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.
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:
It's been a busy few weeks at Must Bee Kiddin' Farm, and before we give all the stats and details about what has been happening, we thought sharing some pictures would be fun.
As I write we're in the middle of the 2016 kidding season with the first kids having already arrived and are approaching two month old. We’ve still got seven does left to kid with three of those being due in May. So, before we get too deep into the new year how did 2015, our first full calendar year with goats end? In a word--wonderful.
By the end of February, 2015 the bred does finished kidding. Overall, it was a good crop of kids. In October, 2014 we purchased a total of 6 does, 4 of which were bred. We ended 2015 with a total herd number of thirteen. Of that thirteen only one goat, 608 (our current herd sire) was an outside purchase. Yes, those goaties sure do multiply.
When we started with our herd they were untamed and roaming the farm with reckless abandon. We quickly regained control over the herd by deploying electric net fencing and over the next couple of month tamed them down with daily feedings. They’re a smart crew and quickly figured the racket out; “Chill behind the safety of these fences and wait for the guy with the buckets to come and serve us breakfast in bed. Then loaf around most of the day and chow down on the ample supply of thick brush and get fed again in the evening. Pretty cush!”
By the time February, 2015 rolled around the final kid had hit the ground and we ended up with three twin pairs and a single. Of the seven kids from the 2014/2015 kidding we retained five kids and had one fatality, a buckling succumbed to Floppy Kid Syndrome (FKS). Of the five kids retained four are does and one is a buck. All the does attained our primary retention criteria of unassisted birthing and exceptional mothering which qualifies them for re-breeding. In March we did borrow an unproven buck, Odie, for an attempt at re-breeding. He spent the month with us but was ineffective.
We had some hiccups with kidding due to our newbie status. The first was the making of a bottle baby, and the second was the loss of the kid buckling to FKS. As far as that loss is concerned, I can say that all animal husbandry has its learning curve. They are steep with losses to be expected. The nature of Floppy Kid Syndrome is that by the time it manifests it’s too late. Yes, there are some early detection tests experienced shepherds can do, but that’s where the “feel” of goat husbandry comes into play. Trust me, I’ll be able to detect that disturbance in the goatie Force in future kiddings.
The circumstances surrounding the bottle baby weren’t really anybody’s fault and certainly not due to anything the birthing doe did. It arose out of safety concerns for the herd as a whole. When the doe birthed her twin pair of doelings, the herd was roaming the ten acres freely. That in itself is nothing bad. Our farm is in the heart of coyote country and the decision to pull any kids that were born before the herd could be contained was decided from the start. The herd was gathered and contained later that same day of the kids’ birth except for their mother. Murphy’s law indeed. I still stand by our decisions and actions regarding that does birthing and the decision to bottle baby her kids. It’s just circumstances that led to the longer term bottle baby of one of her kids. At the end of the day it all ended well and was good experience for Tuesday and I.
On December 1, 2015 we sold our first goats which were the first kids born on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm. Seven days later their mother gave birth to another twin pair. On December 8, 2015 Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm started it’s second kidding season, the current 2015/2016 kid crop season. At this point in time we’ve come full circle. The retained doelings are bred and will be kidding in May.
Our shepherding skills have advanced considerably over the past year. We’ve learned to listen to the goats and trust our instincts. Our actions are now more decisive and our herd is better for it. I’d like to thank our herd for their patience and mostly quiet guidance in our learning. Here’s to a new and better year filled with bouncing and bounding kiddies! //mr
A year and a half ago if I had woke up to this morning's weather, I probably would have turned over and went back to sleep. At minimum I would have stayed in warm jammies all day and zoned out on football. That's not the case any longer. Farmers don't get days off. Every now and then someone will tell me to take it easy, take a vacation, take Christmas Day off from the farm. It's just not possible. We have animals that depend on us for food, water and security. They are the future success of Must Bee Kiddin' Farm, and the ground work for our future business.
So, we suit up and head out for chores.
The weather conditions this morning were temperatures in the 50's and rainy. While "normal" or even "above normal" for many parts of the country, we are Florida farmers. We just came off a month of near record high temperatures with summertime humidity levels. I wore summer dresses to work last week. We don't do cold, wet weather well - layers and hats are mandatory. For Mark, it needs to be near freezing for him to consider wearing long pants. He claims they make you sick and this IS Flrorida, ya know!!
In living up to our name, Must Bee Kiddin' Farm, we are in the middle of our kidding season. We have one set of twins that are 26 days old and 5 more goats that will be kidding out anytime between today and the end of February. Neglecting them for just one day could be the difference between life and death and the future of our farm.
