Homesteading After Retirement: Part 5
Taking Vacations and Breaks from the Farm
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Retirement dreams often include plans to travel both near and far. Depending on your previous occupation, travel may not have been possible very often. Maybe you have been looking forward to the freedom to vacation and the ability to afford the trips. Can a homesteading life after retirement include time for travel?
Family, location, dreams are all reasons that make travel desirable. Although many factors will determine the answer, I am going to say yes, it is possible to begin a homestead and still have time to travel. In fact, beginning a homestead with the intent of creating time for travel is the best way to start. Although we may feel that we are living the dream lifestyle, even the best of occupations require a time of rest and restoration. Not only is having a vacation plan in place good for your soul, but it also is a good backup plan in case of an emergency or illness that requires you to be off the farm for an extended time.
Certain homestead activities lend themselves naturally to a break in the action. I am talking about natural cycles on the farm. If you are raising cattle for beef, an obvious time for a vacation would be after the steers head to the butcher. This decrease or elimination in herd numbers would eliminate having to find a competent farm sitter to check on the herd. If you also have your own cows for breeding then you will need someone to check daily for water and forage requirements. I know a long-time beef farmer who not only is still raising beef cattle in his senior years but also spends months in Florida every winter, enjoying the warmth and relaxation.
Layer hens often cease or greatly decrease laying during the late fall and winter. Homestead plans can include reducing the number of egg customers during this time. Flock reduction can be handled in a couple of ways, too. If you are running an egg business, giving the older, less productive hens away or butchering them for your table will reduce the number of hens needing winter care. It will be easier to find farm care for a smaller flock.
Raising chickens, ducks, and geese for meat also gives you a natural break where you could travel. Plan a time between butchering day and the time a new batch of chicks arrives on the farm. This plan can allow you to take multiple breaks in a year.
Raising goats and sheep for meat can afford the same options as cattle. Fiber flocks are often kept much longer though. Breeding and birthing seasons are busy times. But, the time after breeding and before lambing or kidding might be a good time for a vacation, if you can hire a good farm caretaker.
Finding and Training a Farm Sitter
What do you look for when hiring a farm caretaker or farm sitter? The first question to be answered is: what do you require? Are you looking for someone that has experience with large livestock? Are you looking for someone to close your chicken coop at night and open it in the morning? In both cases, you will want someone reliable and responsible, but the person can be very different. A friendly neighbor might be interested in gathering fresh eggs for the time you are away in exchange for twice-daily stops at your coop. Checking water and feed levels may be needed depending on the length of your trip. This is often a great job for a young person that wants to earn some cash. Be sure to include the parents in the plan because they may have to transport the child or teen to your property.
With large livestock, I am more comfortable leaving my animals under the care of someone with experience. Our sheep are gentle but sheep are still sheep. Unpredictable behavior is a possibility. Escapes are a worry and knowing how to entice a sheep back into the barn is a learned skill. We have had some awesome young people help us over the summer vacations and they are my first call when we are thinking about going on vacation. They already know my routines and have interacted with the animals. A brief update is all that is needed and we are off to see the grandkids or the ocean! While not as readily available as a next-door neighbor, farm caretakers do exist. Be clear in your expectations. Try to whittle down the care required to only what is necessary. If possible, set up feeding and watering methods that lessen the need for direct interaction with the herd. This also lessens the chance of escaping animals taking advantage of a gate left unlatched.
As an example of this, we have our sheep barn and paddocks set up so that the water and hay mangers can be refilled from outside the fence. While I know how to anticipate the movements of my flock during feeding time, it can get a little physical when actually in the pen. I sure would hate to hear that my flock knocked my caretaker to the ground during feeding!
Leave a document that repeats any oral instructions you stated. Include a daily schedule and the exact amounts of feed to be fed. Label containers if you have more than one species. Include all emergency phone numbers including your veterinarian, a relative that can reach you, and both your and your spouse’s cell phone numbers. If you are blessed to find more than one local caretaker, leave the other person’s number, too. In case of emergency, two heads are better than one.
Technology is also helpful. Not only can we set up internet-enabled barn cameras, but we can also FaceTime with caregivers while we are gone if a concern arises. There are many options available for the homesteader to get started after retirement. Planning is the key to keeping the door to travel wide open while still living the homestead dream.
Read the first four installments of this series at:
Originally published in Countryside September/October 2021 and regularly vetted for accuracy.