by Emily Leeson
Farmers like to have fun too. Visit the grandkids out in Alberta, head down to Florida when the doldrums of winter are at their worst. Even a weekend in the city wouldn’t be bad. But a quick getaway isn’t so simple when you’ve got a barn full of livestock needing regular everything.
One enterprising recent college graduate is making other people’s vacations her business. Kylynne Sheffield of Brookfield, N.S., recently launched a farm-sitting business. It’s already bustling with bookings. And while she’s busy making sure the cows are alright, the immediate popularity of the business highlights the changing demographics of Nova Scotia’s farming industry and the creative approach young entrants into the industry may need to take when considering how best to get back on the farm.
The 2016 census shows that Nova Scotia’s farmers are getting older. The average age of a farmer in the province is now over 56. Lands in crops, pasture, and woodlots are shrinking, and fewer than 5.2 percent of farms in the province have a written succession plan. It seems as though few had much of a vacation plan either. That is, of course, unless they know Sheffield.
As an enterprising kid who grew up on a farm, Sheffield started working long before she was in university.
“I was asked by family friends in high school to stay at their farms when they wanted to go away,” Sheffield recalled. “I ended up spending up to 20 days on a sheep farm.”
After high school, Sheffield enrolled in Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture diploma in business management program with an equine specialty. Like many of the students arriving at the agricultural campus just outside of Truro, Sheffield originally set her sights on one day taking over the family business. In her case, it was her mother’s trail riding business in Hants County.
For many of her classmates, the business plans they were creating as coursework were actually succession plans for the family farms they’d been working on before university, and the same farms they’d be returning to post-graduation. But the reality of those plans being put into action anytime soon seemed slim to Sheffield.
“A lot of their families aren’t ready to retire or give it up” she said.
For those without a family farm to return to, the prospects of starting up a successful new agricultural business seemed even slimmer. Sheffield watched as her equine specialty class dwindled. Those without a background in the industry and no reputation to build on quickly realized that their prospects for profitable employment were low. They switched their education plans. Sheffield herself decided not to pursue the family business.
That’s around the same point she got creative with her own career planning. Down the line, Sheffield would like to own her own place, a small house with a barn, a few acres – just enough for a few show cattle and a couple of horses. But for now, she’s busy enough looking after other people’s barns. To date, she’s completed 38 farm-sitting assignments and she’s already booked through this summer, with one booking set for 2018.
Her average customers are between the ages of 40 and 60, looking for someone reliable and responsible with hands-on experience. “Their children have grown up and moved away, and now they’re wanting to go on vacation but don’t have anyone to care for the farm.” she said.
So far, Sheffield has worked with just about anything you could imagine keeping in the barn. Horses, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, donkeys, llamas, and alpacas. She will look after them all. She’s not as keen on the idea of snakes or spiders, but that’s not to say she wouldn’t consider it.
She’s been travelling across the province, wherever the work takes her, and she’s perfectly fine with a calendar that keeps her on her toes. She’ll be in Ontario early this month for the Canadian Charolais Youth Association conference and show, home again to host a Nova Scotia Shorthorn field day at her family farm, and then she’ll be right back on the job
Her life certainly isn’t without incident.
“The last farm I was at, I was feeding animals in the barn when I saw what I thought was another barn cat,” Sheffield recalled. “Turned out to be a very large raccoon.”
Eventually she got ahold of the farmer on the phone to ask about who to contact to have the raccoon relocated. It seems the farmer was quite accustomed to the little fellow popping by each night, hanging out in the feed room, and snacking on the cat food. He’d simply forgotten to mention it to Sheffield.
Meanwhile, Sheffield had spent two hours in the hay feeder until she had the chance to call, waiting and watching, making sure the raccoon didn’t get into anything or attack one of the cats. Sheffield is certainly nothing if not dedicated.
While other 22-year-olds might be relishing the summer sun on the beach with friends, Sheffield is spending a lot of her time solo.
“I’m not really a people person,” she said, laughing. “That’s why I look after their animals.”
It can be lonely, but amid the morning chores, the mid-day checks, and evening routine, Sheffield is getting to do something few people her age are able to do: be her own boss. She’s working in her chosen industry and she’s making ends meet.
Sheffield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-902-790-1054. She typically charges around $60 per day, although that rate can be higher depending on the number of hours of daily chores she’s tasked with, and she charges for travel if the client is more than 30 kilometres from her home in Brookfield.
by Emily Leeson