How to Vacation with a Homestead
Have you thought about homesteading, but moved away from the lifestyle choice because you’d never great a break? Did you jump into a backyard farming lifestyle only to feel stuck and frustrated that you can never leave?
Leaving, taking a vacation, having a break, is possible even with a small farm. It just takes some planning.
It is important to acknowledge that vacation with a farm, especially with livestock, is hard. There’s a reason I’m sharing this blog post — to balance farm life and free time is one of the most difficult aspects of homesteading. Think you’ll just get your two weeks time off like from a regular 9-5? Think again. Even with just a garden to tend to, you may find that summertime is simply not a time you can leave the homestead. Add livestock and so many other variables come into play. This is my fair warning that if you are considering a homesteading lifestyle and you haven’t thought about how you are going to take breaks: think about it now.
The first step towards a successful vacation from a farm is a lot of planning. You can vacation from a farm, but you cannot spontaneously throw an overnight bag together and head off somewhere. We began planning our recent long weekend in Quebec City back in March, and finally took the trip at the end of July. A longer trip would require even more forward planning.
First to consider: time of year. Often it is easiest to leave a farm in winter, when crops and gardens are put to bed. If leaving in the summer, make sure you are planning around kidding/lambing/calving seasons and weaning. Don’t go during breeding season, either. There are usually a few windows here and there: after kidding, before weaning, after weaning, before breeding. Do not coincide with any major harvests your farm is planning, such as apple picking season. September is generally out for us because of the number of things ripening. And with livestock dead of winter is sometimes impossible as well: it’s just too much to ask a farm sitter to contend with keeping animals happy in negative temperatures and snowstorms.
Next up: find a farm sitter. Many of my slightly more urban homestead friends seem to find a farm sitter with ease. In truly rural areas, it can be very difficult. The general pool of people is smaller, and most already have their own animals they need to attend to. You need someone who is competent with animals and has a good instinct for handling possible animal emergencies, someone who is ok with early morning chores and someone who will not panic in an unusual situation. You should, if at all possible, find someone willing to truly farm sit (stay at the farm) rather than visit just for chore time. The hardest part, for me at least, was finding someone who was both comfortable with animals, but also had the time to stay at the farm (ie. no livestock/chore times to get to at their own home).
I believe the biggest key here is being patient. It has taken us six years to get completely comfortable with taking a farm vacation and to feel we have a farm sitter we aren’t worried about leaving here. Could I have pushed it, asked around more often for farm sitter recommendations and insisted that we get breaks? Yes, but I’m not sure I would have found as good of a match that way. Patience is what brings the right people into your life, and I’m delight to say that our current farm sitter is everything we have been looking for.
Finally: clear instructions. You cannot account for everything that can possibly happen on a farm when you’re away. But be sure to leave clear, easy to read/understand, printing instructions for your farm sitter. Use checklists for daily chores. Write things out clearly by category (“Sheep: Morning Chores”, “Goats: Evening Chores”). Leave as little up to chance as possible. And have your farm sitter over before you leave to go over chores and become comfortable with your animals (and have them become used to them).
Perhaps most importantly: don’t be ashamed to take a break! A vacation from farm life can be a wonderful thing. Taking time off the farm renews energy and enthusiasm. It can encourage you to try new things and see things with a different perspective, or just give you the rest and mental break needed to put your head down for a busy season.