I don’t think we have ever really written about one specific goat on our blog before. The story I am going to tell is about a 3 day old goat (who is now 9 days old) that has had more adventures than the majority of our herd put together – unless you count the original 6 and their free range escapades when they arrived at Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
Recently we purchased the adjoining 10 acres. It is now fenced and there are a set of gates that connect the two properties. The new property is dense and difficult to navigate – perfect for goats – not so perfect for humans! The plan we are executing is to hold the goats overnight on the original property (behind electric net fences, as always) and then let them onto the new property during the day so they can have the all you can eat option. This will free up a bunch of time for us to do other projects and focus on some very important goals we want to achieve.
While it’s only been a few days, this new set up has been working very well.
Then a goat had a baby.
This little dude, who we have starting calling Dunk, was born on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 31st. His first couple of days went well. Baby goats sleep a lot and they are pretty unsteady on their legs until about 5 or 6 days. It’s hard for them to keep up with the herd, especially so when there is 10 acres at their disposal to free range and wander about. Goat Maa’s also tend to stash their kids in “secure” places to keep them from becoming a victim of predation.
We have our goats conditioned to meal times. They get a morning ration and an evening ration. On Thursday, they were called for their evening ration and when Mark did the head count the newest member of the herd was missing. This isn’t totally unusual, but normally their Maa’s call for them and they come back. Well, that didn’t happen. Mark fed the goats and the goat Maa kind of called for her kid, but he never came back and he didn’t answer.
In farming, you have to weigh your options. Sometimes the decisions are easy to make, and other times the decisions are harder. Mark looked for Dunk until well past sunset and the dark crept in. He’s small, he’s brown, he’s quiet – there really was no hope of finding him on 10 dense acres. Mark made the decision to let it play out overnight and see what the morning brought.
The natural instinct of a goat when darkness settles in is to hunker down, shut up and sleep. There are coyotes and bobcat in the area around our farm, and we’ve seen both very close by the fences. While we would be shattered over losing the little guy, the greater risk and possible loss of the majority of our herd would be far worse and more devastating financially, so he locked the gates, closed up the net fence, put the electric on and hoped for the best.
Mark arrived at the farm just as dawn was breaking. The little guy hadn’t shown up yet and his Maa seemed to be more interested in her breakfast and foraging. She’d call out, but there wasn’t any answer. Mark spent over an hour looking for the littlest goat, and just when he started to think that things were looking grim he sent me a text that he found him. ALIVE! What the…
He wasn’t injured and he was a little cold, but nothing a warm breakfast of milk couldn’t remedy. Life seemed great in the goat herd for the remainder of the day.
Then it was time to put them away for the night.
Guess who didn’t make an appearance? Again.
Mark looked until dark again, and called it another night. This was starting to get tiresome.
It was another early morning on the farm Saturday. Two sets of eyes spanning out and looking for the tiniest goat in the herd. We must have walked in circles for almost an hour when Mark came up with the idea to look for him grid-style. Tucked away, in the crotch of a fallen tree, under a palm frond Mark found our little Dunk. Sound asleep.
I was determined to make sure that kid spent the night with his herd that night, so we took over Nanny Duty for the day. He was a cuddly little dude and didn’t seem to mind the attention. When we left the farm on Saturday night, he was right where he was supposed to be. His Maa got the hint and kept close to him on Sunday, so we were able to get some real farm work done and his streak of sleeping in safety increased to two nights.
It’s too soon to tell what the future holds for little Dunk. He’s pretty special because he was the first goat born on the new property and he survived three (three? keep reading to the end) nights all alone on 10 acres without his herd. He’s also a male and could become a great herd sire to another farm or provide a family a freezer full of dinners (we are a farm here, not a petting zoo, ya'll) or just maybe he could be wethered and remain on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm for years to come. We’ll just have to see how this plays out.
After writing this, early Monday evening I was informed that young Dunk, less than 10 days old, made the decision that he would spend a third night alone on the 10 acres. The next morning though, when the pans were banged and the goatie call to breakfast rang out, he came a hollerin’ for milk and his Maa!
Post Post Script:
Dunk spent Tuesday night with the herd and I’ve just heard he’s going to do the same tonight. Maybe he’s just slow to catch onto the herd concept?
There are no days off when it comes to farming. Farm life doesn’t stop because of a holiday. One of the final discussions we had before we signed those closing papers over two years ago was the one about vacations and holidays. Vacations from my town job would be spent on the farm, and the mere idea of getting away for just a long weekend would be years down the road. We both agreed and we both have stuck to that.
