Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, April 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Farm and Ranch 

When the survey was sent to participating butlers, it was with the expectation that only one would respond, as few butlers and estate managers have the opportunity to work on a property that includes a farm or ranch that also requires their attention.

Our thanks to Ms. Diane Shaheen for answering the call to share her hard-won knowledge on how to succeed in such an environment, which she provides a wonderful taste of in her responses. In her words, “It is hard to believe this has been my career of 30+ years. If anyone is lucky enough to choose this field, there is never a dull moment.”

What were your duties on the farm or ranch? 

There are three managers on our farm: The equestrian manager and his assistant oversee the thoroughbred horses (6 months up north, 6 months down south).

To better understand horses, I took The Horse Course: Intro to Basic Care and Management taught online through the University of Florida via Coursera. I have not done [these actions myself] but I am familiar with the criteria. Our equestrian manager is on the judging circuit, so he is frequently away and the [day-to-day] chores are picked up by his assistant. They are in charge of the breeding, training routines, showing, judging and routine and emergency healthcare. They also line up vet appointments, farriers, manage the records, order supplies, and pay the [horse-related] bills. They also hire extra staff for the summer to help with basic care of the horses. We usually have a dozen horses, though we can accommodate as many as 15.

There needs to be efficient problem solving and daily discussions of the routines [for the] horses. [Also], low-stress handling of feeding, watering, exercising, grooming, and bathing; observation of the overall health of the horses; haying, saddle and un-saddle/adjusting the equipment of horses; barn upkeep (neat, clean and in order, same with all equipment, cleaned before it is put away); assisting the trainer in maintaining the indoor and outdoor riding rinks, barns; and over-site of the equestrian facilities; [managing] grain and hay operations; [having] knowledge of some farm equipment; and reporting all maintenance needs to appropriate managers.

We train horses for Eventing, dressage, show jumping and cross-country endurance riding. Our top priority is the care and knowledge of thoroughbreds. All employees must work in all weather conditions. They put on and take off the winter coats or insect coat netting for the horses, follow instructions, have knowledge of wound care, meds and recognition of colic or other illness and report it to their manager. [Other duties include] turning the horses in and out (pasture rotation), stall cleaning, keeping all facilities to a high standard and reporting to the property manager any broken fences or farm equipment.

The outdoor facilities fall under the care of the Property Manager and are looked after by farm hands, because in our case, they include miles of dirt roads, four obstacle-courses and six pastures. They operate and maintain farm equipment and ensure all buildings, roads, fences, pastures and landscaping are kept at the highest level [of operation].

The property manager also oversees the overall maintenance, budgets and financial reports. He has two full-time farm hands, a seasonal summer employee and I just contacted the Agricultural Extension agency to seek another summer employee. (They sent me to the local university to run an advertisement).

Everyone must pass an extensive background check and drug screening, be hard working, self-motivated, drama free (hopefully) and organized.

Because the workload is so intense, we prefer to have individuals who are studying equine management/animal husbandry, pasture management, arboriculture, landscape contracting, plant and soil sciences, or sustainable horticulture, food & farming. Two of our long time employees were found this way.

The property manager is in constant contact with the homeowner regarding planning, scheduling, and executing construction and capital improvements on infrastructure. He must be sure that the proper permits have been pulled (local, state, and federal agencies) before work begins. Any special project development and the execution of goals and objectives are part of his job. He ensures all the farm equipment is inspected, registered, and insured and supervises employees doing painting, carpentry, and provides planning, direction and coordination of the entire operation, reporting to the owner. The horse trailer is an 18 wheeler, that is maintained by the equestrian manager.

[Outside of the farm/ranch operations], we hire out all plumbing, electrical, welding, fertilizing and herbicides of landscaping and pastures. Our crew fertilizes our herb, flower, vegetable and berry gardens.

