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.


Por Amer A. Vargas

Amer A. Vargas graduated with a Tourism Degree specializing in hotel management from CETT (Center for Tourism Studies) in Barcelona and spent the following decade in the service industry. Beginning as a waiter and then supervisor in high-end restaurants, he was next made responsible for raising service standards through staff training programs. After receiving further training as a butler, he worked as a butler and valet in private service as well as hotels in England and Europe.

During this time period, he translated the best-selling industry texts Butlers & Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals and Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators into Spanish and is currently creating butler training materials in the Spanish language.

As the Director of Spanish-speaking Markets, Amer is responsible for making the technology of butling available in private residences and hotels in the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. He provides consultation, placement, and training services in these countries.