Farm Sitters – How to Find and Prepare for Time Off

It’s closing in on the time for school to be out and summer vacations planned. In addition to choosing where we should go and what we should pack, for those who have livestock, our plans need to include enlisting the help of farm sitters.

Most of our thoughts are turned to where we should go and what we will need to pack. If we have a dog or cat, we add boarding them with the vet on our list of things to do. But for us, I don’t think our vet has enough room for 12 cows, 75 chickens, two dogs, seven cats and who knows how many guineas to him for boarding. Even if he did, the cost would be enormous.

a black cow pushing her head through the gap between a gate and a panel fence

So we have to take into consideration that we will need farm sitters.  Farm sitters are people who are able to take care of any of the basic tasks on a farm. Some of the basic tasks they would need to be able to do are:

  • Feeding Livestock, Dogs, Cats, and other household pets
  • Gathering Eggs
  • Milking / processing the milk (including proper storage)
  • Giving water to all Animals
  • Watering the Garden

On a farm, however, farm sitters need to also be versatile and observant. There are other things that need to be watched for and handled if necessary. A few of these extra tasks are:

  • Checking fence lines for holes
  • Watching out for Predators
  • Making sure all gates are closed and secure
  • In inclement weather, checking the home and outbuilding for damage
  • A daily walk through of the home to check for water leaks and other issues

a young woman driving a blue tractor carrying a round bale with a man in a cowboy hat watching as part of the training for farm sitters

Finding Responsible Farm Sitters

In a rural area, most people have farms of their own, and it can be difficult to care for someone else’s as well for any length of time. But in some cases, these small farmers may have teenagers who are eager to earn a little extra money. Plus, there is the added benefit taht these are usually kids who are well-versed in what it takes to care for a farm.

If you don’t have a neighbor or their kids available, you can check with your veterinarian or others in your community to make recommendations. In some cases, you may even be able to find someone in your area through an organization such as House Sitters. This company also offers farm sitting services.

If you do hire someone you don’t know, be sure to ask for – and check – references. You will need a trustworthy person. If you go through a company, check to make sure they are bonded, and get a detailed account of what the company’s policies are as well as the abilities of the person you hire.

You may also want to ask a neighbor to act as an overseer when you have someone you don’t know care for your farm. This lets your farm sitters know there is someone else keeping an eye on things, but also feel more secure knowing there is someone they can go to for help.

We all get sick or encounter emergencies. For this reason, it helps to have other farm sitters ‘on call’, in case the primary one has to leave. If it will be just for a day or two, you may ask a neighbor to pinch hit for them. However, if it is going to be longer or for the remainder of your vacation, you may have to choose one or more.

a woman in blue jeans and navy sweat jacket carrying an egg basket walking down the lane followed by cats and chickens

Once You Hire Farm Sitters

Now that you have chosen your farm sitters, it helps to have a ‘training day’. No two farms are exactly alike, and every farmer does things a little differently. It could be the normal routine on who gets fed first, and what chores comes next. In some cases, there may be a cow or horse that is a regular ‘Houdini’ and has a habit of getting out of their pastures.

Our farm sitters are two teenage neighborhood kids who are well-versed in most aspects of farming. For them, we had a couple of training days. The first day we walked them through our daily routines. The second time we had them do the work, with a little assistance and guidance from us.

From there, we did a trial run. On a day we had to leave extra early to go into town, we asked them to take care of the farm. It helped that we were close enough to come back in case of problems or emergencies, but also gave our farm sitters a chance to do the work solo.

a black cow pushing her head through the gap between a gate and a panel fence

The List of Tasks for Farm Sitters

This is a basic list of tasks for farm sitters. It can be adapted to any home – just pick and choose the ones you need. Be sure to think about your own daily chores and add any that aren’t listed to make sure your farm sitters know exactly what is expected of them.

Feeding Animals

Make sure you have plenty of feed available, with detailed instructions on what and how much to feed each type of animal. We have four different sets, and each one gets a different type of feed and amount, so make sure you are very clear.   Also make a note of any allergies the animal might have. Our dog needs to stay away from corn products, so we keep special treats for him.

Medication

Unless it’s something easy, such as a flea tablet for dogs that can be crumbled up in their food, do not expect your farm sitters to give your animals shots or oral medications. Even the gentlest dog or cat may react negatively to a different person trying to open their mouths to give them pills. Giving them shots should be out of the question. If my animals need injections, I always tell my sitters to call the vet, or make arrangements for our neighbors who are well versed in animal injections to do this part.

multi-colored baby chicks drinking water

Emergency List

Don’t just write names and phone numbers on this list. Mine is rather detailed, due to the different situations that can arise. Our numbers are at the top, followed by 911 for our local fire department and sheriff’s office.

