Testing times saw a Donegal family make the leap from a commercial enterprise to an open farm in response to bovine tuberculosis (TB) outbreak and the threat of an avian influenza epidemic, to work on a whole new adventure.

“Castle Adventure Open Farm has a long and interesting history rooted in agriculture. Before we opened our doors to the public in 2014, the farm was a successful commercial enterprise. 

“We had a large herd of over 250 suckler cows, raised with great care, and a free-range egg production unit with 30,000 happy hens.

“We discovered TB in our suckler herd. This meant having to cull nearly half the cows, representing years of dedicated breeding work. 

“Restrictions on livestock sales due to the TB outbreak also impacted our farm income significantly,” said Edel Carty who manages the open farm with the help of her family.

Open farm

“Shortly after the TB challenge, concerns arose about a potential avian Influenza outbreak because of our coastal location and proximity to migratory bird routes. This added concern for our farm’s future made us realise we needed to diversify to ensure its long-term health,” she said.

“That’s when we decided to adapt and embark on a new adventure. We transformed the farm into Castle Adventure Open Farm in 2014, with all the family involved,” Edel said.

Getting insurance was difficult, but luckily the insurance company they were using for the working farm agreed to take on the open farm.

“I know that is not something they normally do. Insurance is one of the biggest challenges for open farms at the minute. Premiums are so high that it can make most businesses unviable,” Edel added.

Her three brothers, Brendan, Michael and Hugh John jnr., all work the main farm, with her sister, Sinead, a veterinary nurse, also helping out.

Open farm

Located at Ballymacaward, Ballyshannon, Castle Adventure Open Farm has blossomed into a vibrant destination for families and groups.

“From school excursions and themed celebrations, to our signature machinery demonstration show, we strive to create unforgettable experiences for all ages,” said Edel.

She continued: “The machinery demonstration show, our most popular event, exemplifies the spirit of Castle Adventure Open Farm.

“It’s a day brimming with activity: live demonstrations showcasing the latest agricultural advancements, sheepdog handling and sheep shearing exhibitions, and informative talks on modern farming practices and animal care, including dedicated health discussions like diabetes and heart checks.”

Open farm

“The success of this event, and indeed the entire farm, wouldn’t be possible without the unwavering support of several key groups. We are deeply grateful to our local community whose enthusiasm fuels our endeavours,” Edel said.

Edel said they have taken great care to create a fun and engaging environment for families at Castle Adventure Farm: “Whether it’s a rainy day or a sunny afternoon, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

“For parents seeking a moment of relaxation, our indoor seating area adjoins the coffee shop, allowing them to unwind with a cup of coffee while their little ones explore our safe and stimulating soft play area.  

“We also have a delightful collection of farm animals waiting to be met. Educational talks throughout the day provide a chance to learn all about these friendly creatures, fostering a love for animals in young minds.

“Outdoors, our spacious astroturf playground boasts a variety of climbing frames, slides, tunnels, and zip lines, promising hours of energetic fun.”

Open farm

Edel said that her deepest sense of pride lies with their team. “Their tireless dedication ensures every family who walks through our doors has a fantastic experience, especially during our larger events.  They are the heart and soul of Castle adventure farm, and quite simply, without their passion and commitment, we wouldn’t be the success story we are today,” she said.

“Castle adventure farm began as a dream, nurtured by the love and dedication of Hugh John and Mary Patton.  Their hard work transformed this small farm, initially staffed by just 10 individuals, into the thriving enterprise it is today,” Edel said.

Now employing 18 staff during the peak summer season, with Hugh John and Mary’s children actively involved, the open farm continues to grow.  

“Looking ahead, we are filled with excitement for future development plans, all aimed at solidifying Castle adventure farm’s position as a valuable asset to the local area.  It is a legacy we are committed to nurturing for generations to come,” said Edel who is currently completing a master’s degree in agri innovation at the University of Galway to help grow the business.

Open farm