Farm Stays: The Key to a Diversified Farm

Episode 132
For the Love of Goats

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Have you ever thought about hosting guests on your farm for additional income, but were too unsure about the logistics to take the first step? Today’s podcast will offer clarity and may even inspire you to finally venture into the world of agritourism.

We are talking to Scottie Jones, co-owner of Leaping Lamb Farm in Oregon and the founder of FarmStay USA, a national marketing and referral website for working farms that offer agritourism opportunities. 

Agritourism has been growing in popularity for some time. First it was glamping, and now Airbnb has added a “farm stay” category. It is obvious that agritourism could help many farms not only survive, but thrive.

Agritourism is also an essential educational tool in bridging the gaping divide between urban and rural life, especially in a time when many no longer understand where their food comes from or how hard it can be to produce it. 

In this episode, Scottie discusses the necessary insurance requirements, how FarmStay farms differ from other “farm stays” offered on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, how to offer a true experience rather than just “a place to stay,” how to effectively market your farm, and her top tip for those looking to get into agritourism. Scottie also addresses the most asked questions: how much should I charge, and how much can I expect to make? 

For more information:

Leaping Lamb Farm & Farm Stay

Farmstay US

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Transcript – Farm Stays

Introduction 0:02
For the love of goats. We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here’s Deborah Niemann.

Deborah 0:17
Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This is one of those episodes for those of you who love your goats so much, and you’re having a hard time letting go of babies and you want to keep more, and then you realize, if you’re going to have so many goats, that they’re going to have to start to pay for themselves. And so that’s why every now and then, I will interview somebody who will help give you some ideas about the logistics and the realities of turning your love of goats into a business. And I think agritourism is one of the first things that people think of, because on the surface it really looks like easy money. So today, we are joined by Scottie Jones, co-owner of Leaping Lamb Farm and also the founder of FarmStay, a national marketing and referral website for working farms that offer agritourism opportunities as part of their operations. Welcome to the show today, Scottie.

Scottie 01:14
Very nice to meet you, Deborah.

Deborah 01:15
So the first thing I would like you to explain is, how are you different from Airbnb and VRBO and all those guys?

Scottie 01:24
So FarmStay is for working farms that offer lodging to guests or other agritourism operations. And what I mean by working is that we are either raising livestock, we are growing produce, we are selling to the public, but the term “farm stay” has been a little bit adopted by Airbnb, which could just be a country house. We are using our opportunities for agritourism as a way to diversify our incomes. And a lot of our farms, I’ll have to say, love the opportunity to educate guests about what we do, because the majority of our guests are urbanites, and they have no clue.

Deborah 02:05
Exactly. And so for people who think, like, oh, agritourism, that’s an easy way to make money, what would you say to them?

Scottie 02:15
I would say that you need to think very carefully about inviting strangers onto your farm with everything from liability to your time and what it’s going to cost you, both in insurance and also not doing those other things that you might be doing on your farm at the time. I will have to say, for some of us, I love having guests come on the farm, and I’m willing to make those, I guess you could call them sacrifices or payments, for the opportunity to educate the guests that come and stay here. And also, honestly, since you’re all about goats, to let them interact hands on with our goats. Because it’s amazing how many adults and children have never put their hands on any kind of livestock, and maybe not even pets. So a goat is a very good introduction.

Deborah 03:09
Right. Before we started recording, you were talking about even though you’re Leaping Lamb Farm, you do have a few goats there, and the goats are really the star of the agritourism thing, rather than the lambs. Could you explain that?

Scottie 03:22
I will. So we have always raised sheep and lambs, and we have been hosting guests on our farm since 2008. I had a goat dropped on me in about 2010 by somebody who asked if I would take care of it, and then just left. Because it was a female, it was a doe, I thought, well, I might as well breed her and have some baby goats. That first year was the year where my guests, who are return guests often, said, Oh, you always need to have baby goats. Baby lambs run away from you. Baby goats run towards you. And so we have had goats ever since. They are Nigerian Dwarf. I do use them to keep down the blackberries. Oregon is known for very tasty blackberries, but very invasive blackberries, and this little crew I have is very good at doing that and, honestly, entertaining my guests.