{Among the property manager duties are], general upkeep, lawn care, vendor management, security, irrigation, fencing observation and replacement; pasture management, monitoring of land, trees, trails, and gardens; snow removal, pool care, light construction, painting, small indoor maintenance jobs, like caulking, fixing wallpaper, well and water systems management— and loving animals, as we also have 5 dogs on the farm, only one of which is welcome in the main and guest houses.

I oversee the five houses six months of the year, and three houses the other 6 months. That includes one which I can live in when my schedule becomes complicated. I, too, just hired someone to help me during the summer, to work mainly outside the homes to keep pristine the porches, outdoor sitting areas, and the visual aesthetic near the entrance. What does it take? Being well organized, working weekends, evenings, and holidays if needed; loving what you do; being pleasant; listening; taking direction; and not taking things personally.

Did you ever run into any major difficulties, and if so, how were they best resolved?

Yes, right now I am making sure we have enough farm hands this year. Last year, we hired a new property manager, who, instead of hiring the [needed] extra people, just piled more onto everyone that was already there. Luckily, my homeowner is an astute observer and she asked me why one of our farm hands was so thin, was he sick? As usual, I spoke up when asked a direct question, saying that the manager was waiting for his cousin to come and help and the man never showed up—not one day of the six month summer season. Plus, two other people were not replaced, so all the work was picked up by the remaining staff. So that is why I am having to search for workers myself this season. With the approval of the principle, I might add: she said I would not be stepping on anyone’s toes if I were to start the initial search for employees.

What caveats and advice do you have for running a farm or ranch?

Be thick skinned: Where I work, I hear lots of swearing, though I do not swear myself. Since I am inside the home, I must maintain a decorum that is rigid and also have proper etiquette, dealing with family, friends and famous entertainers.

Any amusing anecdotes to share?

I learned this when I was taking culinary classes, when everyone is in a hot kitchen, with high-stress deadlines and shouting over a loud environment. People can find themselves in heated conversations. Once dinner service is over, everyone is joking and laughing again. If you have to bring something to someone’s attention, say what is bothering you and get over it; move on past the situation that is creating the friction. Don’t hold on to hard feelings or gossip behind someone’s back. Better to not let it simmer and reach a boiling point.


The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, March 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Landscaping Duties 

This month’s topic examines the duties butlers and household/estate managers have regarding landscaping.

In all cases, the duties were to oversee the work of the landscapers on behalf of the employer, relaying his or her wishes and seeing that they were complied with—not just regarding vegetation, but also the maintenance of construction such as rock walls, pavers, and fences.

One household manager provided a detailed account of their duties: “My position is responsible for meeting with the landscape architect throughout the year to discuss any issues the principals may have and to plan preventative maintenance, such as routine tree trimming, aeration/overseeding of lawns as well as a fertilization program, deep-root feeding of major trees and shrubs, and spraying of bushes and evergreens with environmentally friendly products.

“I also work directly with the landscaping company.

“I have a dedicated grounds manager that checks in with me each week when on property.  We often walk the property together and discuss areas of concern or just enjoy the beautiful lawn, flowers and landscaping!

“I review proposals from the landscaping company for upcoming services, such as lawn cutting, cleaning up, leaf removal, any new installations, snow plowing, etc.

“I schedule maintenance for a large, paver parking-court, which includes removing broken/chipped pavers, adding sand each year between pavers, and fixing low spots.

“I schedule the irrigation company each Spring to open up the system, fix any sprinkler heads that have been broken, and test the system. Throughout the summer, if areas need more/less irrigation, I work with the company on adjustments. I schedule them to to close the system and make any repairs in the Fall.

“Natural stone patios, walkways, and large stone steps and retaining walls all require preventative maintenance, such as replacing missing joints, replacing disintegrating stones and water proofing. We have an engineer inspect a very large retaining wall on the property each year.”

Most of those responding had not encountered any major difficulties as a result of their proactive approach, and because they ask questions of horticulture experts and keep in mind that trees and shrubs do grow wide and tall, and that can be taken into account when designing a garden for the best fit.

