‘We Lost 70% Of Our Sucklers To TB, So We Needed To Diversify To Ensure The Farm’s Legacy’

Castle Adventure Open Farm

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Edel Carty of Castle Adventure Open Farm, Wardtown Castle, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment. We discuss how a TB outbreak prompted this diversification venture, welcoming thousands of visitors through their gates and Erne Gateway Tours. 

Owner of Castle Adventure Open Farm, Entrepreneur Hugh John Patton

“This family farm has been passed down through the generations from my great, great grandfather, who himself used to work in the castle that shadows the farm to this day.

From when we could walk, we were out on the farm with our parents. We helped with everything from planting potatoes, and other vegetables, to helping with the daily running of the farm and caring for livestock.

The farm was predominantly a suckler enterprise until thirty years ago, when my mother set up a poultry farm with 30 chickens, and now, we stock 30,000 free-range hens.

In later years, we decided to diversify the farm turning old sheds into what is now Castle Adventure Open Farm.

Castle Adventure Open Farm

We lost 70% of our sucklers to a TB outbreak, so we needed to diversify to ensure the farm’s legacy was there to pass on to future generations.

Seven years ago, we opened Castle Adventure Open Farm. This was a big risk for the family, but we have gone from strength to strength, with thousands of visitors each year.

We converted some of the sheds in the castles, into a courtyard and incorporated them into the open farm.

All family members are involved in one or more aspects of the farm today; Brendan looks after the poultry and cattle, Hugh John looks after the sheep, and Michael helps with the open farm and general running of the farm.

Meanwhile, Sinead is a veterinary nurse and is always on hand with needed. I, along with the support of my family, run the open farm. And not forgetting mammy and daddy (Mary and Hugh John sr.), who keep us all in line.

Castle Adventure Open Farm

Castle Adventure Open Farm

When we built the farm, we made sure it was accessible to all needs and is fully wheelchair accessible throughout. All our animal pens have viewing windows so children can view all the animals with ease.

We employ 15 – 18 staff during peak season, and most remain part of our family to this day.

We closed for the first year of the pandemic but reopened under the restrictions last year. To be honest, it did have a devastating impact on our business, but thankfully, we are back at full steam this year.

We have a café on site serving baked goods, hot food and beverages. Besides, we have three party rooms, one soft play and one large indoor play area.

We have real JCB diggers which are modified for children to use. We have a large playground with crazy golf, a pedal tractor track and paddocks of animals.

Moreover, we have a range of birds and poultry, meerkats, pheasants, pigs, emus, goats, a skunk, a wallaby, alpacas, llamas, guinea pigs, rabbits and much more.

The JCB mini diggers, the outdoor playground, our soft play area, as well as the events we hold throughout the year. We get from all over the world that are holidaying in the area call to see our animals.

Mini Diggers at Castle Adventure Open Farm

Memories that last a lifetime 

We try to make everyone who walks through our gates experience something special. We do our best to accommodate all needs and create memories that last a lifetime.

Also, we host loads of events throughout the year, from the easter bunny to superheroes, Grassmen and everything in between. We have so much to offer the whole family; we offer a great day out.

To note, we open at Easter, through to September and the Halloween midterm and offer a Christmas experience starting the end of November.

Furthermore, we are always trying to build on and improve our farm and like to have something new every year to offer our visitors.

And we are delighted to be hosting, for the second year running, our machinery display and demo event with Grassmen. This is a great family day out, with everything from machinery demos to gardening tips.

Castle Adventure Open Farm – Wardtown Castle in the background

Farm diversification 

We hope to diversify the farm further by opening Erne Gateway Tours, which provides an opportunity for both large and small groups to experience and indulge themselves in this unique environment.

The tours focus on our history, heritage and environment provided directly by a member of the Patton family of days gone by, of stories and tales abound, handed down through generations to you.

Our ultimate goal is to have a farm to pass down for many generations to come.

We have learnt ourselves that to survive in agriculture today; you need to diversify and constantly strive to improve as you go.”

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

Hugh John Patton was a founding member of MED Rural Development Company and has been a long term committee member. His contribution has been invaluable.

Highland Cattle at Castle Adventure Open Farm

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