Deborah 04:16
Yeah, exactly. I know pretty early on in my goat and sheep keeping life, I realized that goats are more like dogs, and then sheep are more like cats. They’re kind of like, they’re more standoffish. So even the friendliest, you know, even if we bottle fed a couple of lambs by the time they get to be adults, they’re just, they’re not at all friendly. One of the things you mentioned a minute ago was about liability. And I think that is one thing that always surprises people when I talk about any kind of farm business where people are going to be coming onto your farm, is the liability part. What do people need to look at in their insurance policy to make sure that they’re covered for agritourism and people coming onto their farm?

Scottie 05:01
So they need to talk to their insurance agent, because a farm policy is not necessarily a business liability policy for customers coming onto your farm. So I always say, make sure that you are covered under a business liability policy. Sometimes they call it “trip and fall” insurance. I take guests, either tour guests or overnight guests, on a tour of our farm within the first 30 minutes, because I have found that accidents happen that fast. The terrain is unusual for people, and it just seems, when you come from a city walking on sidewalks, walking on dirt is something else. So I think there are those two things. You do need to have your business liability insurance. You do need to find out if your state has an agritourism limited liability policy, and if it does, then you put up signs on your farm that specifically say farms are dangerous places. You are here at your own risk. Those signs need to be at your parking area and also maybe at your front gate. There are about 25 states in the country right now that have those policies, and there are more adding them all the time.

Deborah 06:07
That is awesome. And unfortunately, where I live in Illinois, it’s not one of them. But I did get an email recently from one of our statewide farm organizations that said that, rather than doing that, the legislature decided to reimburse farms up to $1,000 a year for agritourism insurance, which seemed like a weirdly expensive way to deal with it, but, you know, different states handle it different ways. But I’m very jealous of all the states that have passed those laws that just put the common sense out there and say, Yeah, farms are dangerous places. You could get hurt, and it’s your responsibility.

Scottie 06:51
I think you might have problems with that. Not all insurance companies, a most insurance companies do not have an agritourism policy, and some of our farms have found that they have been dropped by their insurance companies once they discovered they’re doing agritourism. So one needs to be a little careful about what you’re asking from your insurance agent, but you certainly need to let them know what you are doing, because you want to make sure you’re covered.

Deborah 07:16
Yeah, exactly. That actually happened to us in the early years. I got a phone call one day from this lady who said, Hi, I just discovered your website, and I think it is so awesome. Personally, I just have to tell you, I think it is so cool what you guys are doing, but we just can’t cover you for insurance because there’s just too much liability there, so we’re gonna have to cancel your policy at the end of this month.

Scottie 07:42
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And my insurance agent, I had something–we have horses–and I had something about horses for riding, just in my copy, and we don’t let anybody ride here. And they said, You need to take that out of your copy, because we don’t, we don’t cover that. So yeah, I would just say one needs to make sure your agent knows, but also be ready if, then ask for a broker to help you if you get dropped.

Deborah 08:08
Yeah, could you talk a little bit more about the FarmStay website? You said that it’s–it’s not a booking site like Airbnb. So can you explain a little more about exactly what it is?

Scottie 08:19
Sure we are a referral site. So when travelers are saying, I want to go stay on a farm overnight, we will likely come up. And we do a lot more education for both our travelers and our farmers in terms of, if you’re a farmer and you want to maybe set up some lodging on your farm, and that could be camping or glamping, or in your farmhouse, we are more than happy to hold your hand. And we have a booklet that we hand out that says you need to think of this, this, this, this, this, and this–the first questions you ask to make sure this is a good match for your farm. But then the second part of it is you need this license, and you need this license, and you need to think about this, and this is how much this is going to cost. And have you thought about this? So we try to help farms that way. And then if a farm is already up and running, we want to help them market because that has been the top concern that farms have. I don’t know how to market my lodging. They may be on Airbnb, they may be on VRBO. They can definitely link to those through their profile. But we help talk to travelers more about what the experience is like. So whereas Airbnb, if you think about that, all the pictures are of lodging, of what are the beds look like? What’s the kitchen look like? We don’t want to promote that at all. We want to promote, what do I get to do when I come to your farm? Do I get to feed the chickens? Do I get to collect eggs? Do I get to hang out with the goats? Do you give tours? Things like that. So we’re all about the experience. So therefore, for travelers, they’re coming to our site to say, what do I get to do on a farm? Or I want to ride a horse, or I want to milk a cow or a goat, or I want to help with chores. And so those are all the kind of filters that people can use, and I saw you smiling because we had talked about milking, and that is one of the top choices that people select–I want to milk a cow or a goat. I tried that on my farm. Mine are not milk goats, but we do have babies. And I tried it for one season where I kept one goat in milk for me, for my guests, they would try for maybe 15 seconds. It’s–it’s hard to milk a goat, especially if you’ve never milked before. They would give up. So I decided that, that I was not going to do that anymore. So I am not on the list of farms that will teach you how to milk something because I don’t have the time or the patience.

