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How hard is it to get and keep barn help?

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  • How hard is it to get and keep barn help?

    I am kind of curious about those of you with backyard barns and the need to have barn help.

    In my area, I think it is very difficult to find and keep reliable barn help. First, the population to draw from is limited, and secondly, the cost of living and the winters don't help. I see the folks with professional barns put up advertizing about every 3 months looking for new(replacement help).

    I don't think it matters if you are backyard or even a professional barn...its hard to find and keep the help around here.

    I have been through both sides, where I would have barn help for about 3 months, and then they'd move on. Lately, I have had someone for a year...and that is highly unusual. I really lucked out. But, I know she isn't that interested in doing another year. She is between a rock and hard place in that I pay well, she only works for 3.5 hours and makes as much as her bf who is in landscaping who works an 8 hour day. So...she wants to stay, but she also hates working in the cold, and doesn't want to do it again.

    I have been considering relocating, mostly because I want to keep horses more au natural and deal with less severe winters. But, after this summer, I think the labor is as intense, if not more so in hot/hot weather. She does the same, summer and winter, its me that does more such as bringing in mid day, turning out later, cleaning stalls, hosing, etc, etc. She just does am feed and turnout and cleans stalls and leaves. I know when I relocate, I am going to need help but don't want to be in a new place and not have help!!! Its just me, so as you can imagine, sometimes an extra hand is needed. Plus, I cannot clean 10 stalls anymore day in/day out and do much else physical work.

    I am just wondering if barn help is as difficult to get and keep in other locations as it is here in NH.
    save lives...spay/neuter/geld

  • #2
    Maybe your location is indeed different, but every place I have been, that you have reliable, steady and long lasting help seems to depend on management skills.

    Here, there are business that go thru workers like shirts and others that are on the second generation of the same few helpers, for the same kind of work.
    The only difference seems to be how they treat their employees.

    Now, in your situation, that seems a little bit like not quite full time work with benefits and all that.
    That may require a different kind of worker than a full time job.

    Comment


    • #3
      Agree with Bluey- speaking from experience, it's how you treat your employees and of course hiring the right folks first. Many barn owners treat the workers as lowly minimum wage laborers who have no choice but to do this thankless work in unbearable weather. Don't pile on extra work without pay, expect them to work 7 days per week with no time off, work holidays and late nights without extra pay, handle the dangerous jobs (mean, aggressive stallions), and on and on. Basically you need to treat employees fairly and considerately and reward them for consistently good, reliable work.
      "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        No, I am very clear about extra work means extra pay. Plus, I pay for lessons from a professional who comes to my farm. So, an extra perk, to get a lesson, but I pay for it. I look at it as a win/win...the horse is getting a lesson, and so is she. I can't take a lesson on 4 horses when the trainer comes, so she is in fact helping me by riding the horse of her choice. I ride the other 2, trainer rides one, and help rides the other. BTW, trainer suggested she ride that horse during the week, but she isn't interested...wants to go home.

        I agree with the mgt skills, and that is why I pay above the rates that most other barns pay, and probably why I have kept my help for a year now, plus her brother does her days off. I also pay vacations, etc. I am in no way a "I am better than you'...she comes in for coffee or lunch, we ride together, etc. I give her days off when she asks, and usually also pay her for them, I am flexible on hours, have a gator for stall mucking, bring out treats, basically treat her like a friend and make sure all her needs are met. I absolutley never ask for help, without also paying for it.

        BUT, it is hard to find help around here, and since this is all I know, I wondered if this is what it is like elsewhere.

        I have 3 very different, but very ridable, and safe horses. She is not interested, unless its on lesson day when the trainer comes. Even the trainer has commented that the horse would do so much better in full time work. This is not a requirement of the job, but a perk. She still gets her salary, but has the opportunity to ride/free lease/etc any of the other horses, but doesn't seem interested.
        This morning I asked her what she thought about another year and she hedged...so I know she is going to give her notice. I feel extremely lucky to have had her help for the last year. I went to my local boards, and both stables that I know nearby that are lesson/boarding barns have ads for help...they had these same ads up in april, so...its not easy keeping help. I also know I pay significantly more, since I don't have the glamor of a lesson barn with folks coming and going for lessons.

