Many of us living and working on dairy farms have slept in straw. It might have been an all-night vigil waiting on the birth of a baby calf or staying up late with a very sick cow. It could have been when working with a show string, preparing the space to tie them in, trucking the cattle, washing and clipping, milking the cows, getting everyone fed and settled and walking the line to keep every animal clean. When the chance came to throw down your sleeping bag on some hay or straw, it felt just as good as the memory foam in an Ikea mattress in a plush hotel! Or it might have been just needing a few minutes of rest after unloading several wagon loads of baled hay or straw. There are many people who have never known the pleasure that can come from the chance to "sleep in straw."
In the summertime, the dairy cows in parts of Switzerland are moved to the high meadows of the Swiss Alps. This leaves the dairy barns empty. Some of the people then participate in Switzerland's "Schlaf-im-Strol" -- "Sleep in Straw" program, which is designed to bolster the income of Swiss farmers and delight visitors from near and far with a unique agritourism encounter. With a thorough cleaning and fresh straw, barn stalls make affordable accommodations for travelers. Some of the farms offer vacation apartments or chalets for overnight visitors. Barns are supplied with fresh hay or straw, sleeping bags and blankets. A small kitchenette and rest room is built into a corner of the barn. Guests can choose to stay one night or as long as they would like. Some farms serve a typical "Bauernfruhstuck" -- farmer's breakfast. Guests can gather the eggs for that breakfast, help with feeding other animals, or with any other morning chores. They can hike, bike or ride horses. Farms vary with what they have to offer. Travelers can continue on their way or take time to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the country. There are annual inspections to ensure safety and sanitation and co-ordination of marketing efforts by the Swiss Farmers Union.
Some of the people who are most interested are hikers, bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Many tourists are eager for economical accommodations where they can throw down their sleeping bags, stay the night, have breakfast and continue on their trip. The idea is not only popular with tourists but also with local people. The farmers like the idea of improving the image of agriculture as well as the extra income.
Our farmers today not only need ways to educate consumers on farm life, they also need ways to increase their income. Could a "Sleep in Straw" program work in our country? Many farmers have sold their dairy cows or livestock and barns are empty. There are different ideas that would work for any type of farmer. Some of the dairy farmers who have sold their cows are expert showmen. Why not create a program and invite 4-H and FFA members or junior members of breed associations to come "Sleep in Straw" and learn how to clip, show and judge dairy cattle? Farmers with other types of livestock could offer similar programs. There could be many interesting ideas for youth groups.
Remember how excited you were when you were young and were allowed to sleep over night at the county fair? Both youth and adults from the city would be interested in the opportunity to spend a night in a barn and "sleep in straw"! They could participate in chores around the farm and learn how farmers do things. They could learn how vegetables are grown and harvested, gather pumpkins in the fall, bottle feed baby calves, gather eggs, feed other animals and many more things that are a part of farm life every day. Families could experience those activities, learn the sights and sounds of farm life and just enjoy the time spent together. Our farmers today need ways to educate consumers about farm products and farm life and they need a way to generate more income. Inviting people to "sleep in straw" might be an answer. The idea seems to be successful for farmers in Switzerland.