By 2005, we were beginning to feel the financial stress of our farm venture and approached our local economic development agency for support.
They offered a few hundred dollars to hire someone to develop a website for us. I ended up creating a website myself. It was full of errors that made it a slow process for anyone trying to load it but wasn’t bad for a first attempt.
The economic development staff did confirm the viability of an idea we had been tossing around (the farm bed and breakfast) and suggested we join the OFCA, Ontario Farm and Country Accommodations, which we did do. Later on we joined BBCanada.
Being an official farm bed and breakfast was a new experience. We weren’t exactly known for keeping the tidiest house in the world. Having cats, dogs and budgies didn’t help. And as far as the farm critters went, whether they were baby goats or baby chicks, we had an open house policy. If they needed warmth and shelter, they got it. In fact, the smallest of the three downstairs bedrooms was never put on the B&B bedroom list because it was our “bird room”. At the start only our budgies lived in there. Then cockatiels and lovebirds moved in. And a cabinet incubator. And warming cages with heat lamps for tiny birds of different types, everything from baby turkeys to pint-sized guinea chicks. Eventually we also had mother bunnies and their little ones in the room as the barn proved not to be the safest spot for baby bunnies.
We weren’t concerned about what our bed and breakfast guests might think of “the bird room”. After all, we offered a farm bed and breakfast on a real working farm. We did what we had to do to ensure maximum survival for the birds and animals in our care. Farm B&B guests were supposed to want to enjoy a real farm experience, after all.
Our first guests were an ambassador to Canada, his wife and child. They were very polite, but it was obvious they had booked primarily for the benefit of their child. What else could be more rewarding for a young person than to spend a night on a real working farm?
The next booking had been arranged by the wife. On their arrival day, when the husband began to bring their bags inside, he noted with obvious alarm that there was a long-haired orange cat outside. Little did he know that inside he would find a few more cats all lined up on the staircase leading up to their bedroom. We had never witnessed our cats behaving that way (especially with a stranger, whom they would normally hide from), and we never witnessed it again. He turned around and headed back to the car, explaining that he was deathly allergic to cats.
Despite all the work and preparation, we did not receive any compensation for that booking. Many bed and breakfasts require a non-refundable deposit in advance so that they will receive some money in the event of a last-minute cancellation. But not us.
I quickly revised our website to stress that Noah’s Farm was indeed a real working farm and that CATS went in and out of the house. After all, what would a farm be without cats?
Several more bookings followed in the weeks and months ahead. Families with children, grandparents with children, students from the Orient, couples from Europe.
We had requests from people wanting us to leave our front door open so that they could arrive in the wee hours of the night after partying (request denied). We had couples who asked Ian (I was generally at work during the day) to watch their small children while they had an afternoon nap. They didn’t stop to think that he had work to do on the farm. We had guests who basically didn’t want to leave for hours after their checkout time because they were busy making arrangements (using our phone) for something important they needed to do while in the area.
And we had a few guests who simply did not like farms – they didn’t like the mud, they didn’t like the noise (especially the symphony of roosters crowing), they didn’t like the smells. Had they been warned? Yes. But a number of guests seemed to be under the mistaken impression that we operated our farm like a farm exhibition, with all of our animals properly housed in clean and tidy pens, and that these livestock areas were at a long and safe distance away from the house.
Operating a farm bed and breakfast isn’t for every farmer wanting to try something different. Be prepared to lose your privacy. As I wrote earlier, Ian and I have never been the neatest people in the world. Right before a booking, everything personal in the areas open to the guests would have to disappear. Even the rooms (our office and bedroom) that we closed off to guests were not always sacred. Children, especially, sometimes did not respect “Private” signs on doors. And it was difficult not to feel that your personal space was being invaded, and you had to remind yourself a few thousand times that you were the one who had decided to get into this sideline.
Fortunately we did not experience a simply bad (and as in bad, I mean criminal) guest. But some B&Bs do. It’s the perfect opportunity for a thief to gain entry to a residence and steal whatever he or she can without being detected. We did hide our valuables (wallets and so on) and locked our office door so that our computer wasn’t accessible, but often one guest would be left alone in the house while we were out giving tours to the other guests. If the house-bound guest had a criminal bent, he or she could do a lot of snooping during a farm tour.
Sometimes guests would arrive, look around and obviously decide it simply wasn’t for them. Without unloading their luggage, they would make an excuse about having to go into town and pick something up at the store. We would never see them again. They didn’t stop to think that we had gone to some expense (Ian also baked homemade bread for our guests) and trouble to get everything in order for them. It was at times like these that we wished we required deposits!
Then there were the guests who attempted to flee after enjoying their home-cooked farm breakfast without paying. Load up the luggage and off they’d go – or so they thought. We stopped one or two before this happened.
The animals brought complications to our bed and breakfast that did not typically impact other B&Bs. One fall we began losing emus inexplicably. We called in the vet and after some investigation found out that our emus were being decimated by a mosquito-borne virus that generally affects horses. As is the case with viruses, there was no cure.
In the midst of it all arrived a couple of B&B guests. They were not long leaving when they found out that we were dealing with a virus, though the virus really was not an issue for human health.
Cooking breakfast could be fun. We had one couple leave without theirs. We waited and waited for them to come down. I gave up and took off to work. They finally did appear, and Ian was just finishing preparing their meal when another farmer came along with a load of hay. Ian asked our guests if he could be excused for a moment to help the other farmer unload the hay. They agreed, but not very sincerely apparently, as they left before he was able to return to serve them. After that we made sure we made arrangements with guests the night before re: breakfast times and also posted our breakfast hours in each room. We also made available a “do it yourself” menu with small boxes of cereal, fruit, muffins and homemade bread in case we weren’t able to synchronize our schedules.
I was usually in a rush to get to work when preparing breakfast for guests. One morning I pushed the bacon frying a little too hard, and fat on the burner underneath the pan caught fire! The looks on the faces of our guests (who were visiting from Europe) was priceless. We tried to make out that this was the most natural way for Canadians to pan fry bacon!
Like most ventures, a farm B&B has its pros and cons. Some of the cons have been outlined above. But it is also a good way to make some new friends and allow them to experience life on a real farm for a short time, while earning a little income (and farmers can always use income!).