The care and safety of our livestock is needed daily. They depend on us for food, water and a safe place to live. If we neglect them, even for just one day, we could lose so much.
Sick days? Nope. Farm life goes on.
Sick relatives? Not a chance. Keep farming. This was something we had happen last summer. Farm life continued, albeit at a slower pace and just the basic needs were taken care of so that we could spend our evenings with our sick loved one.
Thanksgiving? Christmas? Easter? Birthdays? No, Negative, Denied, Thumbs Down. We still celebrate, but the farms needs come above everything. We have kidding season starting the week of Christmas – this could be fun!
We have been able to find balance, and while it’s not easy sometimes, it’s working. Yesterday was Thanksgiving. We were hosting dinner for our families, so I stayed home and cooked while Mark went to the farm and did the morning chores. Dinner was served on the early side, and terminal conversations began around the time we needed to head back out for evening chores. It was much more polite than telling the family to get out. We went back to the farm and got things closed up together.
Which brings me to family - they understand. They go along with the crazy dinner times and being rushed out the door. A bribe of fresh eggs helps.
Have we missed out on events? Absolutely. While we both wish we could do more fun things and spend time with friends and more time with family, we know that our upfront sacrifices we are making will pay us back 10-fold in the future. It’s hard to say no when a friend invites you to dinner or to watch a football game, but you have a huge farm project that can’t be put off. You hope they understand, and you finish your project.
The future has us living on our farm. Definitely sooner now, rather than later. Once that happens, life will get easier and we’ll have the ability to free up more space for off the farm fun. Who know? Maybe we’ll hire some help and fly away for a weekend…someday.
Let there be no doubt that hurricane season 2016 has been a bit of a stress test for us at the farm. On September 2, 2016 Hermine made landfall as a category one hurricane and trimmed us pretty good at the farm. Hermine made landfall in the Florida Panhandle which meant we were in the southeast quadrant of the hurricane. Storm surge flooded the local town of Crystal River to the point that there was at least two feet of standing water on main street. Local business owners felt the pain through the flooding of their pubs, restaurants, gift shops and more. Wind, rather than flooding, was the main issue for us at the farm. Here's a look at what hurricane Hermine served up for us at Must Bee Kiddin' Farm.
As I write this it’s six o’clock and the shadows outside the window are already growing. We’re less than a week into autumn and you can feel darkness lurking well before sunset. Since I was a child, autumn’s arrival has always been a little bittersweet. Fall meant back to school, but also meant the snapping pigskin of Friday night football games. As I’ve grown older and my pass times have gotten less physical and more refined; autumn now means the lithe and delicate palate of white wine season’s Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs must soon yield to the peppery zing of Shiraz, bold Red Zins will now have their day and the soulful, full-body tastes of Cabernet are embraced with evening's chill.
Now, summer is in the rear mirror, no longer waning--it’s gone. The oaks in the front lawn cast shadows that stalk the front door to the house as I pass through them on my way to the supper table. Here, in Central Florida, autumn's sweetness is accompanied by less humidity and cooling weather. This means Thor’s hammer is a little less fierce and sings less and less each afternoon and will soon fall silent. Soon, but not yet.
Yes, we are cooling off a bit here in Central Florida, but we also must remember the heart of hurricane season is upon us. It seems the later into September and October we get, the tropical activity throws fits. The long, hot days of summer have left their mark in hotter Gulf temperatures which can grow otherwise harmless tropical activity into mighty hurricanes. It’s still hurricane season and I must keep reminding myself of this when I see those evening shadows at the base of the old oaks creeping across the front lawn.
This year at Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm Mother Nature served up our first official hurricane. Hermine made landfall as a category one hurricane on September 2, 2016. So, before we get too far past summer’s dog days and the annual snowbird migration descends, I’d like to share Hermine's wrath on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
When hurricane Hermine made landfall as a category one, we found ourselves in the southeastern quadrant of the storm. This is often the worst area for tidal surges and wind damage. I’m happy to report that all of us at Must Bee Kiddin' Farm and our Florida extended family members rode the storm out safely, but that’s not to say we didn’t take some damage. In our previous post, Hermine Hangover, you can get a feel for some of the damage. So, to complete the hurricane Hermine experience for those that follow the both feet in blog from places outside Florida, we’ll post the video accounting of hurricane Hermine.
