Sunday 12 April 2015

Our first Trusted House Sit

A few weeks ago we signed up to be sitters with Trusted Housesitters.  The concept's quite simple - in exchange for looking after an owner's home, pets and garden, we get to stay in their house for free.  It's something we plan to do a lot more of when we retire and are travelling in our campervan throughout Europe, particularly in France, Spain and Portugal. We created our Sitter Profile and started a search to find a local house sit, so we could try it out and start to build our reputation.  We found one just a few miles away from home, a family asking for someone to look after a house, pets and animals over the Easter weekend. I made initial contact via email and we spoke to them on the phone before visiting them one Saturday, several weeks before Easter - all was set. The owners had already emailed us the details of the animals to look after - 6 cats, 15 chickens, 2 geese, 6 rabbits, 6 guinea pigs and a few chicks - plus some eggs that might soon be chicks!

The original idea was for us to sleep in our campervan, mainly because their house is in the middle of a major refurbishment.  We could plug into their electricity, use their water and facilities and enjoy getting used to having our van in slow time.  Only one problem with that cunning plan - our van conversion was still not ready, despite several promises to the contrary (this is a long-standing saga which I may blog about in the future).  So instead we needed to sleep in the house; but at least there was a room which was available to use with us sleeping on a large, L-shaped leather sofa.

On the first day of the house-sit we arrived at about 0930, just as the owners were heading off.  The cats live in the house and the owners had already released the other animals into the electrified enclosure and fed them for the day.  We spent some time familiarising ourselves with the house, garden and animals, making sure we knew what we had to do and setting up a daily routine for feeding and looking after the animals.  The house was out in the countryside and very quiet with lots of birdlife - we loved the peace and solitude.

The house also had a number of out-buildings and lots of garden and land.  We're not the sort of people to sit around and, to be honest, we wanted a project to do to keep our minds off our delayed campervan conversion.  So we took a look around to see what we could do to help the family, who were basically living in a building site inside the house, with walls and ceilings down.  We thought if we could help out in some way this would make their task seem less daunting!  So we focused on the following areas:

  • Clear the overgrown grass from a large, old cobbled patio at the rear of the house
  • Move all the logs from several chopped bushes and trees into one large pile
  • Clear two outbuildings of old wood and cardboard
  • Prune an old apple tree to give it a new lease of life

On the first day we tackled some general weeding and moved the logs; it was a cool, drizzly day, so not ideal, but at least we were outside and we really enjoyed ourselves.  On the Saturday we cleared the cobbled patio and weeded it, clearing several barrow loads of turf and soil away and doubling the size of the area.  The owners now had a nice place to sit in the sunshine and enjoy an el-fresco meal or drink.  Cathy also pruned the old apple tree, cutting out all dead and diseased wood and removing all crossing branches to open it up. On the Sunday we tackled the outbuildings, removing loads of old wood and cardboard down to the bottom of their land and starting what turned out to be a large bonfire that burned all day.  This was the most satisfying!

This was also our first experience of looking after so many animals, apart from our own family pets in the past.  All needed feeding, watering and cleaning out.  This was made all the more interesting because the geese were territorial and spent a lot of time hissing at us; we'd been told to hiss back louder and wave our arms.  This seemed to do the trick and an uneasy truce was brokered!  The chickens scratched around in the enclosure, whilst the rabbits and guinea pigs stayed in locked in their runs, although the giant rabbit (and it was huge) was allowed out for an hour or so and enjoyed the chicken food!  The cats inside the house kept to themselves but let us know when it was feeding time, although it was a bit of a free-for-all! At night the geese had to be 'persuaded' to entire their coop so they could be locked in.  The chickens, however, put themselves to bed.  They also produced our breakfast every morning - can't beat fresh eggs every day!

We also had to look after some goose and chicken eggs in an incubator, turning the eggs three times a day.  Upstairs in the house were 2 brooders with a number of chicks that had recently hatched and they had to be fed, watered and cleaned out twice a day.  On the Saturday night one of the small bantam eggs hatched out and once the chick was dried off, we moved it to the brooder - an appropriate hatching over the Easter weekend!

The family were due back on the Easter Monday evening, so I dropped Cathy back home to sort out our own stuff, ready for work the next day, and I returned to keep an eye on things and feed the animals before locking up and coming home.  The owners were delighted with the outside work we did as they weren't expecting any of this to be done.  We really enjoyed being outside and doing something useful whilst looking after a house and animals.  

Our first house sit was a baptism of fire to say the least, but we know we'll be able to cope with most things with future house sits and hopefully will build a good reputation.  We'll certainly be looking for many more house sits in the future, particularly when we start long-term travelling in our campervan.

Resting after clearing the cobbled patio

Resting again after moving & burning a ton of wood and cardboard

Easter Chicks

Feeding Ernie - the giant rabbit!

Feeding time

Saturday night's Easter hatchling

Those grumpy geese!

yum - breakfast!!