Deborah 10:41
Yeah, exactly. I used to really get very detailed about it. And what my husband does is, when somebody says that, is that he basically just pinches off the teat at the very top so that the milk can’t go back up into the udder and then he tells them to squeeze the lower part, and the milk squirts out. And so then they get real excited, and they’re like, oh my gosh, I did it. And that’s basically, that’s it.

Scottie 11:04
Okay, well, that would have been a good lesson for me. But our guests, our guests have enough fun with the goats and seeing them born, seeing them as babies, watching them drink from their moms, that it seems to be enough for everybody.

Deborah 11:19
Yeah, I think most people would be happy, you know, just holding a baby goat for a little while.

Scottie 11:25
Very happy. And my caveat to any of them is, watch out for your hair. Do not leave your hair if you have long hair. Be careful. And also don’t let them chew on your clothes very long or you’ll have a hole in it. That’s the, that’s the training you get from me.

Deborah 11:40
Yeah, exactly. So you mentioned that on your website you’ve got some tips for people who want to do this. What, what would be, like, your top tip for people?

Scottie 11:52
So in terms of travelers, so most of the travelers that use our site, which is why our farms like to be listed on it, because they’ve already self-selected that they’re looking for an experience, not just a place to stay. But I would say that when I do get guests out at my farm, this tip is not on the website, but I do when I’m talking to farmers do this, you find that urbanites move really, really fast. And so if ever we are trying to do anything like herding the sheep, or even the goats if they get out, or the chickens, it’s like, slow down. Just slow down. You are moving too fast. You are trying to force livestock to do things that you want them to do. Let’s let them have it be their idea. Also, I would say lower your voice. Just be quiet. Be peaceful. There was a really good book when I was a kid, and it was called Play With Me, and I need to come up with a kid’s book that’s for the farm. But it was about a little girl, and she would go after all these animals in the forest, and she was way too fast, and they would all disappear. So then she sat down next to this pond, and she was very quiet, and they all came up to her. So it’s the same thing on a farm. So I do try to say: voices low, move slowly, be kind. And that is because we have livestock. If it were a family going out into your garden, because we do allow grazing in our garden, we call it, I think the advice there would be you need to show people what plants look like in the ground, what carrots look like, what potatoes look like. I had somebody who wanted to pick spinach, and she came back with the leaves off the broccoli. I mean, so it is that there needs to be a little bit more hand holding than you might think to start with, but that the guests that at least come through our site, are very respectful, and maybe just a little embarrassed that they don’t know. The parents are embarrassed; the kids are just excited. But in the end, what I’ve heard, especially from kids, is that we are way better than Disneyland. I’m sure the parents think the same thing, because we’re not as expensive.

Deborah 13:59
That’s awesome. That’s definitely got to make you feel good.

Scottie 14:02
Yeah, it does. It does.

Deborah 14:03
So along the lines of, like, making lots of money: how? Because I know people, I’m sure people think that they look at this and they’re like, Okay, well, if I’m going to charge X number of dollars a night, and we’re going to be booked all these nights, we’re going to make this much money in a year. What do most, I mean, I’m sure it varies somewhat by location, but what kind of a occupancy rate can people expect? Like, are they going to have somebody staying on their farm like 20% of the nights in a month, or 50%, or?

