Traditional ways and customs give Ireland’s countryside and farms a special atmosphere.
On farms, there is a continuity of understanding and respect for the land and the animals it supports. Farming is still very much a family affair; the lifestyle is that of a custodian, keeping pace with the inevitable changes over the years, but retaining old courtesies such as welcoming strangers and visitors. So, there is no better place for the establishment of open farms.
Ireland’s visitor farms are generally working establishments, which welcome the non-farmer’s curiosity about all aspects of farm life, and their children’s eagerness to embrace all manner of small fluffy animals.
Many establishments go out of their way to educate as well as entertain, arranging guided tours which explain the intricacies of farming. There may even be demonstrations of sheep herding with amazing collies, or a look at sheep shearing and, depending on the time of year, perhaps an encounter with a new calf.
There are organically run farms that welcome visitors, farms that specialise in cheese-making and other artisan foods, deer farms, or those that raise rare breeds of pigs or poultry.
And they generally include a play area and a farm produce and coffee shop.
Many farms take great pride is displaying farm tools and household implements of the past. In this age of giant machinery, these simple tools are a reminder of a way of life that causes many of us to shake our heads and wonder just how they did it.
Rumleys Open Farm was recently opened by Minister Simon Coveney. It’s not far from Cork City, houses some exotic animals, and is the realisation of a long-held dream of proprietor and farmer Ivan Rumley. He took time out from collecting tickets at the gate on a rainy Sunday to tell me how it all came about.
* Ivan, your background is in a more conventional form of farming, isn’t it?
>>Yes. Our farm is a family business, and it has been involved in beef production for over 80 years. We have always taken great pride in the care and breeding of our livestock. Over the years, we’ve continually been looking for ways to improve the quality of our meat.
* And now you’ve got over 200 animals which could best be described as pets. How did that happen?
>>I’ve been thinking about doing this for over 20 years. Since I was a child, I’ve always had a fair collection of exotic animals. I’ve been passionate about animals — all animals — since I was a kid. And growing up on a farm gave me lots of opportunities to understand animals when we opened the Farm Shop three years ago, I’d thought we might have a small area out front with a few pets for the children.”
* It was something of a quantum leap then from that idea to 200 rare animals like chinchillas, zebu cattle and alpacas?
>>I know quite a few people in the animal world, and my contacts have helped me to stock the farm. There have been a couple of other similar establishments who have unfortunately been hit by the recession, and I’ve acquired some of my animals from them. It’s given me a lot of pleasure to re-home a beautiful animal. We are very particular about their care and welfare here.”
* Your open farm must represent a huge investment. Did that make you nervous in such volatile times?
>>You know, what really inspired me was wanting to do something different from the big stores, the huge operations. We have invested €1m to get the open farm up and running, and of course, you’d want to be sure you were doing the right thing, getting a return. But at the same time, I wanted to do something that flew in the face of all this negativity that’s about right now. And hopefully we’re on the right track because today for instance, even though the weather is so bad, we’ve had over 800 visitors.
* Yourself and your partner Sandi are still running your other farm operations too, I believe?
>>Oh yes, this is still very much a working farm, beef and tillage and several other farm-based operations, such as a recycled timber business, and haulage lorries. This isn’t a show place. It’s the real thing. When visitors come here, they start in the farmyard. They can take a tractor tour around the place, and perhaps stop to feed the camels, or do some other farm chore. Or they can enjoy the 2km trail, which takes them through many of the animals’ habitats. There are fish ponds, lemur enclosures, picnic and play area, and much more — a huge variety of creatures great and small, in fact.”
* Have you noticed a certain profile in your visitors?
>>At first, it was mainly groups of children with adults. But now we’ve begun to notice there are a lot of older people, couples, coming for a day out. Because we’re only five minutes from Cork City, it’s easy enough for anyone to enjoy an afternoon out here.
* As well as being what is hopefully a successful business venture, it seems as if realising your dream is just as important to you?
>>At the end of the day, I’m a pure animal lover, and this is what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And apart from it making me happy, I want to provide a lot of fun and a bit of education for kids. We do special birthday parties here too with everything laid out in one of the barns, and a lot of supervised interaction with the animals. They are becoming very popular. And I’ve got some exciting plans for Christmas.
* What gives you the most pleasure in this new operation?
>>There’s something different going on here every day, which is great. But I think it’s the smiles on kids’ faces, and hearing them ask their parents if they can stay, telling them that they don’t want to go home.
* More information: www.rumleysfarm.ie
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved