Farm Sitters…


Ah…just thinking these words does two things to my heart.  One – it makes it leap with joy, as it means we might actually get to escape for a day or two.  Second – it paralyzes it with fear, knowing that we won’t be close enough to handle any problems, and my budget is about to take a huge hit. But to get the right farm sitter, we know it will cost, and with everything there is to do on a farm, whoever takes on the job will definitely earn their money.

Think you want to farm sit?  Take some time to do some serious research on it.  Ask a farmer or two if you can shadow them for a weekend or longer.  The more experience you get, the better off you are.  Believe me when I say the cows can sense your inexperience, and they will be sticking their tongue out at you – right before they make a prison escape.

Just to give you an idea of what you will be up against, here are a few things you need to think about before you send out enquiries:

1)  Are you a party animal?  Animals are a definite faction of most farms – but party animal isn’t one of them.  If you feel incomplete without having gone out every weekend night and not dragging in until the next morning, farm sitting isn’t for you.  Depending on the farm, the work day hours begin around 5:00 a.m., and will end somewhere around dark:thirty.  There is a lot you will be required to do – feeding animals, checking water supplies, walking fence lines, harvesting vegetables and properly storing them, etc.  On smaller farms, you may end up having to milk a cow or goats, strain the milk and get it in a cooler – all within around 15 minutes or so.

2)  Are you directionally challenged?  I don’t mean whether or not you know North from South.  I mean, can you follow directions?  Most farmers have a certain way of doing things, and doing them in a certain order.  There is a method to their madness.  So, that list they left for you?  You need to read it carefully and be able to fully understand what they are asking you to do.  You also need to do this before they leave and ask any questions you have.  Take notes if necessary.  When the farmer takes you on the rounds, carry the list with you so you can ‘see’ what they have written down. 

3)  Are you creative? Now is not the time to get creative, or think you know a better way to do it.  There is already a good chance the farmer has thought the same thing, tried it and discarded it.  Stick to what the farmer does.  It will save you time and effort, and most likely prevent a disaster.  If you have to be creative, bring your knitting or some other small craft you can work on during your down time.

4)  Are you strong?  A five-gallon bucket of feed probably weighs between ten and fifteen pounds.  By the time you walk out of the barn, down the lane, through a gate, get jostled by a herd of cows and make your way to the trough, that bucket can seem like it weighs fifty pounds.  Now, try it with a bucket in each hand.  You also will need a strong stomach.  If an animal gets sick, you don’t have time to upchuck your lunch.  You have just enough time to get to a phone, call someone on the emergency list and get back to the animal.  The smartest thing you can do is carry that emergency list in your pocket with your cell phone so you never have to leave the animal in the first place.  Pay attention to what is going on around the animal so you can describe what you know and have seen, smelled, or heard.  All of this can make a difference. 

5)  Are you a vet?  If not, then do NOT give any kinds of medication without the vet (or an extremely knowledgeable neighbor) telling you to.  Giving meds to animals is nothing like giving them to a human.  You can quickly do more harm than good, as most meds require a tube or a syringe.  More than likely, they won’t ask you to – the damage that can be done could easily be worse than the initial injury or illness.

6)  Do you panic easily?  Find another profession.  Cows get out.  Animals get sick.  Predators usually love the all you can eat buffet at a chicken coop.  Your first priority is to stay calm and move fast.  That gate that you left open?  If you move fast enough, you may just get it closed before the cows do escape.  Sick animal?  They can feel and sense your panic, and it frightens them.  And that gate?  First rule of farming, leave every gate the way you found it.

7)  Are you afraid of the dark?  Most farms are in rural areas, and the only night lights you get are the stars – and the moon if you are lucky enough to farm sit when it is full.  Being afraid of the dark, with only a flashlight to guide you, can get pretty spooky in unfamiliar surroundings.  If you are given the chance, spend a night or two with the farmer so you can get familiar with the routine and the layout of the farm.  Head out to the barn, coop or pastures after dark so you can get your night time bearings.  Oh.  If the farmer is a single person of the opposite sex?  For the sake of yours and his/her safety and reputation, omit this step.  Figure out another way to do it.

Farm sitting can be just as hard, if not harder, on you as it is the farmer.  It is a rewarding job, especially if you think you may want to own a farm someday.  It is perfect on-the-job training, and gives you a sense of what it will be like.  Like any job, it has its ups and downs, its joys and heartbreak.  But over all, it is a worthy job to undertake.

 Are there any farmers out there that want to add to the list?  I know this barely skims the surface, so please feel free to add your two cents worth!

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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