I love staying home. Most days I don’t even want to go to activities for the kids, I would much rather stay home take care of the homestead, do school, then relax with a book or a crochet project. Sometimes however you have no choice but to travel, whether it be for holidays or abroad to discover something new, and that is when you need to be sure your homestead is well taken care of.
The hardest thing when you have more than just a few animals for someone to look after is finding someone who will do the job that you need. We have been fortunate to have good friends that don’t mind coming out and caring for our animals in exchange for eggs. Currently, we have 30 chickens, one guinea fowl (he thinks he is a chicken), and 4 turkeys. This may not seem like a lot of animals to most of you but when you are looking for someone to care for your animals this is probably a hard sell. Add into the mix the non-farm type animals, 1 dog, and 2 guinea pigs, and you may be hard-pressed to find a willing sitter. You can of course search for companies that do this kind of thing, I used to work for a dog walking/pet sitting company and we did take care of the occasional farm but it was usually just come mid-day and throw hay to the horses. The other thing you have to consider is if you have the budget to pay someone to come out, usually multiple times a day, to help. Depending on your area your options may be very limited.
So what do you do? How do you ensure your homestead is well cared for while you are away? First thing, don’t be afraid to reach out to your friends and family. I try to make sure I have 2 or even 3 people coming to help so the work does not only fall on one friend or family member. It also helps if you find friends that have kids that love animals. I have one friend who brings her granddaughter because she loves to go and collect all the colorful eggs! If you are new to an area or maybe don’t have any animal-loving friends then you can find a pet sitting service that may be able to cover everything. Just remember that many services may charge extra for animals that are more than just your dog or cat. I would do my research to be sure that the employees at such a service have the experience you may need. If you just have chickens then the experience level is much lower than if you have larger livestock. This year we found a new Facebook group in our area that brings together families that have farms or homesteads and may be in need of a sitter. The page is designed for everyone to provide free pet sitting in exchange for having their animals done at some point for free as well. We will be finding someone to help with the animals from this group for our next trip to help relieve some of the visits for our friends.
After you have done the work to find a suitable person or people to come take care of your animals it is time to make sure that everything will go as smoothly as possible while you are away. The first thing I do if I have a new person coming or anything has changed since the last time they have come is to have them stop by for a visit so that they can see what needs to be done around the homestead. This is especially important if you are using someone new as you want to be sure that they know where to find everything and so that they can meet the animals. You don’t want to be hours away with a pet sitter that shows up for the first time and can’t find anything or realizes when they get there that they are actually deathly afraid of your rooster. Having them stop by lets them ask any questions they have before they start and lets them see if the animals you have are going to be more than they are comfortable with. I like to try and do this a few weeks before I go away so that if for some reason after seeing my place they are not comfortable I have time to find someone else to do the job.
Now that you have found the people and they seem ok with what they have to do it is time to prepare the homestead for them. We like to make sure the week we are leaving that we have added fresh bedding, cleaned waterers/food bowls, and picked up more than enough food (I promise you will go through this while gone even with instructions it seems extra always gets used). I also when possible try to limit the amount of extra work that may need to be done. For example, I try to go away around the hatching of babies, or the raising of meat birds. These things add extra work and unless you have someone familiar with the extra tasks it is better to work around them. This past year our friends had to help move the chicken tractor while we were gone. We tried to have the meat birds ready for before we went away but they were just not quite there, they were able to do it easily but I also had to make sure they were willing. If you have babies while you are gone be it chicks or large breed animals you have to be sure that whoever is caring for them knows what to do if they get sick. This can be daunting to someone who has little experience so whenever possible try to go away around these times.
Dealing with babies is not the only thing that may make it harder on the person who is helping you with the care. When we are out of town we do not let the birds free-range. We have a big enough area that is fenced in for them that we can keep them in for a week with very little problem. This takes the stress off your sitter who may let them out in the morning go to work and worry all day about if a predator has come and gotten your flock. It also helps to make the end-of-day tasks less difficult, cooping 30+ birds in the evening for a new pet sitter is not a task most will feel comfortable with.
The last few things that I like to be sure are ready to go for anyone caring for my animals all deal with the setup for care. I like to make sure all feed bins are full and labeled, even though I will have gone through with them which food is which when they visit it is very easy to forget or confuse foods that look similar. We will wash and fill the waters the day we are leaving, our waters hold 5 gallons of water for the chickens so they should last a few days before needing to be filled unless it is summer. We add bedding to the coops dry right on top of the wet as we use a deep mulch system, change the bedding in the guinea pigs’ cage and ensure the dog has a bone or two lying about. I leave out cleaning supplies on the counter, check the heat, take out the trash and leave out egg cartons for any eggs collected while we are gone. I then double-check my written instructions ensuring they give a detailed description of what needs to be done, types of feed, amount to be fed, who to call in an emergency, and so forth. I may provide too much detail but I would rather the people coming to the house have too much information than not enough. Send a text letting everyone know that we are leaving lock up and head out.
Phew, you are done, you have gotten everything ready and are gone. Now here is the most important thing, check in every now and again but try your best to relax. You have done everything you possibly could to prepare for your trip. You got someone to care for your place and set it up to be as easy as possible. Remember though that even with great preparation things may still go wrong. On our last trip we had a turkey die while we were away, no sign of a predator and not being home I could not be sure what happened. I just had to instruct my friends what to do with the body and hope it was going to be the only problem. I have come back before to most of the garden on its last leg even with watering, but my friends could not have prevented it as we had such hot weather it basically fried my plants. Enjoy your trip and know that you have earned it and that you have done everything you can to prevent the preventable things from happening but sometimes animals die, or get sick and likely would have even with us present. I hope I have helped you find the right starting point to prepare for a trip and that you can find good help so you feel comfortable going away.