It's been just over two months. Our report card in shepherding school is sporting an E for Excellent! This was the sight this morning when we arrived. All 9 goats were waiting at the fence for us. All of them!
We are now able to feed each of them from our hands which even just a week ago was impossible with some of them. The secret to that was finding that high-value snack - in our herd's case it's Spanish Moss and air plants. It's almost like goat crack.
The goats are doing their job well - clearing brush and trees so that we can make meadows and walk through the property without having to belly crawl through the brush.
We sill have a long way to go, we still have a lot to learn, and we still are winging it some days, but we are very proud of how far we have come in such a short period of time.//tr
In late November another milestone for the farm came to pass--honey bees. Yes, the farm established its first apiary. Just before Thanksgiving three honey bee nucleus colonies were moved out of our backyard and onto the farm property.
Now, beekeeping is nothing new to us, and one might say that the honey bees were major culprits leading to our farm flu outbreak. After all, when it comes to keeping bees you can’t just have one hive. No, literally, you should try to maintain more than one hive at a time. Keeping multiple hives helps increase overall hive survival rates. Taking this fact to heart, the backyard (all .1 acres of it) had become a bit cluttered with a dozen or so hives and nucleus colonies. Finding more space for more bees was the natural progression...well, for us at least.
With the addition of the ten acre farm property we can now fully expand and get closer to realizing our vision for Nature Coast Bee Company. The added space will soon become home for many more honey bee hives. This allows us to offer honey, hive products and nuc sales through Nature Coast Bee Company to interested customers and area beekeepers. The additional space the farm property provides also allows us to establish an on-site queen rearing operation.
The extra space is certainly welcomed. Now, I just gotta get busy moving all those empty hives stored in the garage to the backyard. You didn’t actually think the backyard was going bee free? There’s .1 acres that’s just been made available for more bees.
Bottle babies are not ideal for the newbie goat farmer, and let's face it, it's better to allow the mother to care for her own offspring. We didn't expect this to happen to us so soon. It was in our future plans, like way future, but not 8 days after unloading the goats onto our property.
If you remember, the goats were running free on the entire 10 acres for a week before we caught them. One of the pregnant does went into labor on a Monday morning (while the rest of the herd was lured into the net fence trap) and had twins later that day. Mark was able to find the kids, but the mother was no where in sight. The first kid born was clean and resting. A few feet away, standing up, but not cleaned off from just being born was the other little doeling. Mark waited around for a while to see if their mother would return, but as the day went on, the fear of predators was too great, so he scooped them up and took them to where the herd was safely inside the net fence. We were unsure if they had nursed for the first time, so we bought colostrum and milk replacer and bottles.
The safety reasons were very real. Mark spent that first night on the property - baby goats safely tucked into warm blankets in a box inside the truck as packs of coyotes howled all around the borders of the farm. He was never able to see how close they were to the actual fence, but it was close enough. Yes, the exterior fence is electrified, but the drive of a hungry prey animal can override the danger of getting shocked in the snout Two days later, their mother returned, accepted her first born, but the second one had never formed that first bond and did not go to her. Therefore we became her Maa.
The first week of her life, we toted her up and down the trail in a large cardboard box in the wheelbarrow, and that's how she got her nick-name, Totes. She was less than 5 pounds 36 hours after birth.
Very quickly this little goat bonded with us. She would cry and we would answer - usually with a bottle of warm goat formula or a soothing voice to calm her loneliness of being away from her herd every night. She hung out with the rest of the goats during the day, but because she was dependent on the formula, she had to come home every night with us. So we hung out in the garage with Totes. We watched her grow and thrive and act silly. She climbed on the shop vac, the coolers, and into our laps. She graduated from climbing to jumping. The jump down with a kick out to the side is her favorite. She also loved to put her head in the alfalfa bucket and snort the dust and sneeze and sputter
About three weeks ago Totes had a growth spurt. By this time she had graduated from her cardboard box (that she could escape from) to a hot pink wire dog kennel. We would put her in her kennel for a few hours, come out to feed her and swear she had grown in those few hours. She literally grew overnight. It was amazing to watch this little animal grow so fast.
Her time with the herd was the most beneficial. This is where she learned how to be a real goat. She learned to forage, to play with the other goats, and began to ruminate. When it came time to go home at the end of the day she started to run back to the herd - risking getting stung by the electric net fence just to be with them. It was then we knew that her time in the garage was coming to an end. We did a test run while camping one evening and it worked out very well. Two days later, she was living on the farm full-time with the rest of her herd.
Totes is always happy to see us when we get there in the morning. Of course, it's mostly because we are carrying her daily ration of warm formula, but even that time is coming to an end. It's been decided that our little bottle baby will be weaned on January 1st. She will be 10 weeks and she's a big goat now - more than triple her birth weight. She forages hard, she gets her daily ration of pellets and alfalfa and can drink water. She plays with the other kids, and has found a goat mentor in one of the younger goats. She's doing just fine!
It's been a fun experience and while it wasn't in the plan, I think it worked out very well. By the way, it doesn't take a village to raise a kid up right. It just takes a human with a baby bottle full of warm goat formula. //tr
Way back in early October Tuesday wrote (Making A Meadow) about the preparation of the south line for planting. Well, the workload has slackened and I thought sharing the specifics regarding the meadow making plans on the south line might interest some. By the way, the meadow was completed later that month (Halloween day). Yep, probably should get the October activities written up before Christmas.
The southern property line of our farm borders another ten acre block of property that is also mainly pine scrub dominated by sand pine. This property hasn’t been touched for many decades which has resulted in a buildup of woody material and pine needles. You know, the perfect stuff to fuel one heck of a brush fire.
