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
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
Live Natural Birth Caught in the Field
When we bought our goats we knew three of them were pregnant. Happy to say we got a bonus kid!
Yes, a fourth goat was pregnant. Good, but the problem in all of it was we had no clue when any of these does were going to give birth. The first two does had their kids on day 10 and 11 after introduction to the farm. We were totally unprepared. With the next two we wanted to make sure we were more prepared. We noticed their udders were getting larger and their right sides bigger, but you can read everything there is to read on the internet about goats and birthing, and unless to you know the approximate date they were bred--it's all just a crapshoot.
The biggest thing we took away from everything we read, was to know your goats. This last doe we knew. She's a friendly goat, always right there at feeding time to get her ration and a snout scratch. Her demeanor is gentle. A regular sweetheart. On Sunday, February 8th, we noticed that this goat was not acting like herself. She seemed almost aloof and didn’t come around like she normally does. We knew she had to be close.
Tuesday, February 10th rolled around and as usual, I asked Mark to text me an udder picture. He obliged. Her back-end looked really puffy and her udder was huge. Almost uncomfortable looking. Kidding was imminent!
Mark went about his daily farm chores and decided to take some time and visit the neighbor up the road. I gave him a ring and he was back at the farm. We were chatting on the phone when he returned to the farm and he was passing the current goat pen setup. Whenever we arrive or pass the goats, they usually greet us looking for something to eat which gives us an opportunity for a quick head count. Well, one goat was missing. Yep, Mrs. Preggerz.
Mark made his way into the goat pen depths and heard the short, soft murmurs of labor. Mark relayed all this in our conversation and I immediately left the office on lunch break. Mark grabbed the camera to capture what he could of the birth.
Less than 10 minutes later, we had a bouncing baby buckling! I arrived in time to see him getting his first bath and learning how to walk on those wobbly legs. It was a textbook birth in the field - something we are strive for with our herd. Resilience and natural birthing at it’s finest.
Disclaimer: The video below is the actual birth and the little guy’s arrival onto Must Bee Kiddn’ Farm. Viewer Discretion Advised
SUBTITLE: Double Secret Probation
We pulled down our road bright and early this morning and saw a crowd standing around the front gates. My heart sunk into my stomach. We pulled up and the crowd started chattering away. It's all kind of a blur now, but basically two of our goats were spotted by the passers-by and they were in need of rescuing. They were rescued and they are okay.
Back Story: Before starting on this farming adventure, we decided that we wanted to use a 7-strand, high tensile fence for the perimeter of the property with a big charge on it. We would further contain our goats with net fencing that also had an electric charge. We practiced with the net fencing and made sure the electric going to it would work a few weeks ago. Friday evening we set up the area we wanted the goats to start working on when we unloaded them. The net fencing was not able to hold a charge due to the tight space, thick underbrush conditions and undulating terrain. Well, you all know how that went. We left the four goats in what we had hoped would be a safe and secure area that again, did not have electric running through the net fencing.
Disclaimer: While this is a blog and everyone's intent is to want it to be sunshine and lollipops all the time this blog also serves as our personal (albeit public) journal. We want to share our experiences even if they are not all positive. Everyone can learn from the trials and tribulations of others. I hope to serve that purpose for anyone that wants to take on the challenge we have.
Today: After chatting with the wonderful neighbors who scaled the gates (and didn't get zapped) and cut two of our goats from the net fencing that was NOT electrified, we decided we needed an entirely new game plan. We gave our name to animal control who had been called, profusely thanked the neighbors, exchanged phone numbers, and slowly took in the new reality that instead of two goats bounding around our 10 acres, we now had all 6. Animal control? Yes, animal control was called by the good samaritans, who thought they might need back-up or extra hands. I think the animal control lady was happy she didn't have to shag down 6 goats bounding across the county.
Our barely passing average from yesterday at 66% dropped to Double Secret Probation. I could hear the goats echoing, "Toga, Toga, Toga" from deep within the farm.
Regroup: We took a quick walk around the area where they had been sort of contained. The damage was minimal and easily repaired (net fencing is designed to be cut and repaired easily). We took a longer walk around the main arteries of the farm trying to see if we could spot any goats roaming about. Unfortunately, we didn't see any signs of them. Our hopes were that because they are herd animals, they would gather up and feel safe in one group.
