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.
Spring has sprung and it's time to keep the herd moving on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm. All the paddocks are flush with green and the last of the yearling does is due to kid any day now. Yes, things are busy down on the farm and it's time we talk grazing and grazing tactics.
On Must Bee Kiddin' Farm we practice rotational grazing with our meat goat herd. We organize the farm's paddocks into half acre blocks and move the goats through them on a seven day rotational plan. With rotational grazing we can better manage the thick brush growth on the farm as well as keep goat parasite loads down.
In the southeast United States parasitic worms are a major concern for goat herds. The longer a meat goat herd stays in a set location, the higher the worm load. By moving the goats across the land on a rotational basis we avoid over grazing and keep the goats ahead of emerging worms. Healthy land and happy goats!
There is a lot more to the rotational grazing plan as a whole, but to get things started we wanted to share how we do it down on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm. Looks like I'm roping myself into a grazing series...
Let's take a look at:
We have divided the herd recently. While this did not go exactly according to plan – more on that in another post – it’s actually working out quite well in many ways. Mark recently built a ½ acre semi-permanent pen. The original plan was for this to be the bachelor pad for our two bucks, but they both had their own ideas and we ended up keeping them in the net fences that we use for rotational grazing. We had to get the youngest doelings away from the boys, so we moved them to this new pen along with one doe – the mother of the twins.
With all the goats in a holding pattern within the new pen, the forage was getting a little thin. So Mark thought we should try taking them out for a walk around the property to graze the grass along the front fence. Not only would it feed the goats it would get Mark out of weed whacking duty along that section of the perimeter electric fence. Since all the goats follow us around the pen looking for hand-outs, we figured a little sweet feed would be just to ticket to lure them along and to a lesser extent control them. What did we have to lose? Well, 6 goats on 10 acres and a bunch of plants that are just getting a good start--that’s what!
This better work!
After taking a deep breath we shoved the holding pen gate open and off we went. I was in the lead position and Mark, along with the previous bottle baby, brought up the rear. Foraging our way down the driveway the goats didn't miss many yummy, tender shoots. All us shepherds had to do was stand in the shade and enjoy the show. Not too bad. There was a small hang up once we got to the front of the property where the truck was parked. One goat caught sight of her reflection. For a brief moment we thought a fight might break out, but all went well.
We made our way along the front property line to the tall grass in southeast corner. We grazed the goats alongside the road and had fun watching both the herd react to the locals driving by and the locals reacting to the herd. Several drivers did a double-take as the kids grazed the fresh shoots along the fence. One driver, a lady, yelled “They really are goats!!!”
Recently we planted some clumping bamboo and when the herd passed by it they didn't pass up the opportunity to swarm the meager planting's fresh leaves. No worries, sweet feed to the rescue as Mark lured them up the path and away from the bamboo. I still have to master my herding skills a little bit and get a better handle on reading the goats, but pretty much all went well. We foraged back up the line, and it was amazing to watch their rumens fill with each bit they chewed.
Through mastering herding and close shepherding, we have started incorporating a new angle into our overall herd management plan--flash grazing. With the ability to walk our goats almost anywhere we want, we can eventually make a permanent containment paddock or barn area to secure the herd overnight, then herd them to the net fences surrounding the foraging paddocks in the morning. Let them graze all day and then return them to safety in the evening. This will make moving the net fences a little easier and if need be, one person can do the job. Not that we've been having problems, but by doing this we can add a layer of security that is essential during kidding – the coyotes are abundant in our area. Also, when our pasture grows as desired, we can then put the goats onto it for shorter lengths of time (as little as a few hours) and get them off the plants exactly when needed, allowing proper regrowth--not destruction. This system will also help with managing parasite load and should reduce the frequency of wormer use.
This flash grazing has become a daily ritual for the goats being kept in the half acre pen (the buck pen that has yet to have a buck in it, LOL), one that I look forward to on the weekends when I am there. The goats also look forward to it and are practically banging on the gate when they feel it’s time to go for their walk.
Now we just have to see if our remedial group of goats will eventually catch on. There are a few wildcards in this bunch. But, best of all, the perimeter weed whacking duties will be a lot less. //tr & mr
But, Before We Begin
The last kids of the kidding season are on the ground so now it’s time to turn our attention back to land development and planning. We’re now in March and the time to get the annual plantings in the ground is at hand. In order to maximize our efforts and yields we’ve got to move from sketching to cementing out ideas as far as the overall farm layout is concerned.
Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm is just over ten acres. Right now only one person works it full-time and a second joins in to help bear the workload on weekends. Ten acres may not sound like a very big spread, but when you consider that it’s undeveloped and densely wooded, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The best way to get past those feelings of overload is simply to just get working. Energy begets energy. Momentum over meditation!
With that in mind, it’s important to have some solid action plans fleshed out. At this stage of the game major mistakes are pretty hard to make since we’re still pretty much in sandbox mode. As we’ve stated before, we’ve adopted the basic tenets and guiding principles of Permaculture in the development of Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
At the center of Permaculture is a design plan that utilizes is zonal development. Permaculture design makes use of a five zone system and this drives the development and layout of the property. The zonal layout scheme Permaculture emphasizes helps with focus and keeps the thinking centered on the big picture. But, before even delving into any Permaculture zone planning we must pull back one frame of focus and look at the big picture. Before laying out any zones it’s best to chart the land concentrating on land features and the major weather patterns at play on the land.