        I just think it might be regional, but really wondered how challenging it was for those in more 'horsey' areas.

        Bluey, generations? LOL, maybe up here that was the way about 50 years ago, but honestly, unless you make at least 50,000 a year up here, you have no chance of owning property. You don't see 'generations' anymore. In fact, if the economy wasn't so bad, I doubt this young woman would have stayed with me.
        She is smart and in all honesty, I have talked with her about career development and going back to college. I have had her talk to my friends in fields she is interested in, plus I have gone to college open houses with her, since stall mucker is not a career goal nor should it be for her.

        Our cost of living is very high here, and most people are college educated, so...finding someone who wants to work in a somewhat dead end kind of job is a challenge. I wonder if a more ag based economy or someone who lives and breathes horses, and the local economy cost of living is less would probably love this job....I don't know, since this is where I have always lived.

        In all truth, a person could not survive on this salary. It has to be either a supplement, such as a young adult out of college and in between, or a stay at home mum...but again, the physical work is taxing, so not many who would or are that physically fit to be able to do it.

        Thanks for everyone's perspective on their locales....I totally get the management issue...its really accessibility of help that I need to get a handle on.
        I think and well from the feedback, that this is a great place to work, both me and the animals are nice, but once this young woman leaves me, well, I know what the situation is here for finding consistent reliable help, but so curious how it is in other areas. Since I will not stay here. Been there, done that.

        I remember, farms around here had help...but dating myself here...that was about40 years ago. Now, many horse farms seem to go thru help and turnover constantly. People can't afford it. Most large equine farms have left the area...can't find help.
        I have spoken to dept of ag about this, and it is true for our area, but maybe elsewhere there is more accessibility to farm help?
        save lives...spay/neuter/geld

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by fivehorses View Post
          But, after this summer, I think the labor is as intense, if not more so in hot/hot weather.
          Ha! Well, those who hate hot weather might agree with that statement, but I absolutely do not. Remember that - at least on the East Coast - as you go South it's really only hot more often, not actually hotter. Which means that you and your animals have time to acclimate to the heat and are not nearly as bothered. There have also been numerous days this year when NYC was hotter than Aiken, SC. And I can recall it being 105 in Philadelphia when I was a kid. The point is: It gets hot everywhere. And what makes it so uncomfortable in the NE is the fact that your body doesn't have time to adapt to it before it goes away. So, each time there's a heat wave, you feel totally debilitated and think "How in the world do they deal with this in the South?" Also, for perspective, the average July high in Aiken is only 92, which is hot, but certainly not unbearable.

          It is also MUCH easier to keep horses down here than in the NE. They can stay out almost all of the time, including in the summer, if you have shade in the pasture. Honestly, I have observed that the horses stay cooler in the deep shade of a grove of trees than in the barn. But, if you're worried about them, you can always keep them in with fans on. That would still add up to less stall time than a northeastern winter. Or put fans in your run ins.

          Also, down here you never have to shovel snow or push a wheelbarrow through the snow and mud. Your doors will never be blocked by snow drifts. And your driveway will never be snowed in. You literally could not pay me to live north of Maryland again. But, to each her own. Somebody's got to live there, after all! Just offering my perspective, having lived in a variety of places on the East Coast.

          I don't hire barn help, so I can't speak from experience about that, but my suspicion is that you would have a much easier time finding and keeping help in a horsier community like Aiken. Plus, your chores will be vastly reduced due to the climate. Trust me. I used to be a stall person. For 16 years, I kept my horses in for half a day. And they did very well on that schedule. But they are doing even better on their 24 hour turnout routine.

          Comment

          • Original Poster

            #6
            Hi maresnest...yes, the heat, and I checked it just about everyday this summer is unreal. I don't think I can do heat indexes of 115, and I saw those a lot this summer.

            Anyhow, being on my own, and having the ten horses, well, regardless of how they are kept, it is tough doing it alone. I have been spoiled this last year(and I know it), and just am curious if it is as difficult in other areas of the country.

            I think in Aiken, you might have more folks that are available, and I do plan on and have designed the barn to be in/out, but I have to be honest, the heat kind of freaked me out this summer.
            save lives...spay/neuter/geld

            Comment


            • #7
              Hey fiver-- since she hasn't bailed yet and you guys are on friendly terms, why not ask her what she would need in order to think about staying?