Tends to be a little bit more seasonal. So my occupancy is 40%, but, in the summer, I’m booked probably 90 to 95% and obviously I’m not booked much in November. So this is Oregon. It starts raining in November, November, December, January, February, until the middle of March. And I don’t actually really promote that people come to the farm at that point, right. Because it’s muddy and it’s dark, we don’t have any lambs, and we need a break, so we actually tend to block some of that. But then starting with lambing season for me, so it depends if you have livestock or not, but whenever you start lambing, kidding, having whatever travelers do like to be around for that. And it’s also spring break, right? So I tend to start filling up and be almost 100% full for spring break–March 15 until the end of April. Since I’m in Oregon, I also get California guests, different spring breaks. Then I’m booked on weekends. And then once summer hits, I’m booked all summer, almost every night until Labor Day, and then I’m booked weekends and fill in the weeks with adults traveling. And so that’s our nice weather is the summer here, and into the fall, and spring is pretty nice as well. But if you were, say, in Florida, or maybe Texas, or Louisiana, somewhere where it’s hot in the summer, you might find you have more bookings in the winter. I specifically market to families with children. Not all farms do that. So it would really depend on who are you marketing to, and maybe you’re just going to be booked on the weekends if you’re just marketing to adults, which is fine, and because it’s nice to have time off. I will have to say that while I love doing my farm stay, and I really adore my guests, and we have about a 35 to 40% return rate on guests, so I’ve seen kids at three and they’re now 17. But it is like being on stage, and while I am not with my guests all day–they do chores with me in the morning, they do chores with me at night, in the middle of the day, they’re on their own–I still, at the end of the season, am tired, and it’s nice to have the farm back to yourself sometimes and not have to be making sure that all the gates are locked. Oh, yeah, that would be something you said: what advice? Ah, make sure you read all the rules about the farm or farm facts, because ours is: if it gates open, leave it open; if it’s closed, keep it closed. If the animals are on the lawn, please come get us. But there are definite, what you would think would make sense there, people don’t have a lot of sense on the farm. So that’s part of that, that’s part of that farm tour that I give as well. You know: the hay lofts are dangerous–can be dangerous places. Don’t climb up eight stacks high and jump down. I have a creek that goes through the property. Please make sure parents are with children. That’s that kind of stuff.

Deborah 17:26
Yeah, yeah. You never, some of the things that people do when they’re on your farm just completely confuse you, like you just don’t know why they would ever do that. We used to have a kids camp on our farm, and one day, one of the counselors told me that he had put the ducklings back into the chicken tractor. And I was like, what? The ducklings shouldn’t be in the chicken tractor. Like he had, the duck had hatched some eggs, and he caught all of them and put them in a chicken tractor. And I was just like, uh, our ducks are, like, free range. They’re out on the pond, they’re doing their thing. And then it was sad we could never figure out who the mama duck was, so, and I hate raising ducklings in a brooder because they are the messiest birds ever. But he just assumed that baby ducks should not be running around and like but they’re with their mom. She knows how to take care of them.

Scottie 18:23
Common sense is not so common these days.

Deborah 18:25
Yes, yeah, exactly because, I mean, if you don’t live on a farm and you don’t know that, then you know, I mean, it kind of makes sense, like, Oh no, these poor little tiny fluff balls are running around. So you mentioned that you specifically market to children. And although it seems super obvious to me that if you wanted to market specifically to adults, that you could just say, “no children.” But how do you specifically market to families with children?

Scottie 18:53
You know, it’s not that hard to do if you show baby animals on your website.

Deborah 18:58

Scottie 18:59
And if you show some animals and you talk about interaction. Now, I allow my guests to interact with my sheep and my lambs and my, my does and my kids all the time. So once I’ve shown them how they need to be around those animals, I allow them to do that on their own. Now, if I notice that children are not paying attention to me or their parents, I will not have made it so open, but if everybody’s being very respectful, I let them do that. So, I think we–we say that on our site. I mean, we talk about helping with chores, and I must be actually the photographs, rolling photographs and videos and things like that, where people see, oh, look, they get to do that. Plus, we have a lot of our guests talk to each other. We have a lot that where the kids are in school together and things like that. We’ve even–we have school groups that’ll come out and then their parents or help with the tours. So I think they all talk to each other. And so a lot of our marketing is word of mouth. And when we’ve had marketing from magazines or on TV or whatever, oftentimes those people will ask me about what kind of experiences can people have? So, it would be me talking about it.

Deborah 20:14
Okay. And then, how did you get placement in magazines or TV and things like that?

