There may be a gold mine lurking in that empty shed, loft or cabin on your horse farm. Or in those empty bedrooms you never use.
Gold mine may be an exaggeration, but opening your farm to bed and breakfast guests or offering an AirBnB-type short-term rental could provide an additional income stream – not to mention connecting you with guests from around the world (the latter more likely once the pandemic has abated, of course!)
Fulltime dressage coach, trainer and clinician Joan Stone operates Hillcrest Farm Bed & Breakfast at her 5.5 acre property in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. She has owned the farm for 34 years and started the B & B in 2005. Guests can enjoy comfortable accommodation in the midst of wine country and interacting with Stone’s pigs, chickens, cats, dogs and equines.
Her house was built in 1939 by a pioneer family who settled the area. When Stone and her ex partner bought it, “it had a million-dollar view but it was a single storey house.” So they eventually added a second floor with a master bedroom suite that’s Stone’s personal quarters and a two-bedroom suite intended from the start for bed and breakfast guests.
Stone says her greatest satisfaction comes from seeing children’s reactions. “I like showing people the farm. It’s cool when I get kids who have never been on a farm and I can show them where eggs come from and they are able to pat and brush the pony.”
Breakfast? Not Necessarily
Stone’s operation is a bed and breakfast and she handles her own bookings; others like Lisi Ohm and Dan Booth of Vindsdalur Icelandic Horse Farm in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley and Deborah Chute Petit who with husband Eric owns Laurenwood Farm in Loretto, Ontario, use AirBnB that handles booking and payments for a small fee.
Rules vary between the types of accommodation and from municipality to municipality. Bed and breakfasts are small, independent establishments and tend to be more regulated; Airbnb is a multi-national corporation that provides a platform for people to rent their property for short-term stays, from a single bedroom in a home to an entire house. AirBnB hosts don’t necessarily have to be present on the property or deal directly with guests – or even offer breakfast.
Ohm and Booth have been breeding Icelandic horses for 20 years. After living on Canada’s west coast, the couple relocated to Nova Scotia two years ago. They have prior tourism experience; they used to run dog sled tours and canoe trips. The AirBnB idea came about because the Icelandic horse community in Nova Scotia is small and people were travelling from long distances to have lessons or clinics with Ohm, a licensed instructor, and needed a place to stay. But many of their guests are non-horsey.
“We have a very large house with three large bedrooms upstairs that were just sitting there, as we live downstairs,” Ohm says. “We thought we’d try it. It turned out people loved it. They can go into the wilderness and experience bike trails or explore the Annapolis Valley. They find staying in a 160-year-old farmhouse mesmerizing.”
Laurenwood Farm, a third-generation family farm that grows organic fruits and vegetables and offers horse boarding, has several types of accommodation available, from a small off-grid log cabin to a rustic loft above the working horse barn to a vintage camper. Guests can explore the farm, its stream, pond and kilometres of trails and meet the animals that include horses, pigs, cows, ducks and chickens. They can bring their own horses and dogs, if they are farm-appropriate.
“Honestly, I can’t say enough good about hosting farm-stay guests,” says Chute Petit. “We have found it to an excellent source of income for us in the off-season as well as our main season. We would definitely recommend it as an extension of other farm activities.”
She says the additional B and B income allows her and her husband to upkeep their property’s appearance and gives them some breathing room if they have a harder growing season.
The farm hosts say insurance is an important consideration – but say that isn’t difficult to arrange nor is it very expensive. Stone says it’s only a small add-on to her regular insurance; Ohm already had insurance in place to cover visitors as she hosts clinics, etc. at her farm. Chute Petit checked that their insurance would cover all on-farm visitors and the short-term rental companies (such as AirBnB) they do business with have their own legal and financial protections for hosts, she adds.
Another consideration is that during this time of Covid-19, guests will expect an extremely high level of cleanliness, with assurances that all the accommodation’s surfaces are being sanitized between guests. You may want to establish your own rules about mask wearing in common areas, social distancing, hand sanitizing, etc.
“Its easy to follow Covid protocols, as the B&B has a separate entrance and exclusive access to the dining room,” explains Stone. “I leave breakfast there and send a text to come down then go in to clean up after they are finished. Of course I do a thorough cleaning before each stay and sanitize all touch surfaces. I meet guests outside when they arrive and use texting if I need to communicate when they are in the B&B suite.”