              You may not be able to do what she wants. But you just might. Since it sounds like you are months ahead of crunch time, maybe this conversation gives both of you time to think creatively. If nothing else, you let your long-term barn help know she's valued. Even if she is determined to move on, that may help her recommend you to another friend looking for this kind of job.

              The situation was a little different, but one guy remained really loyal to a small family barn even though he was underpaid because they had done the paperwork and lawyering to help him get US citizenship.

              However bad the economy is where you are-- or *because* the economy is bad-- remember that all you have to do is offer a better deal and/or working environment than your competitors!
              The armchair saddler
              Politically Pro-Cat

              Comment


              • #8
                If I were you I would arrange my horses in the new place so that there were no stalls to clean. I did away with the "in" part of in/out -- my horses have never been healthier and barn works takes me 15 minutes twice a day -- toss 'em grain and do a look over for bleeding, put the hay outside when they are eating (different spots to spread the waste around), then turn 'em loose and go. Then you don't have to worry about finding help, plus will have more time to ride.

                As for keeping barn help -- it is just hard these days to find someone who wants to do barn work. Your best bet is to try to find a college kid if there is one in the area who would love the opportunity to ride your nice horses. They don't last forever, but will often stick around for 3-4 years if you treat them right. I would have loved to work for you back before I had a family to support.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Very hard, because it's typically a low-paying job and you usually end up getting treated like crap.

                  If more barn workers were given fair wages, paid on a regular schedule, weren't berated when they were too sick to work, were given holiday wages, etc, then I think it'd be much easier to find good barn work.

                  Not saying this is the case with you OP, but that's just my experience.
                  Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Wow, OP, you sound like a great boss! I do agree that it's usually the case that barn workers are terribly underpaid ($1.00 a stall? Are you kidding? And you expect it to be done WELL?) and usually mistreated.

                    Just in my experience (and I'm 20yo, usually the "target age" for most barn help, around here at least) the employees who stick around the longest are those who have their horse(s) at the barn that they're working at. It sounds like your current employee doesn't have a horse (or indeed, much interest in owning one, since she could "own" one of yours) but maybe for the next time around, you could consider offering a stall + some money in exchange for the work?

                    I think the main issue though, however, is that the majority of people who are going to have the TIME to take on a barn worker position are going to be of my age group---college-aged kids who don't have a full time job yet and aren't quite out in the "real world." No 40-hour-a-week-full-timer will be signing up to muck stalls too, ya know? And with kids my age....well, you can be in drastically different places from one year to the next. And that's maybe why you can't hang on to anyone too long.

                    I do have a friend who has worked at the same place for five years though, for her stall. The most enticing thing for her though was that the chores could be done at any hour of the day, just as long as they got done. What this meant was that she could go to her classes, have a "real" money-earning job, and ALSO go to the barn to get her chores for "free board" done every day.

                    A lot of barns want someone there at a specific time every day (ie, afternoon feedings at 2pm, stalls must be done at 4pm, etc) which is really unrealistic for the target workforce that you're tapping into. (IE, college kids for the most part.)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Go For A Gallop wrote:
                      The most enticing thing for her though was that the chores could be done at any hour of the day, just as long as they got done. What this meant was that she could go to her classes, have a "real" money-earning job, and ALSO go to the barn to get her chores for "free board" done every day. "

                      I think this is why I have managed to hang onto current barn help for almost a year. I am gone all day at work, and the horses are out. She can come and do stalls, and her other duties (no horse handling required) whenever suits her schedule - as long as it's done by 5 p.m. Offering flexibility is a 'bonus' that many people would appreciate.

                      I also think finding someone who has a horse and offering board + pay, or even pay for lessons with your trainer, would be a good incentive to get someone to come work.
                      Donerail Farm
                      www.donerailfarm.com
                      http://donerailfarm.wordpress.com/

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I've had the same guy for four years. I had four horses when I started and am down to two now. I pay him $20/day for 6 days a week. He does the stalls and the outside turnouts/paddocks. The only way I even got him to work for me is because his uncle used to work for me, and he agreed because his uncle was also a friend.

