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Leaving your livestock to a farm-sitter

Reporter's Notebook: Before you get on the plane, you're going to have to find someone to feed and watch those cows

How do cattle producers manage to leave for winter holidays if they aren’t working with extended family?

It’s a conundrum producers have likely faced since they first domesticated cattle-beasts. Several years ago, while I was still living in Edmonton, I remember hearing about a guy, Frank Campbell, who was setting up a farm-sitting service. Basically his website, called AgriConnect, was like a match-making service for producers and farm-sitters. I poked around on the Internet, and couldn’t find any sign of life for AgriConnect in the last few years. If anyone has recent information they’d like to share, I’d be interested in hearing what happened.

I think finding the right person to farm-sit is tough, especially if you have livestock to feed. It’s not necessarily the regular chores — there are ways to make those easier. It’s finding someone able and willing to trouble-shooting problems.

I’ve dealt with yearlings escaping, sick/injured animals, frozen water troughs (the same one freezes every time), the furnace not working, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting.

I think the most memorable wreck was the old jet pump failing while I was farm-sitting. Keeping it primed and running was about as stressful as you might imagine, considering it supplies water to the house and all the livestock.

To-do list before you hit the beach

If you have someone who’s not involved in the day-to-day livestock operation coming in, you need to know that anything that could go wrong probably will while you’re gone.

Make sure your cow-sitter knows where all the medication and other animal first aid stuff is located. Replace any expired medication and stock up on clean syringes and needles, if need be. If any animals were looking a little off before you left, let the cow-sitter know to keep an eye out for them. You might want to give them an idea of when to call in a knowledgeable neighbour or the vet.

Chances are high that some piece of equipment or gate that seemed perfectly fine will fall apart after you leave. It’s also a given that anything that seemed a little worn out will also fail while you’re gone. You can’t predict every disaster, but you can beef up the weak points in any system.

I have (purposefully) never really learned how to run the tractor, which makes me a mediocre cow-sitter. But if it’s set up in advance, bale-grazing works perfectly. I call the cows, lead them to the next paddock, and open the gate. They are quite happy to follow along most of the time.

Not always, though. For some reason, they ignored me today, so I sent the dog to round them up. Usually he gets the job done, but today he kept herding them the wrong way. The cows were across the coulee and in the bush, so I didn’t realize what was happening at first (and maybe this was why the dog was confused).

Of course, I was also dealing with a frozen watering tub today, and behind on deadlines.

It’s always vital to have people to call in case of a cowpocalypse. If it weren’t for good neighbours (and sometimes my husband), me and the cows probably wouldn’t have survived the parental vacations. So make sure your farm-sitter knows who to call for help, and that the neighbours know you’re away.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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