You have a standing invitation to a beach vacation. Your family is begging you to visit are begging you to visit for the holidays. Your friends want you to join them for a weekend of R&R. All of these things sound wonderful, but you’re forever saying no, because you’ve got babies. Not the kind that can ride along in the car seat or front pack. You’ve got barnyard babies, and you can’t just fork them extra hay or open the barn door so they can come and go. They need a sitter, and you’re grounded if you don’t have neighbors or friends you can turn to. Or are you?
Farm sitters can be found via the Internet, the bulletin board at your local feed store, recommendations of friends, or through local organizations, such as 4H clubs and FFA. Here are five qualities to look for in a potential baby-livestock sitter.
This may go without saying, but you’ll want to be confident that whoever you leave your farm babies with will treat them with the same kindness you would. If you have concerns about the sitter’s affection or patience, it will be difficult to rest easy while you’re away. Choose someone who will not only feed your bottle calf but take a few moments to talk to it, scratch its back and give it a bit of companionship; someone who will keep his voice kind, his movements slow and his agenda relaxed. You don’t want a person with a short fuse taking care of your barnyard babies because, as you know, animals in general and babies in particular have no idea what is expected of them. They take a fair amount of patience to feed, corral or do whatever it is you need to do with them. If you don’t know the sitter personally, get references.
A lot of people love animals and are dying to get a chance to feed that sweet little Jersey bottle calf or brood over all those fluffy little chicks that hatched last week. Unfortunately, patience and love of animals is not always synonymous with knowhow or the ability to handle unexpected challenges. Most people can mix up a bottle of milk replacer or add feed to a feeder; however, if you’re going away, you’ll want a person who is familiar enough with baby animals that he or she can tell at a glance if something doesn’t seem quite right. Furthermore, you need a person who is able to make an informed decision in the event of an emergency, especially if you’re not going to be reachable by phone. This does not mean that he or she must be a vet tech, but you will want someone who is calm and clear-headed, as well as kind and patient.
If you have a level-headed animal-loving friend who doesn’t have much farm experience, you can impart the needed knowledge if you plan ahead. Ask your friend to come out and shadow you several times as you go about caring for your farm babies. Then shadow your trainee as he or she feeds and tends them. It’s much easier to spot a problem when familiar with what normal looks like, and you’ll feel reassured that you’re leaving your stock in good hands as you watch your sitter walk through the routines.
This probably goes without saying, but being kind, patient and knowledgeable does not guarantee dependability. Barnyard babies need to be fed and tended on schedule, give or take a half hour or so. An 8 a.m. feeding can’t wait until noon, and when it comes to shutting stock up for the night, there’s a whole lot of difference between 5 or 6 p.m. and midnight, when predators prowl and temperatures drop.
If your friend is perpetually late for coffee dates, has a chronic case of forgetfulness, or an overall worldview that time is relative, do yourself and favor and say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Again, you’ll want to enjoy your time away, not stress over whether the sitter remembered to show up and feed or tend your farm babies.
If you don’t know the sitter personally, do check references. After all, you’re trusting them with your baby animals and literally your whole farm, counting on them to do what should be done. They need to show up and do what you’re paying them to do, and you’ll want to be confident that they’ll accomplish just that.
If you trade with your neighboring farmer, lucky you. Some friends may love you enough to care for your animals without remuneration. Even so, it’s always good to at least offer to pay the faithful people in your life. It costs them time and energy, and it’s nice to have that acknowledged in a tangible way. If you know they’ll refuse cash, be sure and buy them a souvenir that will reflect the amount of work they’ve given you, or buy them a gift card to their favorite restaurant or specialty shop.
If you’re hiring a sitter service or a local 4Her, you’ll be paying, and you’ll want to work that detail out ahead of time. How much should you pay? That depends on experience and proximity to your farm, but it can range from $10 a day to feed, water and exercise your animals to $70-plus for onsite overnight services where the sitter stays in your house and takes care of everything as you would. (These amounts may vary in different parts of the country). Some sitters charge for mileage, while others include these fees in their overall price. Research will give you a good idea what is normal for your neck of the woods.
This may seem simplistic, but think about it: It doesn’t matter how awesome someone is with animals, how knowledgeable, clear-headed, dependable and affordable if they aren’t free to help you when you need them. Book ahead when at all possible, and even if you don’t have a trip planned, it’s wise to take the time to locate a farm-baby sitter before you actually need one. For that matter, find two, so that if a chance for a get-away arises unexpectedly, you have a sitter B to fall back on if sitter A is unavailable, or have time to train that willing friend if you have the luxury of planning ahead.
These qualities will help you rest easy if you’re called away from your barnyard babies. Maybe you can go on that vacation after all!
Get more help raising baby livestock from HobbyFarms.com:
- Barnyard Babies: 5-Step Guide to Interspecies Co-Housing
- 12 Farmer Tips for Raising Healthy Baby Animals
- 7 Ways to Get Your Farm Ready for Baby Goats
- Protect Your Chicks Naturally from 7 Common Illnesses
- 3 Homegrown Treats for Farm Babies
Leslie J. Wyatt is a freelance writer with more than 200 stories and articles in publications like Children’s Writer and Cat Fancy. She lives on a micro hobby farm in northern California and can be found online at www.journeywithhonor.blogspot.com and www.lesliejwyatt.com.