Episode Fifty-Seven: Farm Etiquette
It’s spring, and a lot of people are calling for farm visits. As with anything, there are great guests and…guests who could use some pointers in how to behave. Here are my 10 Tips For a Great Farm Visit:
1. Don’t just “show up” at my farm. I’m an entrepreneur; like most, I work over 40 hrs a week. Unlike most business owners, I LIVE at my office. Seriously, just because I’m home does not mean I can drop everything to give you a tour. My time is valuable, and your assumption that my home office can entertain your family on the spot is incredibly rude. Additionally, because I have the luxury of working from home it’s not uncommon for me to be unkempt or inappropriately dressed. Please ASK at least 24 hours in advance – in fact, the more notice the better – I’m usually scheduled a week or two out. Which brings me to #2:
2. ASK to visit, don’t demand or assume. And make your request specific: “Hey, would it be alright if we brought 6 people out on Sunday afternoon between 2 and 5? There are 4 adults and 2 kids, both under age 10.” You’ve told me what level of education and engagement to prepare for, what kind of safety measures I need to enact, and what portion of my day I should block off. Speaking of education….
3. If you’re not a farmer, don’t assume. Be open to learning new things and debunking misconceptions. We work really hard to be good stewards, to care responsibly and kindly for the lives in our care, and to be transparent. If you have a question, ASK! If there’s a sign, read it! Read it aloud so others can learn, too. A simple, “why don’t you ask the shepherd” creates a great interactive learning opportunity!
4. A farm is not a playground. In fact, it’s a very dangerous place. Do not allow your children to grab fences, climb on gates, shove their hands through fences, play on equipment, or climb trees. It takes me a week to prepare for an agritourism event, just to keep my animals safe from the public. If a farm turns you down for a visit, chances are they’ve had a bad experience and are reluctant to open themselves to that level of risk again.
5. The animals live here. They eat grass. There’s mud. Wear appropriate shoes so that you don’t whine about getting a little dirty. They poop and pee. Please don’t make a big deal out of germs; unless your child is cramming handfuls of poop directly into his/her mouth, it’s highly unlikely any harm will come to them. Studies have shown that Amish children, who play in barns with animals from the time they can crawl, have some of the best immune systems and lowest instances of asthma and childhood illnesses in the world. Let your kids experience the freedom of playing in the dirt! When you fuss and scrub them with disinfectant you are teaching them that there is something inherently wrong with engaging with the source of our food! That the process of growing sustenance is dirty and distasteful, when in fact it’s up there on the list of sacred activities in which we can engage. When you come to our home, celebrate nature.
6. Be respectful of the livestock and their limitations. This means walking, speaking quietly, not handling roughly, obeying instructions regarding petting and feeding, and not forcing any animal to interact. Everyone handles their animals differently. Many farmers will bring friendly animals up to a front pen in anticipation of your visit (more reason to follow Rules 1 & 2). At Ballyhoo, our rule is: If you can catch it, you can pet it. Now we do draw some hard and fast lines about that – we don’t allow the public in the ram pasture and we absolutely do not allow any running around ewes and lambs in the first month of lambing season. Rams are never to be trusted, and it’s not fair to put that level of stress on new mothers and babies. But we do allow folks to walk in and sit quietly in the nursery, in the hopes that a brave lamb will choose to interact. We also try to keep an experienced, low-key ewe on hand who will allow us to pick her lambs up so people can pet them. We love the free-for-all; it wears kids out, which makes parents happy. Kids get to learn on their own what works and what doesn’t; invariably they realize that if they move slowly and calmly, the animals are more likely to approach them. It’s much better than yelling at them to slow down or that they’re doing it wrong. And we keep an eye on the animals to make sure no one is unduly stressed or harangued.
7. Kind of in that same vein, please close all gates behind you and do not open gates or doors unless invited to.
8. Under NO circumstances should you ever take your dog to a farm unless EXPRESSLY invited to do so by the farmer. We know your dog is your beloved pet. We adore our dogs as well, and we know that dogs are prone to chase and bite livestock, get loose and go missing, and most importantly, they WILL be attacked on sight by livestock guardian dogs. There’s no such thing as “oh no, he’s okay, he’s super friendly and would never-“; we cannot take the risk of your family pet getting kicked in the head, or grabbing a chicken by the neck, or getting shocked by the fence. Just don’t bring them. And don’t offer us your friend’s stray kitten, pig, duck, pony, donkey, dog, etc. There’s a great article about that here:
9. Please ask before feeding the animals, follow the instructions about so doing, and obey the law of camping: pack out what you pack in, leave no trace (or at least throw trash in the proper receptacle).
10. Finally, let’s bring it full circle. If you ask for a farm visit, respect the answer. For biosecurity, low-stress management, and to protect people from unexpected…traumatic sights, I try not to have visitors out until lambing is over. Additionally, lambing, shearing, and festival season coincide, effectively blacking out our weekends from March through October. We do our best to provide opportunities to visit through farm events, such as Shearapalooza, workshops, and farm to table dinners. If the answer is no, respect that and try another time. If you do get a yes, dress appropriately, keep an open mind, and have fun!
Do you have tips for a great farm visit? Do you have questions about hosting public events? Please leave a comment below!