While keeping one eye on the radar we went about the daily, mandatory chores. The goats and chickens were fed and watered. I collected my daily egg from the lovely Betty (pictured above), and took some time to cuddle - er, I mean, inspect and dry the kids from any residual rain water. Most goats are adverse to rainy conditions and ours are no different. They have a nice blue tarp they can hang under, but you worry when you have such young babies. Our twins were fine, but it's always fun to find excuses to have a cuddle. There are marine batteries that need to be changed daily that are the key to keeping all of our fences running "hot", hopefully keeping predators away. Then there's the roosters.
These two boys seem to find happiness on the outside of their electric fence. For some reason they are adverse to staying put - even with the electric going full blast. Luckily they are easy to get back under the nets and back in their coop.
There is always something to do on the farm. We did a couple of small projects as well as some fence inspections before we called it an early day. A quick check of the voltage on the main fence before locking the gates showed 9,100 volts. I double dog dare ya to touch that!
Long before we purchased our land, we did our research and we questioned each other hundreds of times. We knew this wouldn't be easy. We knew that we would have to sacrifice a lot to achieve our goals. We knew that we would have to work on cold and rainy mornings. And we are happy to do it!
It’s that time of year again! The time when darkness peaks, and Christmas lights twinkle in rebellion. Old Man Winter has many in his grasp about now, but has yet to really make an appearance here in central Florida. It’s also the time of year when I can’t help but get giddy. While others are filled with the anticipation of presents under their glowing Christmas tree, I'm getting giddy about bees. As Christmas Eve closes in, I'm celebrating the year’s longest night by making gallons and gallons of sugar syrup while bubbling with the anticipation of cracking hives in the morning and getting the 2016 bee season underway.
As most people dash from store to store checking off Christmas lists, I too check off a prep list. The longest night of the year means it’s time to start checking down my “Beekeeping To-Do List”. Once the longest night lifts, I must be prepared to take full advantage of the blooming light. In the spirit of the season I add this summary of the 2015 Nature Coast Bee Company’s honey bee season here on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm to the record.
The 2015 beekeeping season was one marked by early rewards and summer challenges. The big breakthrough was proving to ourselves that newly mated, fully laying honey bee queens by early March are indeed possible within our system. Why is this a breakthrough? Well, in our cyclical system of beekeeping we don’t specifically treat for mites with either chemicals or organics and do not feed anything to our hives after Halloween--pure insanity to a lot of serious beekeepers. While others are feeding to keep their hives at full strength and capacity, anticipating early pollination demands, we aim for achieving an important brood break and completion of a full hive cycle.
This strategy puts our hive growing skills to the test. Timing and execution become critical. But, with careful planning the execution can be achieved and can comfortably get newly-emerged, virgin honey bee queens mated and laying solid patterns by March with strong nucleus colonies built by late March into early April. There’s a lot to be said for zigging while others scramble with zagging.
In all agricultural pursuits the summits of success quickly reveal the the valleys of failure ahead, and beekeeping is no exception. The summer months proved challenging to many hives. The quenching rainy season rolled in whittling hive collection days down to nothing. This past summer’s dog days period from July through September proved double jeopardy for us due to the daily wet weather which grounded the hives, and off-the-ball family emergency matters that stretched beekeeping time thin. “C’est la vie”.
The silver lining to all those clouds? That wet weather coupled with the resulting benign neglect from the non beekeeping matters added important selection pressure to our hives. The result was that we had several stand-outs. Under intense pressure diamonds form. We have more than a few diamond quality queens going into 2016. These queens will provide a fantastic genetic base for our future bee building.
So, those of you reading this before or after dashing from store to store in the last-minute throngs of the Christmas season, don’t despair. And if you're in a part of the country where Old Man Winter's chilling clutch has you stoking a December fire, warm yourself knowing daylight is blossoming and this Central Florida beekeeper is scrambling. The feed will get mixed and be flowing in the morning on those Nature Coast Bee Company hives. Before you know it the preparations for the first queens of 2016 will soon be in motion. My beekeeper's list is ready and I'm already checking it down because spring is coming.
Now, cross that "2015 Beekeeping Report" off the list--it's time to get sticky!
