Have you ever considered staying in a rural location, or on an actual farm while on a trip? Have you hesitated to because you were not sure what to expect? In this post Ask Me Anything: 10 Questions About Farm Stays, I hope I answer most of your questions and help you make an informed decision if a farm stay would be a good fit for you
1. What IS a farm stay?
A farm stay can be a variety of things. It can be as simple as staying in a cabin or home on a working farm with the intent of getting away from the concrete jungles, hustle, bustle, and noise of many people’s everyday life. Some guests don’t want to leave the farm at all. They want to read books, visit, reconnect, unplug and unwind, or just sit outside and listen to the bird songs and enjoy the colorful sunsets.
Other guests want to immerse themselves in the activities going on while they are visiting the farm. Last year I had a family from Houston stay with two young girls, ages 10 and 12. Mom wanted the girls to totally get away from electronics and see what it was like to live and work on a farm. This was their main Christmas gift, and their stay was over the holiday.
Mom and dad stayed at the house, and the girls were out learning new skills and working during the mornings. They wanted to stay a full week, but everything was booked except for a 4 day window. Needless to say, a lot of activities were crammed into those few days. The girls had a ball! In fact, they had such a good time and it made such a difference in their attitudes, the parents made an offer to purchase a home nearby.
Other guests want to explore the Texas Hill Country and use the home as a base. Others want a place for family members to gather between wedding activities. They want a place to return to, to be able relax and unwind. They don’t want “a bed in a box” or hotel room. These guests enjoy the patios, sunsets, and night farm sounds.
2. What can I expect when staying on a farm?
Well, there are many sites, sounds, and smells you may experience. For sure, there will be gates, fences, probably animals in pastures, and large equipment. Many farms will have unpaved roads.
Gates are very important on a farm. Remember to leave them as you find them each time you go through it. If it is open, leave it open; if it is closed, leave it closed.
Depending on the season, you may smell fruit tree blossoms, freshly mown hay. You may even smell manure if you are working in a barn.
The sounds on a farm will vary with the kind of farm you visit. On our farm, you may hear goats bleating and cows mowing, many songbirds, and owls at night. If it is a full moon, you may hear a coyote or two. But, most of all, it will be the peace and quiet you notice. No sirens and traffic, doors slamming as guests check into a hotel room. And, no kids running up and down the halls, or heavy footfalls overhead!
3. Can I work or will I be required to do chores on the farm?
Some dude ranches may require you do chores, but you would know and agree to that before the visit. Most farm stays do not require it, but will allow guests to help with some things. Children especially like to help gather eggs, feed the chickens, and feed the goats.
When you stay on a farm, your host will want you to relax and enjoy your stay. Be sure and ask when deciding where to stay. You want to know in advance what activities you and your children can participate in.
Many guests at our farm never do any chores. They sure do enjoy the hammock, fire pit and fire places, hiking about the farm, and playing in and on the river. The river offers so many activities – wading, tubing, fishing, or skipping rocks.
Children have really enjoyed helping feed the goats in the evening when they come up to the pens. One 12 year old met us at the barns every evening after we showed him the ropes the first night. He had the feeders lined up and filled with food ready to go into the pen.
The mother of a 10 year old girl commented her daughter’s bed should have been at the barn. As soon as she awoke each morning, she said “I have to go to the barn!” We have many babies twice a year and the kiddos really enjoy holding and petting them.
Dan or David will let the kids “drive” a tractor of their choice. If they are baling hay, many have ridden in the jump seat on the big tractor to make a bale. Some granddads even wanted to do it!
Many guests have never seen the equipment doing the actual work and have been fascinated, just standing and watching the process.
4. What should I wear?
Be sure and take close-toed shoes when going on any farm stay. If you plan on hiking about, you will want clothes that don’t easily snag and clothing that can get dirty. Most vacation homes on farms have washers and dryers, but it is a good idea to check.
5. Are meals included?
This really varies. If you are staying in the farm home with the host family, you may be provided breakfast or all meals. You may be given use of the kitchen. Be sure and talk with your host prior to booking so you know exactly what is provided. Many farms are miles from the nearest store, so you for sure will want to bring all the supplies you will need. You can’t just “run to the store” like at home!
