Diversification is child’s play for midlands farm

A creche; a play centre and pet farm; and a Bogathon course, Lisduff Adventure Farm in Errill, Co. Laois, blazes a trail when it comes to diversification.

Currently an organic suckler farm on 150ac, it’s a busy spot, with 90 children in the creche which has been open for the last ten years, as well as an adventure centre and Bogathon course.

John and Rosaleen Fairbrother converted part of their holding into an adventure farm in 2013.

“The idea came from the creche which I have been running for the last ten years. We were losing a lot of children to other camps during the summer holidays from school. We decided to turn one of the haybarns into a play centre and that worked really well,” Rosaleen said.

“We sold the original house and built a new family home with a purpose-built creche on the other side of the farm,” she added.

With Laois Leader backing the venture to the tune of €150,000 and over €100,000 of their own money, Lisduff Adventure Farm became a reality in 2013. It incorporates a cafe; indoor play centre; pet area; and outdoor space.

The farm, which includes forestry and bog with turbary rights, is also the setting for Bogathons. The 7km-long route is an obstacle course designed to challenge physical fitness, persistence levels and team-building skills.

“We dug out the size of a swimming pool, and there are plenty of bog holes. It’s going very well, particularly with Transition Year students; groups celebrating birthdays; and stag and hen party groups,” said Rosaleen.

“What people like about it is that you can do a section of it or all of it. The challenging obstacles such as climbing bales and climbing into drains on ropes, can be avoided. It’s messy but great fun.”

A video showing the antics typically encountered on a Bogathon can be seen at this link.

Lots of seasonal events are run at Lisduff, including Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Between eight and ten are employed indoors, with up to 20 in the adventure centre and pet farm at peak times.

While Rosaleen is brim-full of enthusiasm as she outlines the goings on, she admitted that trying to keep all the ducks in a row can be stressful.

“Two years ago our marriage broke up, so I run the adventure centre and John runs the farm. If you’re of a mindset of working seven days a week, you will make things work.

You need to be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them. Just before the opening of the adventure centre, I ordered 10,000 rolls instead of 1,000. I ended up having to hire a lorry to keep everything frozen.

“On opening day, we were hit by lightning. You have to look at every setback and mistake as having a silver lining. Initially you feel like crying, but you move on,” said Rosaleen.

“You don’t need a lot of land to make a living. A pet farm can be run on five acres or less. It’s how good you are to manage what you have. You just need to be willing to work hard; listen to other people’s ideas and tweak them to suit your situation; and to be creative.

“Time management is a huge issue. Initially I was just sitting around and feeding the animals on wet Sundays as people wouldn’t turn up, but now I take advance bookings, with deposits.

“The creche is very busy and I went back to college two years ago to get a degree in early childhood care and education at Carlow IT. My daughter Megan has a huge input and interest in the pet farm, so that’s a great help.

“I do all the bookings and ordering and I drive the train at parties. When you’re from a farming background, you’re used to doing everything and sorting out problems yourself. You have to believe things will work out and not give up,” Rosaleen said.

“This year, I can see the benefit of the last three years’ work.

People say that applying for grants involves a lot of paper work, but it takes a lot of hard work to earn €150,000, and the mentoring I got along the way from Laois Leader was phenomenal.

“I also got great help from Bank of Ireland in Portlaoise. The man I dealt with there, David Scully, was inspired by the idea and pushed it through to the bitter end. We were just lucky that the people we met along the way were very supportive.”

Just home from a few days’ break which involved the ‘bus man’s holiday’ of visiting other pet farms and adventure centres, Rosaleen has a new project ready to roll. “I went around comparing and contrasting. I had an idea and was wondering if anyone else had run with it. I found they hadn’t, so it’s full steam ahead.”