July, August, September Wrap-Up
Twinkling Christmas displays are all aglow and the feed rations for the farm critters were prepared last night, so it’s time to hammer out a Both Feet In blog update. As I write this latest Must Bee Kiddin’ farm update the outside temperature at 5:30 a.m. is pushing 80 degrees. I know, total antithesis to this article’s title, but the dog days of summer; July, August and September are history even though the mercury has yet to settle at consistently lower winter temperatures. Sure, Santa will soon be on his way, but surely he’s packing Bermuda shorts and a cold boat drink for this leg of his deliveries.
It’s been a spell since we’ve been able to come up for air and get a formal farm Wrap-Up posted to Both Feet In. Apologies to anyone following along from the start. In an attempt to keep the blog's chronology orderly, here’s the Wrap-Up for the July, August and September; the dog days of summer.
July was a milestone month at Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm. We celebrated our one year anniversary of land ownership and starting the work of creating the farm. Wow, unbelievable! It is true that time flies when you’re having fun. Yes, all the hard work and sweat is still the most rewarding work we’ve ever done. Every day when my feet hit the ground, rolling out of bed after a solid night’s sleep and that first ache hits, I remind myself of what Newton told us…a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Powering through the discomfort still comes easy and with a smile--suck it up, buttercup.
Just before July's heat and humidity turned ridiculous, we completed the farm's first full grazing tour with the goats. The goats are doing a great brush control job and the land becomes more and more manageable with each grazing rotation. This accomplishment also gives a better feel for our land's carry capacity and can now adjust our final stocking rates accordingly.
Early in the month we received the fantastic news that our county tax appraiser had granted us an agricultural exemption. This approval was critical to making our farm work financially. We submitted our agricultural application to the county in December, 2014 and by July, 2015 it was approved. Being recognized as a “bona fide” agricultural enterprise by the “man” helps in so many ways. We not only get a new tax designation for the property, but this also solidifies all the protections granted to us through Florida’s Right to Farm Act. Florida is a state dominated by folks retiring from heavily urbanized areas and the threat of neighbor complaints from crowing roosters or crying goat kids are alleviated with this protection.
In July Must Bee Kiddin' Farm launched its poultry division. We fired up the incubator we purchased in June and by July's end we had thirteen chick chirping away in a storage tote in the bathroom. Now, applying the law of probability to our hatching would mean we should have an even distribution of cocks to hens. Well, I guess it runs streaky then. The birds from that first hatch have grown out and we now find ourselves overrun with roosters. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
The victories of July melted away and our personal life’s fortunes took a turn. The facts of life hit hard in the final days of July and we spent all of August and September dealing with a full-force family emergency. The farm was left on autopilot with not much time for anything other than the daily chores available. Farm development ground to a halt. It was a stress test for both us and the farm. We pulled together as a family and with help from both immediate and extended family members we found our way through the crisis. The good news was that our family's crisis didn’t spiral into tragedy. It’s times like these that make you realized what the expression “at least I have my health” REALLY means.
As an aside, anyone thinking they will move to the country and start farming once they fully retire and are caught up in marking time until then...STOP. Quit fooling yourself. If you’re able-bodied and really want to get on the land, you need to find a way to make it happen sooner than later. The recliner and television are instruments of death from our contemporary life. Their seduction literally sucks you in, placating you with fantasies and dreams until you die. I look back at what we set out to do and have to say that starting Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm in our 40’s was almost too late. There's so much to do. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The lingering effects of the August scramble lasted throughout September. We powered through and slowly built momentum back on the farm. The final milling of timbers into lumber from felled trees on the farm was completed. That lumber was used to build chicken coops for our poultry enterprise. September also saw our second hatch completed. With the help of a farm neighbor (Thanks Ray ;) with more incubator capacity, we added more heritage poultry lines to the farm mix. The final push for launching the Must Bee Kiddin’ poultry division in the field was complete. By September's end we had two range coops up and running on an electrified paddock.
With working days on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm cut short due to familial obligations from the August fallout, progress on the farm has shifted to a lower gear. Deeper access into the farm property is the priority. The farm’s driveway started taking shape, but by the month’s end was still far from completion.
There you have it. With Christmas closing in hard we’ve finally updated the blog through September. Life’s ups and downs will pummel you from time to time and things such as blogging get lost in the scuffle. No worries. Tough people outlast tough times.
One of our goals for the first year of our farm included obtaining an agricultural exemption through the county in which our farm resides. This is supposed to be a fairly easy task. You fill out a nifty little application, submit it quickly within the proper time frame and wait. And wait. And wait...
The following factors listed below are taken directly from our county’s property appraiser website and are the encompassing factors that you need to share with them in order to receive the exemption, hopefully.
