Hiring a farm sitter may be a reasonable answer to getting away for vacation while owning a farm or homestead. But who can you call to do what you do naturally, every day? We know our livestock and animals and what they are likely to do, because we care for them day in and day out, all year long. Finding someone that can fill our shoes so we can have a welcomed break from the daily care can prove daunting. Breaking it down into clear expectations can help you find the right person for the job.
Using Referrals When Hiring a Farm Sitter
I am sure many farmers and homesteaders with livestock ask for referrals when they need a job done on the farm. I know we ask other people with similar animals for a recommendation. Often one of their own family members is looking for some extra income and will step in to care for our flocks and herds. Other times, we have hired older elementary and high school kids for the job, if the parents were available to step in if necessary.
Clearly, hiring a farm sitter is more complicated than having someone watering plants while away. Starting with someone who already cares for the same animals is a positive in the search. They may not do everything the same way you do but should be able to understand and carry the tasks out the way you prefer things done.
The first step is writing out the clear expectations of what the job includes. Will the person be turning animals out and bringing them back in at night? Do you lock up your chickens at dusk or later? The fewer changes made while you are away, the less likely that your poultry and livestock will become stressed.
Hiring a Farm Sitter Through a Pet Sitting Company
A bit riskier but possibly an answer, is to call local pet sitting businesses to see if they are qualified for farm animals. There are many horse farms in my area and some of the pet services also include horse care. Having had horses for many years, I can say that they are probably among the neediest of farm animals. If someone was competent with horse caretaking, I would consider them for a farm sitting job. This is a possibility that you will have to carefully consider, as opposed to someone with actual livestock and poultry experience.
Neighbors and Friends as Farm Sitters
Now we approach the difficult area of choosing a farm sitter. Friends and neighbors may be very eager to help you get away for a relaxing vacation. But are they really capable of doing the jobs needed, while you are out of town? Our family has been fortunate to have a fellow homesteading family nearby. We each have stepped in to help each other out when we need to be away. Although some of their care routines differ from ours, they have the knowledge and ability to see why we do things our way. In addition, they have growing boys who are eager to earn some extra money. As long as they are supervised by one of the adults, I am fine with this family caring for our farm as a family effort. High school age young people may be able to get the jobs done without supervision. This often depends on the individual. I will sometimes let them know an adult friend will be stopping by too, to check water and gates, just to be safe.
When you have family and friends step in to care for your poultry and livestock, be sure they are capable of handling the animals you have. A few backyard hens probably won’t be too much of a challenge for a non-outdoors person, but a barnyard of unruly goats might be! Fences break and accidents happen even when we are away. Make sure that the person you hire is physically able to care for your animals.
Write Everything Down for the Farm Sitter
In the event of an emergency, people can become flustered and forget what you told them. We have various types of livestock in addition to the chickens, ducks, and rabbits. I keep a binder in the feed room with specific instructions for each species. The feed cans are clearly marked. Again, what might be clear to us, is not always clear to others. Write it down. Update your Farm Care Binder as needed. Include specifics about the first aid kit contents and their uses. At the very least have a multi-species antibacterial spray, bandages and the veterinarian’s phone number available.
Make Your Care Expectations Clear
Especially when working with a new farm sitter, explain why you want things done a certain way. You may have a high predator risk and that requires extra care and vigilance. Do you expect the farm sitter to clean the stalls, barnyard, or coop? Make sure you have everything in place before you leave. Extra feed, hay, straw, pine bedding, halters, lead ropes, and treats are some things that might be needed. I always tell our goat care sitter that if the goats leave the barn, simply grab the feed bucket and remain calm. They will all come back for feed. This was true for our horses too. In fact, our chicken sitter can use meal worms or sunflower seeds as a way to gather the flock for coop time.
Vacation and weekend getaways are always a bit stressful when livestock and chickens are involved. A short overnight trip might not require a chicken sitter. But even if it does, it’s good to know what does a chicken coop need in an emergency? If the coop is large enough and they can have food and water available, they will be just fine. But most livestock should be checked at least once a day at the minimum. Ask your caretaker to check for clean water and plenty of hay or pasture. Also, if an animal does go down, the sooner veterinary help is called the better the chance for a good outcome.
Be Prepared to Pay the Local Rate
This is often a stumbling block for many small farms. The money may not be available. Always ask the person’s fees before going too far into the arrangements. Some people do this for a living and others may be happy to farm sit for a reasonable, lower rate, as extra income. Occasionally, qualified folks farm sit because they used to own livestock and miss this life.
Knowing a good farm sitter is a life saver in other situations too. Emergencies can happen that keep you away from the farm for a day. Having the name of someone that can help out during a health or weather emergency is a great stress reliever for you and your livestock. Think seriously about having someone that you can call on, should the need arise, on less than happy occasions too.
Now that you have a start to thinking about how to hire a farm sitter, get out your calendar and begin planning a short vacation. I know I hate to be away from the farm for long, but a break is fun and can be good for your health too.