If you are staying in a rental home on the farm, most will have kitchens so you can bring your own food and cook. If the farm has chickens, they may give you eggs or you may purchase them. When children gather eggs, I let them each take an egg for their next breakfast (our chickens lay in crazy places!). They love it!
If the farm has a garden, many times you can purchase produce from the farm to use in your food prep. Others may let you gather what you need for a meal.
At Scurlock Farms I don’t provide meals, but I do bake a batch of from-scratch muffins the evening of a guest’s arrival, using real butter and eggs from my free-range chickens. They are great for dessert or for breakfast. I also provide a fresh fruit bowl of seasonal fruits, coffee and a variety of hot teas.
6. What is there to do?
This will be different for each farm. If you plan on visiting and staying at a vineyard, there probably will not be farm animals, chickens or gathering eggs, or helping feed the animals.
If you and your family are looking for a more traditional farm or ranch stay, you will probably be able to help gather the eggs, feed the chickens, help with putting hay out or sweet feed for the different animals, or harvest crops. Most hosts are happy for the assistance. They will probably have a schedule for doing different chores at certain times of the day.
Visit with the host of a farm you are interested in visiting and ask what you or your children will be able to help with.
7. How far from the grocery store or restaurants?
This is a great question to ask ahead of time and even before making a reservation. You certainly don’t want to arrive and need to run to the store for supplies, only to learn it is many miles away! Hopefully the farms you are interested in staying with will have a welcome book. Some are willing to share it only after reservations are made, others may share it with you even if you don’t make a reservation. I am happy to share the Scurlock Farms Welcome Book with anyone anytime, whether they visit or not. I really like the idea of “help, don’t sell”. Even if someone chooses to stay somewhere else, hopefully they will remember and visit Scurlock Farms in the future
8. Are there kid-friendly activities on the farm?
What a disappointment it would be to book a stay on a farm and learn that everything was off-limits to children! Ask questions before you book. Obviously there may be areas that would be off-limits on some working farms, but other areas should be open for exploring.
We have no off-limit areas at Scurlock Farms. Our animals are friendly and love the attention guests give them. Guests are shown the different areas of the farm – hiking, river, animals, etc. when they first arrive, so they know the lay of the land.
We allow guests to help gather eggs, feed the chickens, feed and brush the horses, feed and hold the baby goats, put out feed, and “drive” a tractor with Dan or David. When the gardens are in, guests are welcome to help themselves to fresh produce to use in their meals. Guests are welcome to pick up pecans when they open up in the fall. If you are lucky enough to visit during the harvest, it is fun to watch the different equipment do its job!
9. Why a farm stay?
Many people are visiting family from out of state and need to stay somewhere. Rather than choosing two or three adjoining hotel rooms, they choose a home on a farm.
This summer a guest from out of state was here to visit family in a nearby town told me the farm stay made more sense. He said it was lower than all the hotel rooms would have been. The guest liked being able to prepare meals in the fully-stocked kitchen and use the grill on the patio. His family loved being able to relax and enjoy all the activities on the farm (especially his grandchildren). Family members even joined them for a visit to the farm. Accommodations and entertainment for less than the cost of a hotel! What could be better?
I have had several guests stay that are considering purchasing land and moving to live on a farm. They stayed as they really wanted to try it out first. Last summer I had two mothers that brought their daughters for a farm stay. One daughter wanted to marry a farmer, the other dreamed of living on a farm when she grew up. The mothers both wanted their daughters to experience living on a farm first hand.
Many vacations now are “experience” based, and farm stays are really increasing in popularity.
10. What do we do if it rains?
I get this question a lot, especially in the rainy season. I tell guests there are a lot of activity type things to do in each of the homes on the farm – books, games, cards, videos and a wide assortment of movies. InnerSpace Caverns is a great place to visit in Georgetown when it is raining – it is underground and is a constant 72 year round!
I also refer them to the Scurlock Farms Welcome Book which has a large section on things to do in the area. One young couple had a little bit of everything for weather during their visit – a little hail, rain and a cold Norther blew in. Their comments were they had a great time, enjoying the fireplace and playing games and watching movies that were in the home.