What’s going to happen when you get to your farm or ranch? Will it be boring? Will it be dirty? Will you have to ‘work for your supper’? Will you be out of your comfort zone? No – no- no – and maybe at the beginning, in that order.
Following is a quick overview of the basics to this type of experiential vacation, recognizing that what you will find at each location is as varied as the farms and hosts that provide them. The good news – that variety allows you to find a vacation that perfectly suits your group. And, to try more than one!
Some farms you can view from the main road; others are down dirt tracks, even behind closed gates. Usually but not always there is a farm sign. Make sure you have directions before you leave your home since you can’t always rely on a satellite to get you there. So, come on in!
Hint: if the gate is closed, once you enter, close it behind you. The rule on most farms and ranches is to leave the gate how you found it because, when you don’t, it’s inevitable the livestock escape…which is why it’s never boring on a working operation.
Checking in won’t necessarily be a formal process like a hotel. If you have prearranged an arrival time, there will likely be someone to greet you and get you settled in. If not, prior communications should include where to go and what to do for your own check-in. As many farmers rise early and go to bed early, late arrival may mean you get your welcome and tour in the morning.
The smells on a farm are unique, but we don’t think they’re offensive. No, not even the smell of manure. Depending on when and where you go, you might also smell fresh-cut hay, fruit tree blossoms, and maybe even apple pie cooling in the farm kitchen window?!
CLOTHING & SHOES
Best to check what is recommended for footwear and clothing before you arrive. At the very least, closed-toe shoes around livestock and, if you intend to help with chores, clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Ask if there are guest boots to borrow. And at ranches, how about cowboy hats so you don’t have to worry if yours will fit in the plane’s overhead rack? Layers are always good and it seems kids get dirtier than grownups so extra changes of clothes. You might ask if there are laundry facilities available for your use if you are staying multiple days.
Food is handled differently by most farms so best to again check before you arrive. It can also vary by season in terms of what you might be able to purchase onsite. Ranch stays often include three meals, while farms may provide breakfast only. You may have a kitchen or kitchenette for your other meals. If you see Self Preparation under the Food listing, this means you are on your own for meals.
Your hosts should give you the full run-down on what you’ll want to bring and what you can obtain at the farm or nearby. Most of us have chickens so farm-fresh eggs will likely be available and you may even get to collect them yourself.
To work, or not to work? Unless expressly indicated as part of your stay agreement, chores are a choice, not a requirement. We are delighted for you to show an interest in our daily work and many of us allow help with chores, such as collecting eggs, feeding chickens, brushing horses, spreading hay, milking goats, or possibly harvesting crops. For those that offer observation only, there is still lots to learn. It might just be the tasks are automated, dangerous, or require some skill you don’t have.
And, speaking of danger, insurance liability has a lot to do with what you are allowed to do, so driving the tractor tends to be off limits. While many ranch operations allow guests to ride and help with cattle, many farms aren’t able to get insurance coverage for riding. They are often just as disappointed as you.
Your hosts mostly want you to relax and have fun, so it’ll be up to you how much or how little you want to pitch in! If you’d rather sit on the porch with a book, play in the creek or go for a hike, that’s absolutely fine too.
TIME ON THE FARM
Don’t be surprised if you are left alone for much of your stay – these are working operations and your hosts will be busy. That said, we likely have a routine and are available for guests who want to participate in our lifestyle. With all the activities, sights, sounds and new experiences to be had on our farms and ranches – there’s lots to do. Often with all the fresh air, naps are part of a stay!
ALLERGIES, HEALTH CARE
This is where you will find out if you are allergic to hay and sometimes horses. It’s not an unlikely occurrence so bring along some antihistamine medicine just the same (and it’s a good idea not to rub your eyes after being in the barn until you have washed your hands).
Make sure everyone is up on their tetanus shots just in case. Most of us have a first aid kit for minor scrapes and cuts, also tweezers for splinters. Generally listen on your farm tour for the specifics of the flora and fauna (what stings, what bites, what to do, etc.). It’s no different than learning about traffic and city pests.
While there are quite a few farm stays where you can bring dogs, it’s best to double check and be sure that this is appropriate for you and your pet. There may be other dogs on site, large livestock, and various hazards around the property. Follow all rules laid out by the farm for safety’s sake.
On a similar note, remember that many farm dogs are working guard or herding dogs and may not behave the same way a family pet. Best to greet with caution, a hand down first and never a face. Youngsters used to jumping on the family dog should be monitored closely as this is a serious worry for your hosts. And, the reality is that most barn cats will run and hide.