblings Lucy Davenport Tom McVeigh and Emily Aitchison  (Image: Kenton Hall)

Open Farm Sunday is held on individual farms and organised nationally by farm conservation charity LEAF (Linking the Environment And Farming).

Kenton Hall was one of just three sites in Suffolk to hold the event, which is aimed at educating people about what goes on on farms.

It cost around £10k for the farmers to stage the event - partly offset by about £3k in sponsorship.

Although they knew they would not recoup their costs, the McVeighs were determined to run the event for free to enable people to enjoy a rare glimpse of farm life. Costs included hiring portable loos, insurance and staff to help man the event.

They did charge a token £2 for adults only on the tractor and trailer rides while children went free but still faced huge queues because of the popularity of the rides.

(Image: Katherine Mager)

The estate asked visitors planning to attend the event to register beforehand via its website and by the Sunday morning around 3,500 had already done so.

By 10.48am - just 48 minutes after the event started - around 5000 people had arrived. Organisers lost count at around 11.30am to 11.45am at 8,500 as they focused their attention on getting the extra people parked but the visitors just kept coming.

Attractions included a fun fair, donkey rises, a country living area, street food, a café, a farmers' market and stalls including Suffolk Owl Sanctuary.

"It was just amazing - it was exceptional," said Lucy. "It was just a sensational day."

In 2016 - the last and only other time Kenton Hall staged an Open Farm Sunday event - it attracted 2,800 people but at that stage there were around 20-plus farms involved in Open Farm Sunday across the county, she said.

Open Farm Sunday at Kenton Hall (Image: Katherine Mager)

"The lead-up was really educational for us with people struggling and the cost-of-living crisis and asking could they bring a picnic," she said of this year's event.

"It was an amazing thing to ground us and made us realise why we are mad enough to do this (farming).

"It nearly killed us but it was worth the hard work just to allow in all these children who had never been out on a farm."

They were supported by around 50 volunteers who worked their socks off, she said. "We are all on a bit of an adrenalin high and just coming off it," she said.

"We opened our farm gates in the hope of educating the public more about British Farming. We were overwhelmed with the support shown from the local community."

Tom said the popularity of the event showed there was a real appetite to know more about where food comes from.

Emily said it created a "wonderful buzz" on the farm. "Hearing thousands of children play, learn and get hands on made it all worthwhile. The tractor and trailer rides were full every moment of the day," she said.

They thanked the volunteers who helped out on the day and their "generous" sponsors.

Despite the incredible success of the event, the estate is unlikely to stage another one for a few years because of the huge costs involved in hosting it. 

"We have had amazing feedback," said Lucy. "I do think if we were able to make a bit of money on sponsorship and grants we could afford to do it more often."