Most people who have animals occasionally need someone to look after them if they leave their farm for a few days’ vacation or in an emergency. It’s not always easy to find a dependable person, but recently more individuals and companies have started offering this service—looking after pets, horses, or farm animals.
Chris Youngmark, in Central Illinois, has been looking after farms while owners are away for five years. “It wasn’t a novel idea when I started my business; there are other farm-sitters around the country,” he said. “Our family has farm animals, but we also like to travel, and sometimes we were challenged looking for someone to farm-sit for us. We realized other people need this service also.”
Youngmark started his business in 2018. “We cover a large area; I have multiple sitters to help cover the territory. To be a good farm-sitter a person needs experience with livestock.”
Youngmark often recruits retirees that might not have their own farms anymore but want to stay active. “I also look for younger folks who were in 4-H or FFA growing up and are eager to work in flexible situations.” Sometimes it’s a person who loves animals and wants to have a farm or stable someday.
Qualities to Look for in a Farm-Sitter
As with their own animals, farm-sitters must put the customer’s animals’ needs before their own. They’ll be outside taking care of them on the hottest days or coldest nights and in all kinds of weather, and the animals must still be the top priority, said Youngmark.
“It’s hard for farm or horse owners to take a vacation, to leave their animals—that are often their livelihood or pets that are part of their family—in the hands of someone else,” he added. “Our tagline is, ‘We keep the Stable Stable,’ and when the owner is away, we keep everything going smoothly and on schedule. When you return home, it’s as though you’ve never been gone. We offer that level of trust.”
A farm-sitter can’t predict everything that might go wrong and must be tuned in to possible problems. It helps to have a sitter with experience who can think on his or her feet. On a farm, it is not uncommon for the plan to change with little to no notice.
“Trust is a key factor,” Youngmark said. “It is important to portray confidence and trust, that the people we are recommending have experience and are well suited to the tasks and have the proper equipment.”
Preparing Your Farm-Sitter
Horse and farm owners need more options for help when they cannot be on their farms. “It’s hard for anyone to step into a farm and do all the chores without advance familiarity with the place or training,” said Youngmark. “One thing we stress is an initial meet-and-greet to make sure the person is a good fit with the animals.”
Farm owners should walk the sitter through any tasks for which they will be responsible. The sitter must know exactly what to do, with a written list of chores, feeding times, and rations so they meet the owner’s expectations. This can also help them price the service appropriately, to be fair to everyone but also profitable for the sitter. Regular updates are important for the owner’s peace of mind, and communication expectations should be established in advance, said Youngmark.