As small-scale homesteaders, we aren’t necessarily homebodies, but we tend to spend a lot of time working on our farms—that’s the dream, after all, right? Still, occurrences inevitably arise that occasionally take us away from our land and responsibilities.
But so many of the day-to-day tasks depend on our presence: Livestock, of course, require daily care—often twice a day and possibly more—for feeding, water checks, and inspections. Even crops are so tuned to the constant changes of seasonal cycles that daily care may be required in some form. What should you do?
Leave the farm? Why?
Let’s face it: it’s often difficult for farmers—especially on the small scale—to leave their property for anything more than a day trip.
But sometimes things come up. Maybe you need to attend a multi-day ag-related event to learn new skills, or you need to hit the road for a 14-hour haul to bring home new livestock. Maybe you’re off to the state fair. Maybe there’s a must-attend family reunion, a milestone birthday or anniversary celebration, or a funeral you need to attend. Or maybe you just feel like taking a plain ol’ vacation (gasp!) that will require you to temporarily leave the farm.
But it’s hard to think of hopping on a plane or packing for a road trip while wondering how the farm will fare in your absence.
That’s where farm sitters come in.
Finding a farm sitter
It isn’t always easy to find a trusted person to step in and care for your farm in your absence, but here are some points to ponder.
•Consider neighbors. Farm neighbors are often willing to help one another out, and in some situations this might work well. If the neighbor is a good friend, lives close by, and has plenty of experience with your specific type of livestock, this could work. But farm sitting is a big task and you might not want to ask for a favor that big very often—even if you’re compensating the neighbor financially or by trading favors.
•Don’t all leave at once. This may not always be possible, but if one of the adults living on the farm can stay home from the trip, life on the farm might be able to proceed as normal or close to it. If you have college-age children still helping out on the farm, perhaps they may be able to stay and keep things moving at home while you’re not there.
•Hire a professional farm sitter. Depending on your location, you might be able to hire a professional farm sitter who can spend a day or two learning the ins-and-outs of your animals, your buildings, your preferences for the way chores are done, and then perform this work during your absence. Your livestock veterinarian could be an excellent lead to recommend trustworthy and capable farm sitters, and your local county extension office might be another good place to try.
Then you can follow up on that information by asking other area farmers for references/experiences with that particular sitter, and hopefully narrow down your search to a true professional with a personality you’re comfortable with.
Leaving your property, animals, crops, and livelihood in the hands of a farm sitter can be daunting prospect, but with enough preparation—thorough to-do lists, emergency numbers, tools, feed, and water—it can be a good solution.
Tip: Make things as easy as possible for the farm sitter. And it goes without saying that any professional farm sitter you consider hiring should be fully insured. Ask about what livestock they’re familiar with, ask about experience, and ask about rates!
Utilize electronic assistance
Modern monitoring cameras have progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years. Gone are the days of blurry black-and-white security-type cameras where it difficult to know what you were seeing—new remote-monitoring cameras can be brilliantly sharp, bright, full-color and HD, and can easily be installed throughout your property to help you keep an electronic eye on your livestock and land no matter where you are, all via your phone.
Depending on the complexity you choose, you might install HD monitoring cameras overlooking paddocks and pastures, or inside barn aisles or stalls. While these cameras obviously can’t perform chores for you, in some cases they may provide added peace of mind to extend your time away from home—especially if you have a neighbor or family member who can be counted on to check on the farm physically if you see something amiss from your phone.
A system like this might enable you to more easily spend an entire day or even a night away, depending on your circumstances. Even if you hire a professional farm sitter, a camera system like this can still help you oversee your livestock remotely.
Stepping in to oversee someone’s farm is a huge responsibility, so you’ll want to amply and adequately thank whoever helps you with this task. Financial compensation will definitely be part of the deal if you hire a professional, and you’ll want to offer to pay even if your sitter is a family member, friend, or neighbor.
If the sitter won’t accept payment, look for another way to show your appreciation. A gift card? Special meal? A helping hand? Maybe you can return the favor and watch their house or farm during a future vacation. Maybe you can help repair a piece of machinery or haul some compost with your tractor. However you decide to do it, be sure to show your thanks.
It’s not always easy to leave the farm behind, but sometimes it’s unavoidable and if the need does arise, having a farm sitter’s phone number on hand may be just the helping hand you need.
About the author
Samantha Johnson is a writer, farm girl, and the author of more than a dozen books on rural living. She lives on a farm in northern Wisconsin with a colorful herd of Welsh Mountain Ponies, a bossy Welsh Corgi, and a wide assortment of tomato plants. View her portfolio at samanthajohnson.contently.com