This picture illustrates the prevailing weather patterns by season as well as highlights the main topographical features on the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm. This property picture is from 2013 and is accurate up to the time of purchase. Nothing had been done to the property or adjoining properties until the time of our purchase. The first, main feature of the farm is the fact that it’s pretty much a square. It aligns with the compass as the top property line is north, the right is east, the left west and the bottom property line is south. Thus the track of the sun is from right to left.
As I’m writing this, today’s (3/1/2015) temperature was pushing eighty degrees (F). That being said, we just had an overnight low temperature in the low twenties less than four days ago. Subtropical means contending with hard freezes just about every year. This is why this weather and land feature map is important. In not only paying specific attention, but mapping the prevailing seasonal weather patterns and land features, extremes can be mitigated. In other words, if we pay close enough attention to the lay of the land and which way the winds blow we can use this to our advantage when it comes to land development. Microclimate identification and exploitation become critical for extending growing and increasing yields.
The hilltop situated in the northeast corner of the property is the highest point on the farm. The section marked saddle is a ridge that runs to the southwest and joins with another hilltop that is situated on the neighbor’s property to the south. The elevation of that saddle is about ten feet with low spots in the southeast and, to a lesser extent northwest and southwest corners of the property. With cold winds blowing in from the northwest, the saddle acts as windbreak. Cold northwest winds are mitigated by that saddle and the southeast corner of the property becomes favorable for more tropical plantings such as bananas.
The weather map also becomes important when deciding where forest stands need to be kept, thinned or bolstered. If cold winds sweep in through the northwest corner, that’s a good place to consider a plantation of longleaf timber pines to stand guard against Jack Frost’s devious notions and Old Man Winter’s bitter bite. On the flip side, thinning the southwest and southern lines becomes important. Being in coastal Florida means hurricane season is always a consideration.
So there it is, Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm’s weather and basic topographical map. After mapping the basic landscape features and considering the prevailing weather patterns we’re now ready to get into the meat and potatoes land development plan. Developing this weather and land feature map was a pretty simple exercise, but definitely time well spent. In the next installment of the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm development plan we’ll talk Permaculture zone development.
Yep, sure enough 2014 just flew by and the new year just rolled right in with what seemed to be a blink of the eye. Before we let 2014 get small in the rear view mirror here's the latest tour of the property's west line as it stood on the last workday of the year. Of course the video shows the state of the west line but I'll also bullet point the main items outlined and discussed.
We know everyone is recovering from their turkey hangovers, so we thought this little video of the kids playing would be the perfect ending to the Thanksgiving holiday. We are very thankful this holiday season for everyone who has supported and encouraged us these last few months as we began writing this exciting new chapter in our lives.
This video shows that the north border is ready for the fence to go in. This was the first border we cleared and in many ways it was very easy because we had the neighbor's fence to use as a guide.
This video shows the connector trail from where the north trail and the driveway meet. This is one of my favorite places so far on the property to walk. Very peaceful!
One of the first things that people said to us when we started clearing our land, was to watch out for snakes. Many of the neighborhood folks we have met have told stories of man-sized rattlesnakes that run in packs. We have pawed through brush that you can't see through, turned over at least 20 (probably more) dead tree blow downs, and have yet to see a single serpent.
We also have not seen any squirrels.
Correlation? Absolutely. The food chain is definitely lacking. Since clearing our fire lanes and paths through the middle of the property the song birds have started flying around.
But, I will share the three critter we have encountered. Enjoy!//tr
I will freely admit to anyone that I have chainsaw anxiety. It's not a made up, drama queen, kind of attention seeking behavior, but true, honest, anxiety. I grew up around chainsaws - it was how wood was cut and that wood was used to heat my Grampa's garage and my Dad's home. The adults in my life who used them were safety conscious and had respect for the machine, and they taught me the same.
I must have been about 7 or 8 years old when my Grampa had a chainsaw accident. He hit a knot, there was kick back and he was cut from his neck down the middle of his chest. The way the story was told, he grabbed his handkerchief, covered up the cut, walked into the house and told my Gramma that he had an accident. He waited on the front porch for the ambulance and walked down the front path to meet it. He recovered in record time - missed the jugular by about a 1/4 of an inch.
As an adult, I've had anxiety whenever I've been around chainsaws. I knew that I would have to deal with it sooner or later when we bought this tree rich property. I trust my husband implicitly, and feel I have done very well being around him chainsawing the hundreds of trees we've taken down. I've had to stand very close a few times, and kept things in check. I have my escape route planned out well ahead of time and use it even if it's not necessary. Better to be safe than sorry, right?
So, today, we had to take down a 13 inch in diameter, 50 foot tall (45 year old) sand pine. Mark turns to me and asks me if I want to do it. Um...okay. I think. I don't know what the heck I'm doing, but I observe a lot and knew this tree was a textbook felling and one that would be easily manageable for me. At least that's what I told myself.
Mark cut the wedge out of the front of the tree and then turned the saw over to me. We talked about how to hold the chainsaw, how I should stand, how to use the throttle/gas, and how to move it through the tree. We went over my escape route and what to do when I heard the tree start to move.
I had a little trouble moving the saw through the tree, but Mark helped me and I heard the crack! I pulled the saw out, took a few steps back and watched it fall. My heart was literally beating out of my chest and I felt like I couldn't stop smiling. It was the purest of adrenaline rushes, but it was also so much more than that for me.
I faced a real fear, head on.//tr
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!