Arriving at a farm is a captivating experience. Imagine: after a leisurely drive from the city to the vast countryside, you find yourself on a dirt road. As you step out of the car, a rush of fresh air and birdsong greet you. Adding to the warm welcome, you’re greeted with a handshake and a genuine smile from your farm stay host.
Before settling into farm life, there’s something important to cover that cannot be explained in your traditional welcome email: the “Danger Tour”, also known as the (Not so Common Sense) Farm Tour. We recognize this tour isn’t ‘common sense’ unless you’ve got farming experience under your belt.
Staying on a working farm involves a unique level of awareness from both the host and the guest, and a “danger tour” covers many of the basic safety precautions that are unique to each farm. Interestingly, most accidents, if they occur, tend to happen within the first half-hour of someone arriving on the property.
Introductions to livestock, barns, land, and even farmhouse nightlights are more than casual gestures. They lay the foundation for an extraordinary vacation that’s likely to surpass expectations while prioritizing everyone’s safety.
Livestock: (including production animals – goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, alpaca, bison, chickens, geese, turkeys etc. and assistance animals – cats, herding dogs, guardian dogs, llamas, donkeys, horses etc.)
- Livestock are not zoo animals or pets (unless told otherwise) so chasing them, hugging them, yelling at/around them or picking them up is not welcome on their part. Keep in mind animals can experience a lot of the same feelings we can: fear, happiness, sadness, stress, etc. Imagine a stranger running over to pick you up and pet you? Yikes, get me out of here!
- Don’t expect all livestock and guardian animals to be friendly. This can be dangerous to them, the farmers who manage them, and to future guests who interact with them. What would you do if a large herd of 2,000 lb “friendly” cows came running towards you for a scratch under the chin! Some farms will have designated livestock for guest interaction (often goats) so you can get your cuddles in.
- Feeding times will be announced, along with rules about whether (and what) you may feed outside of regular chores. Some plants that seem harmless can be poisonous to livestock or, at the very least, can make them sick. Overfeeding (e.g. the snack apples and carrots in the farm house fridge) can also be highly problematic. Some feed or “treats” are utilized as training tools and it’s important to recognize that farmers use them (grain-in-the-bucket) for crucial safety and management techniques. Simply put, you wouldn’t want someone feeding your dog treats without permission. The same goes for farm animals.
Landscape and Wildlife: (pastures, gardens, forests, vineyards, and the creatures within!)
- You will be acquainted with which pastures, gardens and forests you may enter alone or with supervision (and which field is off-limits because it has the bull!)
- Harvesting instructions and schedules will be provided by the farmer, as plucking produce or flowers unknown to you can pose safety risks or may have been intended for sale at the farmers market stall.
- Hosts will also share information about any dangerous insects or wildlife that may be in the area, as well as pokey or poisonous plants to avoid, like stinging nettle or thistles. That said, “wildlife” often considered pests in the city – rodents, spiders, bats, mosquitoes, flies, gnats, lizards and snakes etc. – are ever-present on farms and are sometimes most welcome by the farmer to help maintain the ecosystem.
- Foraging for mushrooms can be a fun farm treasure hunt, but don’t eat any you have found until checking with an expert. This might be the farmer but oftentimes, unless everyone is absolutely sure, it may be more wise to just admire the fungi in the woods or perched on top of the manure pile in-situ.
- Remember the universal gate rule on all farms: if a gate is open, leave it open, if a gate is closed, leave it closed. However, if the livestock are out on the road or in the garden, best to quickly find the farmer for a round-up before something worse happens – like all the produce is gobbled up by the goats! (this is where the grain-in-the-bucket trick helps with escapees).
- Appropriate footwear is important when visiting a farm. Terrain and weather often dictate what you should bring. Close-toed shoes or boots are recommended at all times. The ground tends to be uneven in pastures and gardens, and mud, snow and wet wood can be slippery. Wear sandals at your peril. Chickens often peck painted toenails if you are walking amongst them and dodging manure is just plain tricky. Plus, if you get stepped on by that cute (cloven-hoofed) goat, it won’t hurt so much if you are wearing boots.
Farm Buildings: (including barns, chicken coops, tractor sheds, workshops etc.)
- Haylofts can be fun to play in, but bales are often stacked a specific way that may not be stable to stand on and can topple. The same with building a hay fort. Allowed or not allowed? Ask. Also, there are often fast (and unexpected) ways down to the bottom floor – make sure you know where the hay ‘drops’ or ladders are and don’t allow children to play on or near them.
- Seems obvious these days, but no smoking in the barn or other farm buildings. Hay and dust are great igniters.
- Tractor sheds and workshops are generally out of bounds — especially unaccompanied. Many insurance companies take a dim view of mixing guests and farm implements or machinery. If you absolutely need that photo op of your kid on the tractor, ask permission and make sure all knobs and levers remain untouched because, when the engine is started, the hydraulics may engage (think levers and knobs out of position) and startle the farmer!
Waterways, irrigation, and watering tanks: (including creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, ditches, irrigation systems, stock tanks, etc)
- Best to know where all the water is on the farm and how it is reached. Unlike cities that require fencing around pools, farms often have open approaches to waterways and standing bodies of water for ease of access. Attend to little ones and anyone who can’t swim around these areas.
- Remember, streams and rivers aren’t always for swimming or fishing. Some are protected waterways for spawning fish and other aquatic critters. The farmer will tell you (and you’ll know for certain if you are handed a fishing pole).
- Farms may have fresh, clear springs, streams and rivers but don’t be fooled by their clarity and take a sip. As many outdoor enthusiasts are aware, unfiltered water can give you what is often called “beaver fever”, turning a great vacation into a sick one! Some farms already have spring water routed to a tap that is filtered and ready for drinking – a refreshing perk!
- Irrigation systems usually source water from nearby waterways and the larger systems shoot water with force. Ask about safety before dancing through the spray, and again, don’t drink it!
- Water troughs are used for livestock and can be anywhere from 1-3 feet deep. Keep an eye on your little ones as it is always fun to splash or lean over to see the bottom.
With that, the concept of the ‘danger tour’ is concluded. It’s a setup for the best darned farm experience out there, and fun to boot. If your farm vacation dreams include driving the tractor or riding a cow, make sure to manage your expectations by contacting the farm prior to arrival about what is offered and allowed.
P.S. ‘Danger tour’ is just to get your attention. It’s what it is, but not what we call it when touring with farm stay guests. We generally take a more subtle approach to farm rules, so the experience is eye-opening and educational rather than scream-worthy.