Thinking: The goats we purchased were basically on an open range/pasture. They spent their time in a herd and interacted with humans for food, worming and being sent off to auction. This is fine. This is in our future plans, but like I said in yesterday's post, we didn't have a clue. You make plans, you have a vision in your mind of how things are going to be, and then like the quote from the infamous Mike Tyson: "Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth."
Plan Roll Out: What had once been an undesirable place to work, was now the best area to try to trap our wayward herd - the south line! We took one run (160 feet) of the net fencing, heavy metal t-posts and fiberglass, step-in posts (to sure up any sagging) down to the meadow and set our plan into place. We set up a "trap" of sorts. Our hope is that they will seek out food and water and this is the area that they will find all they need. We shook the food can, hung out for about an hour after everything was set up, and still didn't see any sign of the ladies. We left the farm with high hopes they will hang out with the food and we can hopefully trap them into the properly laid out net fencing.
I guess we can always change the business plan from farm to wildlife management area...//tr
It had to happen. We had to do work along the main road. The North, South and West lines have all been cut. The East side road frontage is the only line that has work remaining on it. The goal was to make a cut into the property that will first serve as a place for us to park our vehicles on our own land as well as begin to establish our future driveway.
We have avoided this for a couple of reasons. First, the road is on the East side of the property. From about 7 am to 8 am its nice and shady. After that, it's not a pleasant area to work because you are being baked. Somehow the jungle heat of the interior of the property paled in comparison to that day's work due to the blazing sun. We would have to walk across the glaring limestone road that captured every last ray from the burning star overhead to seek relief in the only sliver of shade within sight.
The second reason we have been avoiding working along this section of the property is that it is inevitable people are going to stop and start asking questions. While this is not a bad thing - we both feel knowing our neighbors is beneficial - it feels kind of weird being the couple questioned. We do understand the curiosity of two strangers hacking away along the road with hoes, rakes and shovels on a piece of property that has sat idle for greater than 20 years.
So the day we worked the road, we met some of the locals. The conversations and comments ran the gamut from "you're not going to cut these trees down and clear this land, are you" to "cut them all down, they are all junk trees!" Mostly everyone was kind and welcoming. They asked what our plans were and if we would be moving out there soon. It’s funny, because when we asked a few questions of our own, many of the negative comments about the area centered around the roads. The road and it’s access is actually one of the reason why we chose this particular piece of land. One guy was trying to scare us by telling us all about the multiple 5 foot rattle snakes he kills all the time. When my husband extended his hand into the truck’s cab to shake hands, he later commented that he got a contact drunk off the guy. It’s is Florida, and the saying goes, “up by 7, drunk by 11.” A couple of folks were even bold enough to ask us what we paid for the property. We were perfectly fine offering up this information, it is public record, but I don’t ever recall asking a stranger what they purchased their home or property for. Immediately after asking that, they harkened back to the days of the last real estate bubble.
We achieved our goal for the day of being able to park our vehicle on our own land. The fact that neither of us had a heat stroke was an added bonus. //tr&mr
The first in a three part series of articles that will give you some insight as to why we chose this particular piece of property.
When chronicling any endeavor or adventure it’s always best to start at the beginning. This certainly holds true when it comes to establishing a sustainable farm in ten acres of heavily wooded Florida pine scrub. Property hunting certainly calls for some selection criteria. It also demands some soul-searching, vision and a very good sense of humor. The property hunt and how we finally settled on purchasing the land we did is as good a starting point as any. Here’s what made our latest purchase the right place at the right time.
Access is a major concern for anyone seriously hunting for a piece of property to farm or homestead. On our criteria list it was a primary concern. If you’re going to dedicate yourself to developing a homestead or farm on a scratch piece of land, being able to get to it as easily as possible is critical. Anyone that has ever shopped for any real estate knows the saying “location, location, location”; well, when it came to finding the site to build our vision the saying morphed to “access, access, access”. Access is such a determining factor that it can not only determine the property’s success or failure, but can alter the final geography of the purchase. After all, what good is that majestic mountain overlook or secluded bend on that river if your first purchase has to be new vehicles and timing your travel according to the latest weather report?
