It’s finally the time of year we’ve all been waiting for – preparing for summer, the kids out of school, work schedules loosening up a bit and being bombarded with ads for “getaways” and beautiful places to visit. But how can you just leave the horses and pets and go on vacation? Who will mind the farm?

Many farm families have relatives living close by who don’t mind pitching in from time to time when the need arises in case of emergency or for an overnight stay somewhere – but what if you don’t have that luxury?

Here are some tips to help find a “farm sitter” so that you can plan on that special vacation and rest assured that things at home will be taken care of.

The easiest way to begin is to ask around. The first person we asked was our veterinarian, who recommended a “pet sitter” service. We were very fortunate in that we liked Jennifer immediately and have used her services for the past 20 years! Contact your neighbors and friends, other horse owners, feed stores or tack stores and inquire if they know of anyone who provides such a service. You’ll want to ask if they have any information on the sitter, such as whether or not they had a good experience.

You can also check online. Today there are a number of community pages that offer services or items wanted or for sale that can be very helpful. Make a list of people to call and make notes on each one.

Next you’ll need to schedule an interview with each potential prospect. When you set up an appointment, have a list of questions ready to ask:

  1. Be sure to let the person know what kind of animals and how many animals you have and ask whether or not they have had experience with those animals. For example, a highly recommended dog walker might not have had any experience with caring for horses, or may be afraid of chickens or goats, for example.
  2. Let them know when you are planning your vacation to be sure they are available. Go over your list of chores and approximately how much time it takes to do them – cleaning stalls, refilling hay bags and the like. For a person who works full-time you’ll need to be sure they will have enough time to fulfill your needs each day.
  3. If you have indoor pets, decide ahead of time how you expect they will be cared for. A dog that needs to be walked twice a day requires more time than a house cat with a litter box.
  4. Ask for references to be provided if you decide to go ahead with the sitter.
  5. Set up a time for the sitter to visit your farm – ideally during morning or evening chores so that they can readily see what is expected of them.
Horse Tales: Going on vacation? Who will mind the farm?

It’s important to have an in-person interview with your potential farm sitter and introduce them to your animals in addition to going over what you’ll expect them to do. Photo by Judy Van Put

When you have your in-person interview, have a detailed list ready so that the sitter can go through each part of the process, such as whether the horse needs medicine, how to mix up the feed, where the feed and hay are located, if the horse needs to be turned out during the day and whether you expect the sitter to do anything other than feed and turn out the horse and clean the stall.

Show the sitter where your lead ropes, tools and anything else they’ll need to use are kept. Be specific about any barn rules you may have, such as no smoking in or around the barn, no riding on the tractor or other motorized equipment, always close doors behind you, etc. Be prepared to spend a little extra time to answer any questions they may have.

A list of emergency numbers should be prominently on display in the barn, either on a chalkboard or another place that is easily seen. Things to include are your phone and contact information; the nearest neighbor or friend who can help in case of emergency; and contact numbers for your horse’s veterinarian, farrier and dentist. The sitter can take a photo of the chart to have on hand, or you can provide a similar list.

If you have indoor pets, you’ll need to leave a house key for the sitter and specific indoor instructions. Does your dog need a 20-minute walk twice a day and to play fetch to expend energy? How often does your cat’s litter box need changing? Are there small caged pets that need the cages cleaned and how often? As with the barn, leave specific rules of the house for the sitter to honor.

After your initial interview, call the references provided and ask specific questions. Have they had any experience with this sitter, and would they recommend them? How was their house/barn left when they came home? Was the person reliable and honest? Did they have any helpful advice or suggestions?

Once you’ve decided on your sitter, be sure you have everything in place – the list of contact information, perhaps notifying your neighbors and friends who may be helpful while you’re gone and be sure to let your sitter know you will be available for any questions they may have.

Once your checklist of to-dos is fulfilled, you’ll be ready to relax and have a great vacation.

by Judy Van Put