Once we got a feel for hurricane Hermine and where in the landfall target zone we were situated, we started making preparations. We’ve been building Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm for two years now and it’s always a bit scary to know Mother Nature can serve up a dish that can possibly undo everything you’ve built. Thankfully, Hermine was a relatively tame category one hurricane. Personally, I’m a big fan of taking things low and slow (especially in these days of graying hair) and I appreciate Mother Nature taking it easy on us for starters. So, let’s get this hurricane party started...//mr
We chose to start our farm for many reasons, but the biggest one was because of food. A few years ago for Christmas dinner I cooked a pork crown roast. The herbs were fresh and the meat was cooked to perfection. It smelled amazing, but it tasted awful!! It was flavorless and lacked any depth. It was at that moment, that I knew I wanted to grow my own food someday.
We started our farm with goats – mainly to clear our land and sell. This fall we will eat one. We naturally progressed to chickens. Hatching and raising our own heritage birds to about 16 – 18 weeks and eating them has us hooked. I can honestly say that we have not bought grocery store chicken to cook since last November. Young, tender heritage breed roosters have the most amazing taste. There is depth and flavor and a substance to this meat that no matter how good of a cook you are you will not achieve the same taste and flavor with mass produced, inhumanely treated, steroid laden and antibiotic injected commercial birds. It is not possible.
The weather recently turned cooler here in Central Florida and the feel of autumn is in the air – it was 68 degrees one morning last week!! Seriously though, the shadows are growing long, the chickens go to roost easier (sometimes), and the body is starting to crave heavy comfort food.
We decided to invite one of our meanest roosters to dinner. He didn’t realize at the time, but he would be the centerpiece of the day. He was a big, beautiful bird, but his disposition was worse than cranky and he couldn’t be trusted. I bear a scar on my hand from him. Roosters that grow up don’t really cook as well as the young ones. I would never waste the meat, so I had to come up with a way to cook the rooster that wouldn’t send us into too much jaw pain from chewing. The light bulb switched on – coq au vin! It’s timeless, it’s easy, and it makes even the worst cook look like she should have her own cooking show. The taste is out of this world.
For this coq au vin recipe I used a fusion of recipes found on blogs and online cookbook sources. I tried to stay true to the most famous coq au vin recipe of all, Julia Child’s, but because of being away from home most of each day, I chose to use the slow cooker.
There’s a lot of up front work prepping coq au vin, but the payoff makes it all worth it!
Coq au Vin
Whole chicken, cut into parts
pearl onions, peeled and halved (frozen work just fine)
carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
couple cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper
Cook bacon in skillet and break into small pieces, set aside
In bacon grease, brown your chicken parts on all sides, set in crock pot
In same pan, add garlic and a little olive oil, brown your veggies, add to crock pot on top of chicken
Add a little broth, some red wine and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste to pan, reduce while scraping all the cooked on goodies from the bottom of the pan salt and pepper
Pour over your chicken and veggies in crock pot
Lay thyme on top and tuck your bay leaf under the veggies
Let cook on medium for about 5 hours or until the chicken is falling off the bone.
I served this over homemade egg noodles, but would be great with mashed potatoes
Our little broody hen, Merica, proved to us that embracing her broodienss was a wise decision. Our broody hen was unflappable in her desire to become a mother to some chicks. Trying to break her broodiness quickly became a tiresome task that was totally unnecessary. There is nothing like watching a broody hen and chicks take off across the farm in search of fresh scratching ground.
It is hard to name one scene that exemplifies the simple joys animal husbandry has to offer, but a broody mother hen and chicks has to be up there. A brooding hen has certainly proved to be a welcome addition to Must Bee Kiddin' Farm and now something we fully embrace. Our broody, Merica, proved to be a great mother with fantastic instincts.
This is part two of Operation Mother Merica. Here we follow the broody hen and her chicks as they get a bit bigger. Merica shows us how keen her watchful eyes and ears are when it comes to her chicks. She's proven to be a great broody hen that can take a clutch of eggs all the way to chicks and get them off to a great start on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm.
Operation Mother Merica: Part 2
Hurricane Hermine churned and bobbled in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico for Wabout 13 days before she decided what she wanted to do. All eyes were on the weather, almost hourly, because we were situated on what would be the south east quadrant - which is not the best spot to be. As we have said before, we don't live on our farm yet. We are a short distance away, which made for a sleepless night for at least one of us (the other slept like a rock because HE knew he would be the first to arrive at the farm and start dealing with the potential damage).
