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.
June marks many things on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm; the halfway point in the year, official start of hurricane season and the end to our goat herd’s kidding season. The last goat kid to hit the ground was actually a couple weeks ago and weaning has started on the older kids. Yes, the farm is again living up to its Must Bee Kiddin’ name. The end to the kidding season simply means preparations for the next season; breeding season, will be starting soon. The marketing of the current kid crop is underway, and before you know it the whole cycle will repeat once again.
June also brings the start of the rainy season here in central Florida. Those afternoon sea breezes start kicking up along the coast and dump more consistent rains on the farm. So, before the year and seasons start getting away from us here’s a rundown of the inaugural breeding season and kidding season results on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
For the fall 2015 breeding season we ran two bucks. Buck 608 “Shadowman” was this season’s primary herd sire buck and MBK Buster was our back-up/clean-up (if necessary). Buster also had three specific side matings assigned. Shadowman was responsible for running the bulk of the herd. Both bucks were unproven and when introduced were still bucklings (less than a year old). At day of introduction (June 6, 2015) 608 Shadowman was six months old and MBK Buster was only four months old. Since Buster was born from within the herd and still young, we knew he would have a harder time running the does. Shadowman provided 100% kiko genetic base we desired. Shadowman was introduced directly into herd and quickly suppressed his junior rival, Buster, as he worked on wooing the ladies.
The herd quickly settled into their new order with Shadowman rising to the head herd sire position as he made his rounds. The year clipped along and Buster grew a bigger and older, ready for his side matings. We moved Buster to a separate buck pen area where we introduced the does for his mating assignments. Daylight waned and the bucks’ wooing intensified. The does became receptive. On each visit to the herd pens a soundtrack dominated by Barry White started playing in my brain. Breeding season was in full swing.
Both bucks performed brilliantly. We had a 100% cover rate by both bucks in their respective matings. Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm now has two proven herd sires. The kidding season started on December 7, 2015 and ended on May 7, 2016. A total of Nine does were bred. Of the nine does bred, three were born on the farm in 2014. This was the farm’s first complete kidding season from matings arranged on the farm.
The numbers look pretty good with the season ending closer to our goals than not. The numbers reveal that our herd fertility is good. Both bucks are capable and fertility issues with our does. Our total (gross) kidding rate is firmly above one. This means that our herd is well on it’s way to producing multiple births per doe. This is important because twinning rate is a primary criteria for selection within our herd.
Results? Here’s the 2015/2016 kidding season by the numbers:
Herd Sires: 2
Total number of does bred: 9
Total number of viable kids born: 12
Total number unviable or aborted kids: 2 (one doe twin set)
Total twin sets: 5
Total viable twin sets: 4
Total buck/doe ratio: 50/50
Net buck/doe ratio: 58/42
Total kidding rate: 1.5
Viable kidding rate: 1.3
2016 stillborn rate: 0%
2016 miscarriage/abortion rate: 11%
Historical herd miscarriage/abortion rate (2 seasons): 7.7%
Although the numbers are good, the season was far from flawless. The glaring disappointment this season was the unfortunate aborting by a first time kidder of her twin set. That is a hard pill to swallow, but that’s farming. Although the exact reason for the aborted pregnancy will never be known, we strongly suspect it is was due to a first time kidder that is low within the herd hierarchy. Rough-housing lower status herd members is a fact of goat life. Since our herd is on pasture 24/7, 365; herd dynamics are always in play these things happen.
So, there’s the results. Not a flawless season, but definitely a successful one. So, as the calendar rolls off another month to the year’s halftime mark, it’s time to get the market kids weaning done and the replacements grown. Time to make and log final herd notes. Culling decisions need to be made and completed. It’s time to arrange the 2016/2017 season’s matings and get ready to do it all over again. Must Bee Kiddin’...//mr
A new year is always a great time to make a new start. With a new calendar ideas blossom into dreams and plans hatch with excitement. It's no different for us here at Must Bee Kiddin' Farm, but before we get to those great new ideas started we must finish out 2015's hatch.
One of our biggest goals from the first machete chop on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm was to get our vehicles off the very dusty lime rock road. Getting off the road was pretty easy, but in order to avoid the dust bowl clouds we needed to take it further off road with a driveway. We also wanted the driveway to offer some privacy so Mark carved out a winding path into the heart of the farm. With a significant investment in sweat equity and some prudent chainsaw work the driveway slowly took form. Finally on March 10th, the final push was made. A stump grinder was rented and after a solid day of grinding we were able to drive our vehicles all the way up the drive and into the center of Must Bee Kiddin' Farm. With this monumental project completed, we have easily shaved an hour a day off walking distance. Talk about productivity gains!
Going into the fall and winter of 2015 we bred the Must Bee Kiddin' Farm goat herd. One doe kidded in December, five more were due in January/February and the final three in May. January ended and the month-long kidding season started. As each week passed another kid or two dropped. In our good fortune we were attentive and lucky enough to witness two complete births and missed the rest by only a couple of minutes each. Everything went well. All does kidded in the field with no assistance. All babies thrived and are growing strong. At the end of this first round we had six bucklings and four doelings.
On the Must Bee Kiddin' Farm poultry front, the first quarter of 2016 saw eggs being laid daily. The poultry division is up and running. Yes, the hens do a fantastic job of cranking out these little jewels in array of colors that, I'm sure, make the Easter Bunny proud. In the first quarter of 2016 we achieved a MAJOR GOAL; eat fresh food produced off the farm. We are eating farm fresh eggs daily and have enough to share and barter for necessities.
Turning the page on that calendar means a new bee year as well. First quarter in Central Florida means serious bee work is in order. The honeybees really started buzzing. Mark spent time making new queen bees and stocking nucleus hives. With good weather and a solid nectar flow these will grow into full hives by summer. If the weather is good and favorable these hives might even make enough honey for a fall honey harvest.
One of our biggest joys on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm is that there's always something new happening. First quarter of 2016 is now history and the farm provided us with new life, new food, new visitors - all of which was a joy.
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!