Chute Petit outlined their safety measures. “We have limited the number of people who are able to book the listings to 4 guests. Guests can no longer bring their pets with them, as the pets don’t understand social distancing! We have stopped offering horseback riding but we still allow guests to visit with our horses and all of the farm animals. We have employed a new advanced cleaning protocol, which entails sanitizing high-touch surfaces, using health expert-approved cleaning products, using a cleaning checklist for each room, washing linens at high temperature, leaving windows open between guests to air the rooms, redundant cleaning (having guests wash their dishes and then us rewashing them), and having guests strip beds of all linens and place them into clear plastic bags for us to pick up. We social distance from our guests during our outdoor tour to orient them to the farm. We wear masks when we are in any sort of closer contact.”
Guests vs. Privacy
Stone’s advice to other stable owners considering offering guest accommodations is to try it, if they have a set-up that would work. “I made a clear plan and have a separate entrance so the B and B people aren’t in the main house. Privacy is huge to me and I would not be in business if I didn’t have a way of keeping it separate.”
“I am clear about the boundaries,” she adds. “Don’t go into fields when I’m not with you. Have your kids under control. Most people who stay at a B and B are interested in the history and area and I’ve only had maybe two or three guests who would have preferred staying at a hotel.”
“We don’t offer entertainment,” says Ohm. “We say ‘here’s your upstairs.’ If people are interested, we show them around the farm. They really enjoy the (Cashmere) goats and goat babies, as well as the horses. Seeing people experience a totally different lifestyle is rewarding.”
She and Booth can provide breakfast if requested or have a fridge guests can use to store groceries. “My husband makes incredibly good eggs and toast, and we have a spectacular coffee maker and provide pastries.”
Ohm doesn’t have any real horror stories – yet – other than on rare occasions “people will take our hospitality to the brink and stay until the last minute of checkout. We have a busy lifestyle and normally people are very respectful and thankful.”
Chute Petit says there is always a small risk of having a less-than-ideal guest, but she and her husband have experienced that only a couple of times in five years of hosting. The first happened in the early days when they realized people were not adequately prepared for a farm stay.
“Hint – never use the word ‘luxury’ in your listing title, no matter how nice your listing, if it is in a barn,” Chute Petit says and she is brutally honest with prospective guests about what farm stays entail. Their AirBnB listing is detailed, pointing out that their farm is a working one and there are noises, sights and smells associated with livestock and some times of year, there may be mucky paddocks, inclement weather and manure. The nightly rate for the horse barn loft that can accommodate five guests is $215, plus cleaning and service fees.
Vindsalur rates are $95 for the large bedroom with coffee and tea, toast and muffins provided. For more than two people and use of the additional bedrooms, the charge is an additional $50 per room. Ohm says they don’t rent the bedrooms separately; only to the same family or group.
Stone’s Hillcrest Farm B&B only takes bookings for two-night stays and charges $150 per night for the main suite with queen bed and an extra $50 for the second bedroom.
Stone says her greatest satisfaction comes from seeing children’s reactions. “I like showing people the farm and it’s cool when I get kids who have never been on a farm and I can show them where eggs come from and they are able to pat the pony and brush her.”
She says if she’s around, she’ll cook eggs for breakfast, but if she’s away for a clinic, she’ll leave pastry, fruit and yogurt for guests. She will also do ‘bale and breakfast’ for people who want to bring their horse.
Surprisingly given the Covid-19 pandemic, this has been her busiest period since the B and B opened. “We often get people from around the world, but this year a lot of people are doing staycations. Over half the guests were people who live on Vancouver Island. We were booked solid.”
Chute Petit described how their clientele has changed. “Our demographic has definitely changed during the course of the pandemic. Rather than having guests from around the world, we had guests from all over Ontario and particularly from Toronto. The most common thing people told us was that they were so grateful to be able to get out of the city and get a break. Even when there is not a pandemic going on, people arrive and the set of their shoulders is tense and they look stressed and tired. Five minutes into the tour and you can just see their shoulders relax and they are smiling and look much more at peace. That is so rewarding for us.”
She adds that there are more benefits than simply the financial to offering guest accommodation.
“Aside from our wonderful guests, the very fact we are hosting visitors keeps us honest,” says Chute Petit . “We have to keep our farm tidier and our friendly animals front and centre. It makes us take the time to appreciate and introduce all of our animals to our guests, and many follow the exploits of their favourite animals on our social media pages.”
Chute Petit says they’ve had many proposals on their farm, guests have come to honeymoon or celebrate anniversaries – and some of them have even been motivated to start their own farms.