‘We converted from a beef-finishing system to an open farm’

A Laois family have converted from an intensive beef-finishing system to a large open farm which will open its gates on Saturday, July 27.

“The uncertainty in the beef sector prompted us to make this change to try and seek a more sustainable path, both financially and environmentally,” said 21-year-old Jack Saunders from Ross, Cullohill.

The family converted to a new facility which incorporates mini golf; a maze; indoor play areas; a mud kitchen; log cabins; and electric go karts.

Business aspects

“I have always had an interest in farming and a love for animals. I was introduced to the business aspects of farming from an early age by my father Stephen who emphasised the importance of ‘doing your sums’ when it came to the farm,” said Jack.

“From this, my interest in business grew. We have been farming together for the past few years. This came about from my short stint breeding pedigree Simmental cattle which eventually transformed into us running the beef enterprise together,” he said.

The biggest challenges we faced while finishing cattle was our small farm size, coupled with environmental obstacles and the uncertainty regarding the price we received for our finished stock. This was further fuelled by the upcoming Brexit and Mercosur deal and made it impossible to forecast prices.

“We decided to completely change our business model to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly approach. We sold our last finished heifer in January 2019 and have been building Castleview Open Farm since.

“The idea originally came from my mother Margaret who dreamed of running an open farm most of her life. We opened an Airbnb last year named Castleview Lodge in Cullohill beside our farm. It is going well and helped to encourage us to proceed,” Jack said.

Castleview Open Farm is set on 14ac with an additional 2ac of sheds and a farmyard. Inside there is a large play area; cafe; a mud kitchen and sandpit area; children’s rides; and an array of small animals.

Log cabins

“We are currently finishing our log cabins for Santa and Mrs. Claus who will be staying with us in December. Outside is laid out in paddocks with a looping walkway throughout.

The paddocks are filled with donkeys; ponies; calves; a Charolais bull; our Boer goats; and many more. There is also a large crazy golf course and a challenging maze,” said Jack.

“We hope to attract families, school tours, retirement groups and anyone else with a love for animals and the great outdoors.”

Follow the venture on Facebook and Instagram at Castleview Open Farm; or email at: [email protected].