                        I helped him set up a yard maintenance business, too, by lending him money for tools and lawnmower, and he now does my yard as well as several of my neighbors. Win for him, win for me.

                        I think he stays because I treat him with respect, honestly. He works for a couple of large barns in the area, and just pops by to do my place on his way home for lunch.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by fivehorses View Post

                          I agree with the mgt skills, and that is why I pay above the rates that most other barns pay, and probably why I have kept my help for a year now, plus her brother does her days off. I also pay vacations, etc. I am in no way a "I am better than you'...she comes in for coffee or lunch, we ride together, etc. I give her days off when she asks, and usually also pay her for them, I am flexible on hours, have a gator for stall mucking, bring out treats, basically treat her like a friend and make sure all her needs are met. I absolutley never ask for help, without also paying for it.

                          BUT, it is hard to find help around here, and since this is all I know, I wondered if this is what it is like elsewhere.
                          Fivehorses,
                          If I were near you, I'd work for you in a second!!

                          I have been the sole caretaker of a private barn for 2 years now. I don't get paid for holidays except for Christmas. I'm on my first paid vacation if 2 years! And that is only because the horses are away at a horse show, so there is no work for me.

                          I've only called out TWO times in two years and never got paid. Getting a raise requires major negotiations and a lot of tension.

                          If more BO's were like you, I bet they would not have the high turn overs and complain when they can't keep help.

                          Everyone needs a vacation... Why do many BO's feel that is not the case with barn workers?
                          I fully understand not giving a paid vacation until the employee is committed to a long term stint. But for goodness sakes, after a year, show some appreciation and give some paid time off or sick days.

                          I recently inquired about one job, but was told it was 7 days a week!!

                          This is the exact reason I am seriously thinking of getting of of the stable business. Arse busting work and no appreciation.
                          MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"
                          http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/f...wo/009_17A.jpg

                          Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Marla 100 View Post
                            Agree with Bluey- speaking from experience, it's how you treat your employees and of course hiring the right folks first. Many barn owners treat the workers as lowly minimum wage laborers who have no choice but to do this thankless work in unbearable weather. Don't pile on extra work without pay, expect them to work 7 days per week with no time off, work holidays and late nights without extra pay, handle the dangerous jobs (mean, aggressive stallions), and on and on. Basically you need to treat employees fairly and considerately and reward them for consistently good, reliable work.
                            Agree!!
                            MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"
                            http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/f...wo/009_17A.jpg

                            Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              wow, huntertwo, yes you should come work for me! My barn help, since she worked more than 3 months, got one week paid vacation. Actually, probably more.
                              I always round up when she works other than stall cleaning. I paid her double for helping me christmas day...we both did the chores, so we could be done by 10am. If she couldn't work, then no problem. Thanksgiving she has off, etc. I don't expect people with family to work the holidays. She also got a pay raise after 3 months. Now that it is a year, I feel she should get another.

                              I really appreciate my barn help, because I know how hard it is to survive on that salary around here, and how hard it is to find someone reliable.

                              Regardless, I think it is very hard for a back yarder to attract barn help...most folks want to work at a show stable, etc.
                              I know how hard the work is, and I would never ask someone to do something that I wouldn't do. I have heard the horror stories.

                              As much as I like my barn helper, I think we are outgrowing each other. I need someone to farm sit, and not feel like I am asking a huge imposition. On the other hand, I checked the local equine classifieds...and the only person looking for work is 16 years old.
                              I'd also like someone who would be more interested in riding/training, and eager to head south.
                              I guess I am even thinking an au pair for equines. I do know a family in town hired a girl from Germany, since they could not find anyone local.

                              I agree, barn help is valuable and should be treated well...its a very hard job physically, and takes a special person who wants to do that.
                              save lives...spay/neuter/geld

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Fivehorses,
                                Is there anyway I can convince you to move to CT???
                                MnToBe Twinkle Star: "Twinkie"
                                http://i236.photobucket.com/albums/f...wo/009_17A.jpg

                                Proud member of the "Don't rush to kill wildlife" clique!

