We’re based in Cullohill, Co Laois, set on 28ac of grassland. What was once a home for sucklers is now filled with over 100 different species of animals, from water buffalo to pygmy goats.
The idea of an open farm was always in the back of my head. After trying college twice, from University College Cork (UCC) commerce for five weeks to Kildalton Ag for a year, I decided, no, it wasn’t for me.
I looked into either expanding the beef end of things or getting into dairy.
On the dairy end, we could only have a maximum of 30 cows and you’d have to buy all the silage for them and put in a parlour, cubicles and all that craic. I thought about expanding the beef, wanting to try and house 200 but we’d still only have 28ac. We did the maths and it just wasn’t feasible.
After a couple of months working on a dairy farm up the road, myself and dad went on a sabbatical building for seven months straight to start up Castleview Open Farm and we’ve never looked back.
I was milking alongside it [the open farm] for a long time, just to supplement it at the start.
I had a handful of pedigree Simmentals that I used to bring to shows and sales.
I sold them and bought around 50 Angus heifers to finish and used the money from that to keep building up the business. That money was going into the farm so we could invest into it to make it better.
We didn’t have a clue whether it was going to go well or not, we kind of just chanced our arm.
You have to be very good with people. You’d want to have a fierce interest in it, all animals, not just cattle or sheep. You’d want to have time for all the animals, have time for kids. And I do, I enjoy every minute of it.
I only started getting back into the Simmentals last November after we’d sold them previously to help finance the open farm.
Castleview Farm Simmentals is now home to 14 pedigree cows and stock bull, Littlerock Maverick.
I am thrilled to be slowly getting back into them. I want to get up and around 20 calving down next year.
I needed another 18ac with a shed on it for silage and the calves in the winter, but I had to go to Abbeyleix, which is about 15 minutes from here to lease a support block for the cows.
During COVID-19, when we weren’t open it became another source of income, at least we had the calves to sell on then to try and cover some of the expenses.
I always wanted to do it. I always wanted to do something with people. Anytime I would go off on my holidays and see people at stuff like this, I’d say: “Ah God, isn’t it well for them, I’d love their life.”
I didn’t think it was going to be as busy as it actually is, but I just always wanted to do it. I love working with kids, I wanted to be a teacher when I was younger but I couldn’t sing and back then you couldn’t be a teacher unless you sang, so that was me gone.
I was working in the council, for 34 years. I was working in the payroll and I gave it up to do this. It’s a big change. I’m busier now than I ever was.
We thought to ourselves, who’d come out to Cullohill? The year before we set up the open farm, we got the chance to start an Airbnb. The Airbnb gave us a good inclination as to people’s interest in coming out here and seeing the place.
When we put it up in 2019, we were getting people from all over and it was great meeting all these people.
When the open farm started up along with the Airbnb, between cleaning and running and rushing, it was nearly too much work, but then COVID-19 came and killed it.
We’ve been closed as long as we’ve been open with COVID-19, longer I’d say.
You have to keep the grass mowed and keep all the work done. You’re doing it for, I won’t say nothing, but when no one’s going to see it you just feel disheartened.
When you know you’re open you don’t mind going and doing it, you get pleasure out of it then because you know someone is going to see it apart from yourself.
We’ve been open now since 1 May and we’re only starting to get going again now.