Scottie 20:21
I would love to say I’m great at marketing. Some of it’s been pure luck, and then some of it is our tourism agencies here in Oregon. So Travel Oregon, and the fact that we offer a farm stay, which is alternative to other kind of lodging. So my local CVB Visit Corvallis does a lot of marketing for me, because Travel Oregon tells a good story. So that would be the majority of how I get in magazines. And then once you’ve been in a magazine, writers find you, FarmStay has also helped, because we’re seen as the main and only site, basically, for farm stays in the US, and we’ve been, we’ve been doing that since 2010, so that helps, longevity helps. But I have to say it to start, because we did get into the Oregonian. We got into some news, big newspapers. I did pitch the story. I pitched to them just saying, Hey, we’re out here. This is what we do. I think this would be a good story. You know, I’m still waiting to get on Sunday Morning on CBS. But I would say you just, you send an email, you pick up the phone, “Hey, I’ve got an idea.” Even with the magazines, you could do the same thing. They’re always looking for stories, especially if they have online. So it hasn’t been, it’s not impossible to do. And I don’t have, I did not have a marketing background. I just, just come up with a good subject line.

Deborah 21:44
Yeah. Do you have any suggestions for people on how to price their farm stay?

Scottie 21:50
I would say, look at what other properties in your area are pricing at. I would also say, look at your time. So, I find that a lot of farm stays are underpriced because the farmers are not accounting for the fact that they are spending time with their guests, and that’s time they could be spending doing something farming. But if it’s camping, it tends to be, you know, for a tent, anywhere from $35 to $75 a night. If it’s glamping, it could be anywhere from $75, which is way too low, to $250 a night or more. Depends. It kind of depends on what else you’re offering. It depends on what amenities you’re offering, really. I mean, if you have some sort of spa attached to it, or whatever. But it doesn’t need to be that fancy. And then, if you’re doing lodging in your house versus maybe a separate cottage, could be anywhere, and it depends on where you are in the country, you already mentioned that, from $125 to $450 a night. Depends on how many people it can take as well. So, to answer your question, I would look around, see what the, what anybody else is charging in the area. Compare and contrast what you’re offering, and then settle on a price. And you can always start low, especially if you’re brand new at it. You can always raise your price. You might want to start low so that you’ve exceeded expectations before anybody even gets there. And I will have to say, farms tend to exceed expectations no matter what you’ve priced it at, because your guests don’t know, if their first time, what to expect, and they’re they’re a little hesitant about what this experience is going to be like, and it’s not very hard to exceed expectations. But, people do worry that it’s going to be dirty. Just make sure that where the lodging is, is that it’s clean. It needs to be hotel-like, not necessarily all the white linens and towels, but it needs to be clean.

Deborah 23:45
Okay. Right.

Scottie 23:47
And you need to be friendly. You need to have one friendly face on the farm. I mean, my husband is very friendly, but he doesn’t like talking to strangers, so if he sees somebody, he’ll just jump on the tractor. So he’s have-to. If he gets cornered, he’s very friendly. But there, I always say there needs to be one person that loves to talk to strangers.

Deborah 24:05
That’s a great tip.

Scottie 24:06
Yeah, yeah.

Deborah 24:07
This has been really helpful. Do you have any final thoughts?

Scottie 24:12
I’m just, I’m extremely passionate about that connection of rural and urban, and I think that a farm stay, or even a farm tour, is a perfect way to make that connection, because I think something like 95% of our population lives in urban or suburban areas and are very disconnected from their food and very disconnected from the rural life. And, as a farmer, it’s very hard to make money. It’s very hard to only be a farmer, because there are so many things we can’t control: we can’t control the weather, we can’t control commodity prices, we can’t control a lot of things, but we can control diversification on our farm, and I think agritourism really helps to do that. I mean, that is how we pay for our tractor to break down. We pay for all of those things because we’ve invited guests to come stay with us. So, I would say I am not a hobby farm. I am a diversified farm, and there’s nothing bad about that. There’s nothing that should be embarrassing about that either. I think that we serve a good purpose for educating the public so they understand why the price of eggs is what it is if you’re buying it from a farm, or why the price of tomatoes is it, because they see the amount of work you put into it. And one of the comments I get from the adults leaving the farm is they didn’t realize how hard this was. They didn’t realize how much work it was. So, I’m sending home educated guests, and I’ve got money in my pocket.

Deborah 25:39
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Scottie 25:45
You’re very welcome, Deborah. Thank you for finding me.

Deborah 25:46
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit and you can follow us on Facebook at See you again next time. Bye for now!

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