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Our cost of living is very high here, and most people are college educated, so...finding someone who wants to work in a somewhat dead end kind of job is a challenge. I wonder if a more ag based economy or someone who lives and breathes horses, and the local economy cost of living is less would probably love this job....I don't know, since this is where I have always lived.

                                  In all truth, a person could not survive on this salary. It has to be either a supplement, such as a young adult out of college and in between, or a stay at home mum...but again, the physical work is taxing, so not many who would or are that physically fit to be able to do it.
                                  This is exactly the problem - you, like every other barn owner, want someone who is going to be reliable and trustworthy and not otherwise employed, and you're not going to pay them a full-time living wage for something that is not a full time job. You need experienced, but you're not going to pay for a full time experienced person. If someone is trustworthy, reliable, and experienced, they're going to gravitate towards a job that's full time with housing and benefits. Especially with no hope of promotion (like most barn work).

                                  You sound like one of the good ones - reasonable about time off and about payment and raises, and offering riding. Most aren't. Most of the people, thus, who want to "work with horses" wind up getting burnt out VERY quickly because they're working 6 days a week, 11 hours a day, and aren't permitted paid vacation. Oh, and they're living in the basement of the barn owners house with no paid sick leave and no health insurance, working in 105 degree heat with dangerous animals. So yeah, turnover is generally a little bit high. Every barn manager likes to claim that working for them would NEVER be like that, too.

                                  It's not about just finding someone who wants to live and breathe horses or who is more "ag based" - it's about finding someone who can work and live within some pretty narrow parameters. Even those that love horses most of all aren't going to find it feasible if they can't LIVE.

                                  Perhaps your best bet is to look around for a college student that wants some extra riding time.
                                  ---
                                  They're small hearts.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    seriously OP, where were you when I was in high school/college? I would have killed for that job!

                                    We couldn't afford horses growing up so I tried to learn everything I could through my friends who had them (in a custom made barn in their backyard to boot) and spending every second I could reading/watching all things horses.
                                    Now that I'm older and have my own farm (no custom barns here!) and do my own work I realize it is a sweat inducing, hand numbing-in-the-cold, totally thankless job that only people who REALLY love horses will do year after year. If you "like" horses, then yeah...a few months, maybe a year, then you move on. Only those who dream of having their own horses or a career in horses (showing, breeding, vet, etc) really want to stick around because being around them is it's own reward.
                                    It sounds like you offer all the right things (great pay, a nice environment, vacation, paid training) so maybe adding in some flexibility in the hours will help open the doors for college kids or someone who is reliable but has another job and craves horse time.

                                    Another option...what about a couple of "part timers" vs one person? You could hit up the vet clinics, feeds stores, colleges, etc and maybe pull in a couple of PT's that would fit the bill
                                    Katherine
                                    Proudly owned by 7 horses, 6 dogs, 3 cats and 1 Turkey
                                    www.piattfarms.com

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Piatt Farms View Post
                                      Only those who dream of having their own horses or a career in horses (showing, breeding, vet, etc) really want to stick around because being around them is it's own reward.
                                      l
                                      Eh, that's sweet and all, but then there are those of us who "really love" horses who STILL don't want to muck stalls because it just flat out doesn't pay a living wage.

                                      I'm a college kid, and I love my horses (have two, who I bust my butt to pay for...and they're in my backyard!) and I recently enquired about a job at a barn, where I would been allowed to bring one horse. I turned it down. Why? They were paying so little that if I took the ~20 hours a week they wanted me to work, and got a job at Subway instead, I could have paid full board at the farm PLUS had a lot of money left over. It just didn't make sense to bust my butt doing heavy labor at a farm when I could make lots more money just standing behind a counter making sandwiches.

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                                      • #20
                                        If I'm ever in a position where I don't have to work full time (maybe when I'm 80 and have finished paying for my kids' college ), I would LOVE to earn a little extra money by doing barn work. I don't mind the cold (I hate the heat), and a place where I could just do stalls and barn stuff without anyone bothering me would be HEAVEN.

                                        But, like everyone's pointed out, it's not much money for basically manual labor. Our barn must pay quite well because they've had the same barn guys for the three years we've been there.
                                        I realize that I'm generalizing here, but as is often the case when I generalize, I don't care. ~ Dave Barry

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