We all need to know how to leave our homestead for more than 24 hours at a time. Whether it's a long awaited vacation, a sudden trip to care for aging parents, an opportunity to be with a son or daughter who is having a child, or even an emergency operation for ourselves... we need to be ready and know how to have things in order for someone else to care for the homestead in our absence.
Preparing To Leave the Homestead
• Find a Homestead-sitter. There are so many people wanting to learn to homestead, but they're afraid to take the plunge. These same people would actually be thrilled for an opportunity to mentor underneath someone in trade for help on the homestead when you're gone (within reason, of course). Your investment in another person benefits both parties! If you can't find an apprentice to work with, neighborhood teenagers, college students on break, or unemployed adults may be interested as well as FFA or 4H students needing to earn a bit of money. Finally, there is the option of setting up a trade situation with another homesteader who lives nearby, but be sure you both are clear on the agreement and responsibilities since this kind of arrangement could be a bit lopsided.
• Leave contact numbers. Some way for your homestead-sitter to know how to reach you as well as anyone else they may need: fire department, vets, utilities, etc. Be sure to post it in more than one place... just in case!
• Have a back up for your back up. This is where your local homesteading group is a God-send! Ask a couple of friends to be on-call in case your homestead-sitter needs some help or has a question. If someone has an area of expertise, such as beekeeping or goats, note that beside their name. Talk to your back ups and make sure they know how to contact you and what your preferences are in terms of calling vets, medications, etc.
• Label everything. Feed looks all the same to someone unacquainted with your particular selections. And since chicks often get different feed than layers (and other animals as well), be sure items are clearly marked. I used badge holders with inserts printed up and in some cases, I included a reminder on the tag as well.
• Post detailed lists. And I do mean details! Most of this stuff seems like common sense but it's only common if you're familiar with it. Even with as much experience as I have gained to date, when I go to care for someone else's animals, I often have questions because there are lots of ways to practice animal husbandry or gardening and I want to do my best for my friend - the way he or she would want it. If they haven't specified, I find I must rely on my own experience, but I'm always wondering if I did the right thing. Homestead-sitters will feel more confident if everything is crystal clear.
• Walk them through your routine. More than once if possible! Morning routines are often different than evening routines on a homestead, so be sure to walk them through both. If they're not sure, ask if they'd like to give something a try with you watching.
• Have extra supplies on hand. This is especially important if you mix feeds or if you order them through a co-op that delivers. And don't forget to tell them where to find the extra!
• Consider what is truly necessary in your absence. Do you really want to pay for someone to hand water all your plants? Can the stalls wait til you get home to be cleaned? Is the weeding really going to get out of hand while you're gone? You decide, but if possible, make sure these things are done right before you leave and plan on doing them when you return (block off the day after your return on your calendar so you have time to do these things).
• Pay Reasonably. In the past I've always been unsure what to pay a homestead-sitter (and I'm sure I've been guilty of underpaying at times). This will vary from community to community as the going rate may be different, but minimum wage is certainly appropriate. You can always add a bonus on at the end for a job well done or if they've had to handle some emergencies. Another option is to ask around and find out what local farm laborers are receiving as a general rule. Either way, you're most likely going to pay by the hour so be sure to walk through your daily routine and make note of about how long it should take to do what's required of your homestead-sitter. Finally, there is the option of contracting with an individual for a set amount. I do this periodically but I try to keep it within the same ball park as the minimum wage.
• Give them the fruit of their labors! One of the reasons we all homestead is for the perks of milk, eggs, and produce. A nice bonus is to allow your homestead-sitter to take home what he or she gleans in your absence. This is always a welcome addition and will help off-set gasoline costs if they must drive a ways to your homestead. (I typically request that they just leave me a jar of milk and a few eggs the day before my arrival so we have food when we get home).
May all your travels be stress free and refresh your spirit!