One recurring problem for one house manager is the decapitation of sprinkler heads by those mowing, which requires seeing the sprinkler contractor once a week for about 5 or 6 months out of the year (in the Northeast US).

A point of maintenance is the necessity to keep the valve box clear of debris that tends to build up. Doing so allows one to see if there is water leaking from the pipes. One estate manager had to have the sprinkler system dug up and new couplings and cracked pipes replaced, and the lawn re-sodded.

Another issue in areas with snow is the damage caused to grass by snow ploughs. One estate had a 1.8-mile driveway that was plowed, necessitating grass seeding, netting, and straw be put down after the snow melt to encourage new growth.

What works best for staying on top of landscaping issues includes:

  1. Communication with all involved: “I feel that a large part of my job,” said one estate manager, speaking for the others, “is to develop good working relationships with all vendors who step on the property. This personal approach is a key element in achieving my goal—finding vendors who are committed to doing a good job for their customer and are accountable if the results are not met.  I like to lay out the principals’ expectations for the project or job in the very beginning.”
  2. Daily and weekly walk-arounds of the property;
  3. Having full-time staff supplemented in the summer with extra seasonal employees;
  4. One estate manager does not use many chemicals on the lawn, so it may brown when there is a lack of rain, and this is resolved by patching with sod.

When asked for any particularly satisfying landscaping environment or project, the following were of note:

“In Connecticut, we had over 3 million daffodils in more than 20 colors on the property, which were spectacular when they bloomed!”

“We are creating a new, larger organic garden this year. We have an English Garden, an herb garden, and flower-cutting garden close to the main house. At the bottom of the property, we have a greenhouse and two different areas for berries. Our largest garden has about everything you can grow in the region. I usually stop there in the morning and pick what I am serving for lunch and dinner. If it is too busy with lots of company, I ask one of the farm hands to bring up what I need. I provide a list of what is ready to pick.”

“There was a metal fountain on the property that was disintegrating and constantly needing attention every year.  It was decided to replace it with a new concrete fountain.  The new fountain is beautiful and the high annual maintenance expenses have been eliminated—always very satisfying.”

To round out the survey, here’s the kind of thing that pre-occupies the minds of our intrepid butlers and estate managers as they go about their employer’s gardens:

“When trudging through the grass to inspect the landscaping work or talk to a vendor, I watch were I step. Why? Snakes! Usually, they have slithered away before you see them, but still I have seen plenty. I am not sure what to suggest for South Florida’s python population [an invasion of a non-native species]. I poke the shrubs with a stick or handle from a rake, before I put my hands down past my knees.”

“One year, we had a vegetable garden contest: the cook at the Main residence with her kitchen garden vs the Carriage House family members’ garden. Both parties worked hard on planting, weeding, watering and nurturing their gardens. Our judge for the contest was the Landscape Architect. On a designated day, each garden was toured and each presented the fruits of their labors—the fresh fruits and vegetables harvested. After careful consideration, the kitchen garden was the winner! To celebrate the win and to thank everyone for their efforts, the principal treated all of us to lunch at an area restaurant.”


The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.


Newsletter Steven Ferry

The Modern Butlers’ Journal, January 2019, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Responsibility for estate maintenance

The two responses received on this topic are probably more down to everyone being busy over the holiday season, than their not having anything to do with the maintaining of the estates they manage or work in. So the following is a snapshot, albeit a valuable and thorough one, rather than a survey of the industry, and our thanks go to the two butlers/HMs/EMs who answered the survey questions while still managing to see to the needs of their current estate over the holiday season.

“When it comes to maintenance duties, there is Operational Maintenance: Pool, electronics, electrical, window washers, pest control, snow removal and tree services. Fire extinguishers are checked once a year, and if replacement is in order, that is done. Oil is delivered on a monthly basis. Herbicide treatments applied to the groomed lawn. Sprinkler operations are checked as needed in the summer because of potential tractor damage. Also an independent security firm conducts a drive-through once a day at a variety of times.

