While the farmer’s away, the cows can play, eat and rest easy in the experienced hands of a farm sitter.
Right at home caring for calves and milking goats, Lauren Dixon, 31, spends her days looking after farms and ranches across the valley while their owners take some needed time off. She’s created a unique niche in the Flathead Valley’s agricultural community.
“I had the idea to start my business in 2013 after hearing the same story over and over again from people in ag,” she said, “which is, ‘I love my farm, I love my ranch. This is the lifestyle I want, but I never get to go anywhere. I’m totally tied to it.’”
Having grown up on a large cattle and horse ranch in Colorado, Dixon was born and bred for the agricultural business.
From her upbringing she developed a knack and a passion for the lifestyle as well as a desire to support local farmers and growers.
“It’s the simplicity and the quality of the food you can produce,” she said. “That’s a lot of it, is supporting local food producers and making it easier for them to do what they do by giving them a break sometimes.”
According to Dixon, since moving to the Flathead eight years ago, she’s discovered a large number of small farms and ranches run by overworked families.
Mending fences, milking cows, trimming hooves and shoveling manure all come with the territory, and the chores don’t stop for a sick day or vacation, Dixon said.
“Farming and ranching is difficult,” she said. “You’re usually overworked and underpaid no matter what sector of the ag industry you are operating in, so I like to provide the opportunity for these people to at least get a break.”
While some of her clients take their first vacation in years, Dixon takes on the daily management of the operation, whether it’s a dairy farm or a horse ranch.
Multiple times each day she travels to various farms to feed, clean, inspect and document the chores at each farm and reports back in real time to her clients.
Clients receive video and photo updates from Dixon on each of her visits so they can relax, knowing they’ve entrusted their livelihoods to the right person.
Dixon also manages her own farm, complete with dairy goats, weed-eating bunnies, chickens and geese, recreational horses and a 1,500-square-foot garden.
“The thing that has kept me in it is just the beauty and the aesthetic of the lifestyle,” she said. “It’s wonderful watching baby goats playing. It’s wonderful seeing a garden grow.”
As her farm-sitting business has grown, she said she has scaled back her personal farm to make time for those of her clients.
“Of course, I don’t get vacations because who farm-sits for the farm-sitter?” she added.
The business comes with a grueling amount of work, which grows as the weather worsens.
Her client list expands, Dixon said, as the Montana winter sets in and farmers look to escape to a warmer climate for the holidays.
Challenges can stack up with the snow.
Dixon often spends her holidays wading through several feet of snow to fulfill her duties. Icy roads can make for a treacherous commute between farms. Working solo most of the time requires a heightened awareness and extra precaution around large, strange animals.
“Here in Montana, long winters are always a challenge,” she said. “That can be trying.”
The reward for all her hard work comes in the form of knowledge, Dixon said.
Running her own farm day-to-day, she falls into a pattern of how she does things. However, Dixon said, farm-sitting often provides her with a fresh perspective and new ideas.
“Visiting all these farms and ranches, I get to see all these incredibly ingenious ways that people come up with to solve problems and manage their operations,” she said.
She finds the most satisfaction in the smiles on her clients’ faces upon their return.
“I find that a lot of my farm and ranch families, my clients, find a new passion and new heart for their operations when they’re able to go and come back,” Dixon said. “It helps to alleviate some of the burnout that is inevitable with doing this day in and day out.”
Hoping to expand her business and take on new clients, Dixon began employing extra hands during her busy seasons and hopes to hire more as her demand increases.
Dixon charges per visit based on the size of the operation she’s sitting.
For more information, visit http://flatheadfarmsitting.com/ or call 406-897-3993.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.