Next in line is our vet, with a second backup vet in case Jeff isn’t available. Following those comes the names of neighbors who either have keys to our place, know our daily routines or have extensive knowledge on individual animals and how we handle things.

In some cases, each animal has its own ’emergency contact’. Under the cattle listing are four names, depending on the type of emergency. Chickens and guineas have two, and the dogs and cats have three. We also have the number of our Insurance Company, just in case a disaster happens with our home, and they need to be contacted.

This list should also include the names for backup farm sitters. If ours gets sick or injured, we want them to get help immediately, but we also have to consider the continued care of the farm. We also give this list to a neighbor who will act as back up in any given emergency.

Daily Chores

Sometimes it isn’t just about feeding and watering critters. We always have something growing, and those plants will also need watering. If there is anything in the greenhouse, it has to be opened every day and closed every night. Fences need to be checked. Live traps may need to be set for possum and other critters that love to dine on our bags of feed. Certain bills may need to be mailed – we have those ready to go with a sticky note on them as to what day they should be mailed.

It may sound odd, but one of the first things we checked with our farm sitters is if they knew how to handle a firearm. Since our farm sitters are young teenagers, the second thing we did was check with their parents to make sure having one was acceptable.

We did this because during the summer we often have encounters with snakes and other predators. Recently, we lost a calf to coyotes, and it is never surprising to us to find a snake curled up in one of the nesting boxes.

Part of the duties of farm sitters is protecting the livestock they are caring for. If you know this is going to be an issue, you need to be even more careful in who you choose. It also helps to let the local police or sheriff’s office to know who your farm sitter is and that they will be armed. And again – this can be a sensitive duty, so proceed with utmost caution if you feel this added duty is a necessity.

a black and white sheep peeking around the corner of a metal shed

Specific Chores

If our farm sitters have to milk, we leave detailed instructions on how to process that milk, as well as instructions on sterilizing the jars. How to wash and store eggs are also on the list, as well as a price list for any sales that may occur. If we are incubating eggs, those instructions go on the list. Anything that needs special care should be on this list with detailed instructions.

General Tasks

At the bottom of our list are things that are just general for day-to-day living. Things such as:

  • What foods are available in the refrigerator and freezer
  • Local restaurants and phone numbers for the pizza place (we live too far out for delivery, but they can call it in and go pick it up, if they choose)
  • How to work the DVD and television
  • How to handle incoming and outgoing mail
  • How to work appliances, including the washer and dryer

We also list anything that is off limits. Make it clear if there is anything you don’t want them to use. If you assign them one of the guest rooms, then make it as comfortable as possible. If you do not want them to have guests, then make that clear from the beginning.

It’s the little things like that which make us nervous about leaving. If we are lucky, it’s an easy fix. If a cow gets sick, that’s a whole other problem. It will require farm sitters to make a judgment call to either handle it by themselves, alert a neighbor or call the vet. It may also mean the farm sitters may have to deal with the proper disposal of an animal.

Then the question begs to be asked if the farm sitters will know enough to isolate the sick animal or isolate the other cows from the area until a diagnosis can be determined.  The list I provide for any sitter may be overkill, but I’d rather the sitter be over-prepared than under.

a small statue of a cream-colored moose wearing blue overalls staning in a patch of parsley

Make It Easy for You and your Farm Sitters

Do you ever have to hire farm sitters? By choosing wisely, doing a bit of training, and having a detailed task list handy can make everyone’s life easier. It can also make your vacation time more relaxing, just knowing you have competent and trustworthy farm sitters taking good care of your farm and animals!

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.

4 Comments

  1. Julie, these are great ideas! I love your writing style, very easy to understand! Just a added tip, when my mom has a farm sitter she puts up outdoor video cameras, just to monitor what is going on with out her having to be there. I would tell the sitters so they know they are being watched. This will give you extra peace of mind.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Amber! And what a great idea! I think I may suggest this to the Country Boy. You can never be too safe!

  2. These ideas are great, Julie. Your blog is not only entertaining, but also it’s wholly educational!

    1. Thanks, Jen. Ya know, we can always put you on the list as a Farm sitter!

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