The decision to open the south and west lines for fencing and create firebreaks was of primary importance. Well, if you’ve never cut a firebreak, no worries, just put your head down and get stuck into it. Yep, pretty much just hack and slash. Once done you should have a nice wide swath of destruction right down the property line. Although this new void is a bit unnerving at first it does present some opportunities when it comes to increasing the overall carrying capacity of the land.
It’s not until the initial shock from the land disturbance has passed that the opportunity the new space presents can be pondered. The firebreak along the south line is about eighteen feet wide with some sections as wide as twenty-five feet. Not big enough for a full pasture and too wide for a simple path. What to do? Embrace nature’s way and make a meadow.
Converting the space into a meadow is the easiest way to exploit the newly created edge effect along the firebreak. No extensive stump removal or leveling of land is necessary which is welcomed since all the work is by hand. With hoe and rakes we just cleared the debris and and prepared the best seedbed we could. If all goes well the selected seed mix should start to outcompete any of the pioneer species (woody vegetation) cast by the remaining woodlands.
No good discussion regarding planting would be legit without first discussing the soil a bit. Our farm is located in Central Florida which means one thing when it comes to soil--SAND. There you go, there’s your soil conversation in one simple word. No complex delving into soil testing necessary. Sand is sand. Low on organic material as well as the basic N,P,K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) levels is the nature of the medium. With the overall forest ecology being pine dominant, pH levels are on the acidic side. No rocket science or time wasting with soil tests necessary. One additional thing to add is the general nature of subtropical and tropical soil profiles. Generally, in these climate regions naturally occurring soil fertility tends to establish itself and stay within the zone of the first five inches of soil. So, seeding that builds the soil profile with both organic matter and nutrients is necessary.
In the final stages of clearing the firebreak, burning lots of excess brush was necessary. Not much can be done with crooked tree tops other than returning them to the land. Ideally, chipping would have been the preferred method, but getting a good chipper onto the lot was not feasible.
The great thing about burning after the clearing is the fact that wood ash has a high pH. Scattering the wood ashes and char provides a good natural and cheap buffer. No liming necessary. The added benefit the char provides is increasing the capacity of the soil. It’s been cited that a piece of char the size of a pencil eraser has the same surface area as that of an average house roof. So, what’s all this mean? Well, adding char increases the surface area for microbes to grow within and upon while increasing the moisture holding capacity of the soil. This is the primary premise behind biochar.
So after clearing and burning, the ashes and char were scattered across the surface. As livestock graze and browse the meadow their hoof disturbance should crush the char and help distribute it further. Their manuring will also increase the overall fertility of the soil as well as increase the soil’s microbial spectrum. At the end of the day soil is a living ecosystem unto itself.
Finally comes the fun part--seeding. When considering what to plant, concentrating on end goals and outcomes rather than getting tied up in minutiae is the way to go as far as I’m concerned. Select the best seed that will help achieve the goals of soil and nutrient building while meeting livestock forage needs as it addresses the seasonality of planting time. The seeding of the south line meadow was done going into winter which means cool season legumes should serve as the backbone of seed selection. Simply put; clover, clover, clover.
Since the soil is nutrient poor, clovers are the obvious choice due to their nitrogen fixing properties. The clover mix used on the south line meadow was Dixie Reseeding Crimson with a touch of Dutch White and yellow sweet clovers. The secondary consideration for using clover was providing good forage for honey bees and pollinators in general. Goats and honey bees are the farm’s primary livestock concerns at this time and all plantings are chosen with them in mind. Another nice thing about Dixie Reseeding Clover is that it will not cause livestock bloat.
The secondary seed selection in the mix was annual ryegrass. The obvious reason for ryegrass is that it will grow well throughout the winter and peak in spring which should provide good forage for the goats. Also, ryegrass is a good soil builder. Ryegrass roots can dig deep into the sandy soil and help hold the soil in place. The deep roots will later die back once the heat of Florida’s summer takes over. All those deep, fibrous roots will add precious organic material to the soil and help nourish microbial life and retain moisture.
For our area of Central Florida this seed mix should peak by mid April and die out by mid May. By that time the warm season seeds should already be sown awaiting the wet season’s rains. Maybe I’ll get the write-up about that seed mix done before Labor Day, LOL. //mr
Another letter from the USDA came in the mail. This time it was our Mandatory Program Scrapies Flock/Herd ID. What? According to the paperwork we received from the USDA, "scrapie is a fatal, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. There is no cure and there is no treatment for scrapie." It is an expensive disease, costing producers between $20-25 million each year. Humans who consume goat and/or sheep meat and/or milk or those folks who work closely with sheep and goats are NOT at any risk of contracting the disease. There is an eradication program in place, and any sheep or goat that leaves a farmer's property whether it is for resale to another farmer, at a livestock sale, or giving it away to someone, the animal must have an official ear tag with your flock/herd number on it.
Who says nothing in life [from the government] is free? The scrapie tags are free. We had to fill out a little form, that gave our name, farm address, and the number and type of animals in our herd. We received our herd number and they will be mailing us ear tags and an ear tag gun in the next couple of weeks. Easy!
When we bought our herd from the farmer in High Springs, he tagged the goats with his herd number before we left. He also made sure that he wrote down each number tag that was put in a goat's ear, because he has to maintain that record for 5 years.//tr
It's official, today we are a "farm" in the eyes of Uncle Sam. We received our USDA farm number and paperwork today. Although this is not a mandatory requirement, it will open up opportunities for us in the future as we move forward in our farming odyssey.
November was a good month for us on the farm. The mishaps and problems from October seemed to melt away. One of our biggest accomplishments this month was receiving an S (satisfactory) in Shepherd School. If you remember from October, we were on Double Secret Probation and improved slightly to Needs Improvement. We both feel like we are getting somewhere with the goats!
Now some gratuitous pictures.
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.