Even a small herd of goats or a flock of chickens can change your life because it’s not so easy to find livestock caregivers for days or a couple of weeks at a time.
You plan your time away based on what’s happening with the farm, said Roger Sipe, editor of Hobbyfarms. com and Chickens magazine.
“A lot of people take their vacations in the late fall or winter when the work is less intensive,” Sipe said.
Stuff happens when you’re away, too. The goats escape, the chickens are attacked by coyotes, and farm machinery dies after you’ve turned things over to the temporary help for a few days.
You don’t know what you don’t know until it happens.
Some farmers with decades of experience, backed by family members and neighbors, still keep an eye on what’s happening at home while they’re away.
Things like a cellphone weather app make that easier.
“You don’t necessarily go into heart-attack mode when you see the weather’s changing, but you certainly pay attention to it,” said Darin Von Ruden, a third-generation dairy farmer and president of Wisconsin Farmers Union.
For some folks, getting away from the farm for two weeks would be like taking a trip to the moon. They milk cows twice a day, 365 days a year, so they probably only take some half-day trips.
That’s not a lifestyle Von Ruden necessarily endorses.
“It’s always good to get away for a little bit, so that when you come back you appreciate what you’ve got,” he said.
One of the main reasons that some farms have gotten much bigger is it allows a farmer to hire full-time help or to partner with someone else and not be so tied down.
“Young people are more likely to get involved in farming and to stick with it if they can get a weekend off and have a vacation,” said Mike Ballweg, a University of Wisconsin Extension agent.
“It’s been an age-old problem going back decades,” Ballweg said.
Some people have turned farm sitting, mostly for hobby farms, into a small business. Others have kept busy as temporary help on larger, regular farms.
But working on somebody else’s place can be more trouble than it’s worth. Every farm has its own peculiarities, some of them not even noticed by the owner, that can frustrate the farm sitter or temporary help.