Choosing to open your farm to the public can yield great results — it encourages people to learn how farm work.
You can also give first-hand information, promote the farming industry and potentially make some extra money.
It doesn't matter if you're looking into a small farm store or full-on agrotourism, plenty of risks come with it. The public doesn't step foot on your farm with a handbook full of potential risks — you have to do that thinking for them. The common sense parts of your life won't come first-hand to them, so you'll want to take steps to keep everyone safe.
When having guests on your property, absolutely nothing tops their safety. When people come, they will depend on staff to control certain aspects of farm life for viewing purposes — think animals appropriately contained and safety measures in place. You can't stop human error or abject stupidity, but you can limit the damage those two things can amount to.
At some point, you will have a guest who tries to climb a fence into a bullpen, or the wrong gate left open. Have a reaction plan set and make sure all precautions were set in place beforehand. Schedule walkthroughs into your daily routine, as time allows, and train tour guides to look for things that may appear off. Create a checklist of all the safety protocols on the farm and use it regularly.
Kids are especially prone to unfortunate accidents. If you have small family members, take them around for a tour before you open and see what they get into. They're almost guaranteed to find things you missed and make them a danger zone.
Some places on your farm should not allow guests. You should likely keep your home and skittish animals out of sight to avoid any mishaps. Depending on how your farm is set up, have a few pastures that visitors can't see. Keep animals that are close to birth out of the way, and always keep newborns out of the hands of inexperienced people.
Provide handwashing and sanitizer stations if you have areas where guests can interact with animals. Figuring out how to reduce the biosecurity risk is vital to keeping your herds safe. Additionally, some people won't know if they're allergic until it's too late, which can create a larger issue out of something seemingly harmless. You could involve hand washing as part of your tour, post any animal encounters, and use it to explain basic hygiene practices on the farm.
You can't get around it — you will need bathrooms. Unless you want guests to behave similarly to your livestock, you will absolutely need bathrooms. They don't have to remain open at all times but should include an option for kids, elderly and emergencies. If selling anything, various laws regard bathroom availability as well. You will have to check your state's policies, but any business serving food is required to have bathrooms accessible to its customers.
Employees should remain easily identifiable either by a uniform, nametag or fancy hats. You want them placed in areas where they can be useful, both to guests and to you. Farm work never ceases, but you will also want staff members focused on guests during their time on the property.
Obstacles might have become a part of your daily routine on the farm, but what you step over, a visitor might trip over. Consider the possibility of guests bringing strollers or wheelchairs and take seeing impaired guests into thought, for example. These are relatively simple things to adjust. Place good, bright lights in dim areas, have rules in place to encourage guests to leave before dusk, and provide clear, wide paths without weeds to make the overall experience better for guests. It will also take a load off your mind, because the clearer the paths, the less likely someone will wander into a questionable area.
In a group setting, it can be hard to reach the entire group when presenting rules and regulations. If you tell a group the rules ten times, someone will still not hear it, especially people distracted by small children, ringing phones or the excitement of being there. For every section of the farm open to the public, have the rules listed and in clear view. This will also help anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing since they won't have to rely on an employee speaking clearly while looking in their direction. It can be hard to make the words out otherwise.
Having visitors to your farm is a fantastic way to help people learn, add to your community and create an atmosphere of joy and friendship. But it also involves some risk. Learn the risks, minimize them and your farm will remain a hit in your community!
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