At our home, Hermine showed just what she was made of about 2:00 am Friday morning. The wind howled and the rain was sideways for about 2 solid hours. When daylight came, the damage to our immediate neighborhood was not horrible.
Must Bee Kiddin' Farm came out okay, but not unscathed. There were about 5 trees down on our fence, and countless trees down in the interior of the property. My employer was kind enough to let me leave early on Friday so that I could help clean up and get the fence line cleared.
As for the livestock - well, we are thrilled to report that we have Category 1 Hurricane Proof goats and chickens. We are very lucky. No losses of coops, interior net fences or loss of livestock life.
We are still cleaning up, and will be for a while, but we are very grateful.
Yes, there comes a time when feeding hay becomes a necessity. Periods of drought are the typical periods most people can easily think of when it comes to feeding hay. But, sometimes the weather swings in such a manner that the economics of feeding hay during the green season makes sense also.
Whether it's seasonal or for holding animals for longer periods of time in certain areas, hay feeding is a fact of the farming life. At this time in our area of Central Florida most hay farmers are looking at the reality of a fourth hay cut this year. This weekend our county is looking down the barrel of a possible tropical storm or hurricane. Ummm, lots of rain either way.
These conditions mean that moving our herd into a holding area and feeding some hay while we let the rest of the farm's forage rest and stockpile is a sensible decision. This means we can let the areas we seeded last year mature a bit more before moving the herd across them. It also means we can let the browsed woods soak up all that impending moisture and put a bit more leaf on. Goat farming with heavy browse calls for much different management than grass pasture management. With hay farmers looking at the reality of a fourth hay cut this before Thanksgiving, grass is plentiful and prices are falling. Economics 101; supply and demand Importing plentiful grass from off-site sources while letting our browse rest and stockpile seems to be the right call at the present time.
Again, this is all good news for us at Must Bee Kiddin' Farm while the reality of tropical storm activity has hay farmers shaking their heads. Most of the hay barns are bursting at the seams with second cut hay, whole third cut hay lots still sit in the fields with no available cover. Now, all those round hay bales are getting wet with rain. Those rounds were horse hay, but since being kissed by rain are now cow hay.
So, what's all this mean? Well, horse hay sells for $60 per roll and cow hay, $35. Yep, our goaties like their fair share of hay. At current prices...what my goaties want, my goaties get. Who needs Vegas when you're a farmer!?!
The Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division is now in full flight. The chicks that arrived in mid April will soon be to the point of lay and the hatch we incubated in July has moved from the brooder to range. The first assessments of cockerels from the April chicks have been done and this past weekend we actually processed the first five birds that didn’t make the cut. We’ll be dining on some fresh free-range birds over the coming weeks, yummy!
In addition to the April chicks that will serve as our starting seed stock and the conventional incubated hatches of June and July, we had a poultry first. Must Bee Kiddin’ farm had its first successful broody hen become a mother. Although we initially tried discouraging her broodiness, the hen’s persistence convinced us to green-light her motherhood.
Our hen, Merica was the first successful broody to become a mother on the farm. As stated, we tried breaking her broodiness, but it was just easier to let nature take its course and let her fulfill her mothering dreams. The whole experience was very positive and we look forward to employing more broody hens to do some of the hatching work on the farm in the future.
Merica performed like a true pro. She earned her keep and proved her mothering skills were well up to the task. We placed nine eggs under her and she hatched a total of six chicks. All the chicks were hatched out in the field on the farm where Merica also raised them. Merica took great care of her clutch and raised those little fuzzies up right. From day one she had them out on range scratching and pecking. Operation Mother Merica, the name we christened this first broody hen experience with, went off without a hitch.
We captured the highlights of Operation Mother Merica and put together a two part video on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm’s first broody hen becoming a mother hen. Take a look and watch nature find its way and Merica’s broodiness run its course all the way to motherhood.
Without further ado...
Operation Mother Merica: Part 1
Good gracious, already two years into this labor of love, creation of Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm, and no serious discussion of chickens yet? What gives? Well, with all the goat kidding, lumber milling, coop building and bee work… Yep, the noses have been firmly pressed against the grindstone. There’s been lots of stuff going on, but now it’s time to give the chickens their due. It’s time to talk chickens.
In July, 2015 Must Bee Kiddin Farm’s poultry division “officially” started. We purchased an incubator and promptly set some eggs for hatching. There should be black box warnings on all incubator boxes because once you set one of those things up the cosmic compulsion of hatch mode kicks in. It seems that as long as an incubator is in plain sight the urge to keep filling it up descends until you run out of space for chicks and finally put it away.