Furthermore, the application asks about your specific agricultural pursuit, and there is a place to list animals or specific plantings. It’s simple and pretty straightforward. We filled out our application in December of last year, making sure it was received early and within the window for acceptance; January – March.
I touched base with the county employee and sadly learned that he had until July to approve or deny our application. He also stated that he may have to drop by one day to take a tour of our farm to be sure that everything on our application was correct and that we were a bona fide farm. This was kind of a letdown, but understandable. On several occasions at the farm, Mark noticed county vehicles driving by. We anxiously awaited the phone call to set up the farm tour for the county. That phone call never came.
By the second week in June we were anxious and stressed over the possibility of not getting this exemption. Why you ask? Having the county agricultural exemptions first and foremost decreases our annual taxes. Having that burden tempered, gives us the opportunity to invest that money into farm pursuits. The exemption also allows us to build small buildings and barns, cut down trees without having to purchase another permit (cost $200), and make other amendments that would need additional, costly permitting. The exemption also provides further protections to us a as a bona fide farm under the Right to Farm Act.
So, with the calendar closing in on July without any information or communication from the county, Mark took time out of one of his busy mornings on the farm to call the county office and get an update on our farm's status. In a nutshell he was told that we would know one way or another via a letter the first week of July. Back into the holding pattern we went and waited some more.
On the morning of June 29th I heard the email ding on my phone from deep inside my desk drawer. I figured it was another ad from one of the many online stores that flood my email inbox each morning, but still checked to be sure. It was an email from the county contact with an attachment, a letter...
We received our exemption!!! With our one year anniversary just around the corner, getting this exemption when we did was the cherry on top!!
While we know we are a bona fide farm, it’s now official. In the eyes of the Federal government we have our USDA farm number. In the eyes of the State of Florida, our mandated herd number. And finally, with our county tax assessor, our agricultural exemption.
Not too shabby for one year in!
Shepherd Level: Advanced
A year ago today we set out with a borrowed livestock trailer to pick out and bring home our herd of goats. We have learned A LOT about goats and about ourselves in the last year.
Lesson 1: If it can go wrong it will. Less than 24 hours after picking up our goats all 6 were roaming around our 10 acres not to be seen unless from a distance or on trail cam for 10 days.
Lesson 2: The way to a goat’s heart is through its stomach. We were able to contain our herd by feeding into one area. They wandered right into our net fence trap! Goats love their breakfast in bed. And supper. You can also get a goat tamed up with some patience and sweet feed. It took only few months and all of the goats were eating out of our hand. If we want to cut the grass in the front of the property, the goats will follow us down there and are happy to eat for a couple of hours. Some goats are more “affectionate” than others and some are just plain rude by invading your personal space. Having goats that are relatively tame helps with health care and herd management. Goat horns help too.
Lesson 3: Bottle babies can be useful. We have one. She's long graduated from bottles, but we are still her Maa. She’s a pain in the neck sometimes - always under our feet, but she has come in as a huge help a few times this year when we needed a stray goat reined in. She’ll lead the herd like a champ! And she’ll do it over and over. Bottle babies are also great at calming the rest of a group that might be a little leery of humans.
Lesson 4: Goats clear land. The primary purpose of our initial herd of goats was to help us thin and clear the dense brush on our farm. They have surpassed all of our hopes for them and are a valuable tool. Sure we could have gotten the same effect quicker with a tractor, but with the goats they are “green” and their manure will help to fertilize our poor soil.
Lesson 5: Goats are very strong. Bigger is not always stronger when it comes to goats. What you think is your strongest goat will surprise you. Our largest goat is definitely not our strongest goat. And up until last weekend, what we thought was our strongest goat is probably not. A larger goat is not necessarily the strongest. A short little compact goat will give you a good workout. Goat horns, while useful as handles, do hurt. I've been tapped by them a few times just by being in the way - they do leave a mark.
Lesson 6: Have patience. While starting our second year, with hopefully 6 pregnant goats, we hope to expand our herd and sell some goats. We hope to be able to put at least one goat in the freezer for our personal consumption – because the farm has always been to sustain ourselves first – and pick the best of the best (this place is tougher than Top Gun) to stay full time. Farming success doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. We’ve learned patience this last year.
Lesson 7: Have fun. I’ve mentioned it a time or two, I’m sure, that in order for us to fulfill our dream, become successful and to go the distance with this farm, we have to have fun. Sometimes it’s easy to forget. So, when the chores seem mundane, the work is getting hard, and the sun is baking our brains, we take a time out,sit in the shade and hang with the herd. There's always some little goat that puts a smile on our faces.//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!