“Schedules include daily electronic check-ups so the principle does not have an interruption of the home office. Same for the camera/security system. We have heat/cold/water monitors in the barn and all electrical rooms and two different outside security companies monitor the facility.

“There is a five-year cycle for solid waste removal: The property is only occupied six months a year. And then there is emergency troubleshooting on fixed equipment.

“Then there is Facilities Maintenance: Preventative, recurring, corrective, and preventative and emergency replacement. Farm equipment maintenance and component renewal (Equipment service needs are evaluated for deferred maintenance or replacement)—we are in the process of replacing the two furnaces in one of the six homes on the estate.

“Painting outside in the Spring. Painting inside in the winter when the property is quiet. Since we have many horses and wooden fences, the five paddocks need to be observed and maintained, especially since we have a horse that has a “Cribbing” problem—a form of anxiety— so replacement and painting of the fencing.

“Our farm has an in-ground pool which needs to be emptied in the fall and refilled in the late spring. A work order for water delivery is scheduled according to the weather. We have 17 buildings under roof and all of our water supply is from a variety of wells on the property. Water is delivered so we do not deplete our wells. The pool has to have the tile replaced and pump components, too. We have the same engineering company coming in to oversee these project renovations.

“An art curator comes in twice a year to clean our museum-quality artwork, both inside and out. There are three miles of pebble road, which also is on the maintenance list. The multiple cabinets that house the generators need proper maintenance and the service person comes out in the spring to service these units.

“One estate I worked on earlier had two gas pumps, one at the pool house and one at the six-bay garage. It was a constant source of maintenance and issues. Upkeep of the boat, pier, the boat ramp, boat house and pool house. There was a tennis court that needed maintenance and ski equipment too.”

The other respondent said that “No matter how old or new these homes are, there is always something that needs attention, whether A/C, paint touch-ups, cars, window cleaning, floor polishing, counter-top cleaning, pool set-up or closing, clay tennis-courts or hard top. A beach house can be a pain in the neck, door hardware maintained, outside painting, pool equipment serviced, pool furniture sealed, upholstery checked and washed before storing for the winter if you’re on the east coast (of the US). The more maintenance you do before closing down for the winter, the more it will save you in the setup in the late spring.”

Asked about any major difficulties that might have been encountered, and how best resolved, the answer was: “Almost daily on a 400 acre estate! I might be the facility manager’s best friend or worst nightmare. But my position is to resolve and reinforce what needs troubleshooting. What is in immediate need of maintenance and what is preventative. Right now, we are engaged in demolishing two separate outdoor dwellings. So, oversight of service people is important and making sure all work has the proper permits and safety factors are in place.”

The other respondent had this to say: “The difficulty I found is putting off ‘To do’ projects. Leaving it to spring, when everyone else was doing the same thing, was a nightmare. Take custom fabric and upholstery, for instance. Turn-around time for shipping some fabrics can be 8-12 weeks. Then making them up takes another 6-10 weeks. So plan ahead as best you can. I have my windows cleaned every month. I learned early on that if I gave my vendor a 12-month schedule in January, he knew he could count on work from me throughout the year. Having a good rapport with your vendors is essential, they have saved my biscuit many a time!”

Both agreed on what works best for staying on top of maintenance issues, as one stated: “Keeping excellent records is vital and being professional toward the vendors and outside service-personnel: They may not be thrilled to receive a midnight or Sunday service call, so giving clear and concise information is important. On record keeping, it is so much easier today with electronic schedules and reminders.” As the other pointed out, “Waiting for stuff to die, as opposed to being proactive, never works…because when it does, it’s invariably either a holiday or a weekend!”

When it comes to any last words of advice, “My father was in construction, he ran his own company for decades, my brothers also had construction companies. Advice: Hire an electrician or plumber, as projects in these fields should always be done by a professional. I have acquired some basic skills over the years, but I only practice them in my own home!”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.