After setting up that incubator hatch mode kicked in and three hatches later the Must Bee Kiddin’ poultry division was up and running. Fast forward to May, 2016. Our seed stock chick orders from local breeders arrived. Fifty-five chicks strong and a temporary conversion of the garage into a brooder, the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division was in full flight. With last year’s hatching and this year’s spring brooding is done, the farm passed many milestones. Now we’re in July and hatch mode is once again kicking in.
Poultry on Range
Poultry was always a part of the overall farm plan. After all, Is any farm really complete without chickens? Of course not. Besides,when it comes to growing your own food and feeding yourself with livestock, chickens are pretty hard to beat. Whether it’s eggs for breakfast or a roasted chicken Sunday dinner, poultry provides the quick means to start taking control of your food supply.
With poultry in the plan, it was always just a matter of timing and confidence. Not confidence in ourselves and our abilities to raise chickens, but more a matter of would all our hard work simply go up in a feathery puff to coons or coyotes. The only real way to find out is to take that first hard step and put some birds out on the range and pasture. After building the best mobile coops we could and mustering the best protection that fit our needs, portable electric poultry fencing, we took those first hard steps. Now, after almost a year since hatching our first chick we have a flock on ranging on pasture everyday numbering close to seventy birds.
So what’s in our evolving poultry plan and growing flock? The concentration of our efforts is to provide the best, safe, clean food we can for our table while helping to conserve our livestock heritage. This means we mainly focus on having fun through developing the utility aspects of heritage chicken breeds. Our commitment is to food with integrity and improving the overall condition of the heritage breeds. This means we are committing to breeding, raising and slaughtering our own heritage poultry.
So Far So Good
Adding and building out a new poultry concern on the farm has been a lot of hard work. Taking multiple groups of chickens from chick to adult is no small feat when you don’t even have any coops. In total, six coops in various configurations have been built. One caveat concerning the coop building is that all the lumber in the making of the coops has been sourced from the farm property itself. So, in addition to the building of the six coops, all the timber had to be felled and milled. It certainly is a process, but when considering sustainability, it makes all the hard work very satisfying.
The current flock numbers is around seventy birds. All the birds have done very well out on the range at the farm. I write this paragraph with hesitation and fear of jinxing our hard work, but here goes…
We have had zero losses to predation on the farm. This includes poultry. I attest to the fact that our full faith and confidence has been put into electric fencing and portable electric net fencing. It is a decision that has proven successful thus far. Again, I write these lines against the backdrop of dread of jinxing our efforts. With that being said, we did also trap out almost a dozen opossum over a six week period at the beginning of the year. Thus far we’ve been able to neutralize our major concerns of opossums, raccoons and coyotes. The last remaining predatory concern when it comes to poultry on the farm is raptors. We have a litany of birds of prey which includes bald eagles and owls that have thus far not been an issue out on the range of the farm. In fact, the only predatory loss the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division has taken to date has been in the backyard of our suburban home.
Yes, that’s right, we lost a cockerel in our backyard. While cleaning out the garage brooder we put the birds in a portable temporary pen outside. Here they get fresh air and exposure to the ground with all it’s bugs, grass and microbes. It’s all part of the hardening off process before putting birds fully onto pasture. During this process we did have a hawk strike and kill a promising six week old cockerel. Five to six weeks is the age we would normally move the birds onto pasture, but we had to delay the move due to coop building. Lesson learned. Now we attach our zealous little cairn terrier, Murphy, to a forty pound dumbbell beside the pen and let him play livestock guardian dog. He enjoys the duty and does a superb job at raising the alarm.
Building the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division has been a lot of work, but so worth it. It really is hard to express in writing the reward one feels watching nature’s wonder during hatch, then raise those birds on range all the way to layer and table fare. The experience transcends simply knowing what’s in your food and how it’s been raised. There’s a rekindling of the primal connection, a calling if you will, back to the land that reveals how dependent we really are to that land which calls to us. This connection and experience is one too many of us have foregone, and a relationship bond that also has been broken by too many. Yes; it’s been a hot, sweaty, bloody and dusty affair building the poultry concern and the Must Bee Kiddin’ farm in general, but certainly an affair that positively crystallizes all the effort with no equal when seeing those fully fledged birds scratching out their living on the farm’s range.
In 2014 a couple of 40-somethings decided to make a change. The purchase of 10 raw, pine scrub acres along Florida's Nature Coast started it all. This is that story!