That example may sound extreme, but it’s closer to reality than most people care to think. In this day and age of suburban sprawl, deed restricted communities and farmland scarcity, finding accessible land that’s affordable can be difficult. Also, when considering a potential property’s access there’s an amount of focus and leveling with yourself that has to occur. Yeah, that secluded cabin dream (delusion) may be really beautiful in the mind’s eye, but can you escape it in the face of a wildfire or hurricane? Better yet, can your invited guests easily and comfortably find you?
Tropical storms that blossom into hurricanes with tidal surges are a reality in our subtropical area. Happy to say that our property actually has some elevation (rare in coastal Florida) and is located outside the tidal surge evacuation zones. That’s a huge factor when you consider livestock and other agricultural assets that cannot be moved easily for evacuation.
Another critical access issue worth major consideration was that many lesser residential roads throughout the county are maintained by the individual property owners along those roads. Paved roads that lead past mailboxes at the end of secluded drives aren’t a reality for many county residents in the area. Some locals will tell you, “If you want that, go find yourself a deed restricted community”. Potholes and washouts are a reality and a major concern for many properties we visited. We visited properties that had swaths of spare carpet laying alongside the road not as trash, but as a community service for those unfortunate enough to get bogged down in sugar sand stretches. Other roads were so rutted that imagining pulling a trailer full of kids (baby goats) to auction or beehives destined for orange groves offered some much needed comic relief from the property hunt. The conversation one-liner, “Look at it this way, it’s affordable...and nobody will ever visit” went from punchline to property classification after the first week of serious searching.
Purchasing new vehicles and repairing roads before even thinking about setting the first fence post started to hit home with us. Marketing livestock, selling farm-fresh products, going to town for supplies and hosting customers for on-site farm sales was more than just a consideration--it’s the business plan! It didn’t take long to realize basic property access does come with a price tag and quickly became a critical selection criteria once framed within our ultimate vision. With a paved county road and steady traffic within sight from the property’s road frontage, local foods such as pastured pork, farm-fresh eggs and raw honey straight from the farmer can easily become a reality for our county’s residents.//mr
There is something special about using hand tools. Sure it would be easier and quicker to rent the equipment or hire the workers to clear the land, but what fun would that be? In just one day using only hand tools we were able to clear away a path about 4 foot wide and 200 feet long. We are both extremely pleased with that.
It is an exercise not only in clearing the fence row, but in access. The property is thick with scrubby underbrush which makes maneuvering through it very difficult. The exercise in clearing the land is also one that will enable us to learn about our land. We will learn where the live oak stands are, where the trees we need to remove are, and where the bumps and depressions are. We can decide where we want to put meadows, gardens, and our home site.
Yesterday we hacked and sawed and machete'd our way along the North boundary. Today will be much of the same. It's not easy, but strangely satisfying. The quote by Robert Frost: "The only way out is through" kept creeping into my mind to keep up the momentum. I love the feeling of accomplishment I am already feeling from just a mere 200 feet of open space. Only 400 feet to the pin!
Did you hear the one about the couple who walked into a real estate office and put a cash offer in on 10 acres?
No joke there! That was us – May 22, 2014.
We’ve been looking for the perfect piece of property for a couple of years now, and while we’ve found it a couple of times the factors regarding those had just never fallen totally into place. We came really close once earlier this year. So close in fact, the offer that was accepted was put in mere hours before we called to put ours in. If you believe in fate, then that wasn’t meant to be.
Then The One popped up!
To the normal person, it would appear to be a nightmare, but we are far from being normal people. We like distressed, difficult situations. We like chaos and occasionally uncertainty. We like to create a vision in our minds and bring that vision to reality through blood, sweat and tears. We love to challenge ourselves. We study, we dream, we create. We are the same couple who bought a distressed 1920’s bungalow that was crawling with drug addicts, roaches and filled with dirty diapers. Yeah, we’re that couple! We are the same couple that wanted to add a small koi pond in our backyard. The plans were never put on paper. That evolved into a more than 3000 gallon lake in our small, urban backyard of the above said distressed, now fully renovated bungalow.
I’ve walked on the property only once. It was interesting in the fact that there is so much undergrowth that the sunlight has probably not sparkled on parts of the space for years. In other places a wildflower stands tall and proud in a chink of light that’s ripped and clawed its way through an opening of the canopy made possible by a falling pinecone, giving life and allowing growth. Reindeer moss covers the floor beneath the pines and oaks, making me wonder if an army of fairies take refuge through the night to rest after a long day of roaming the woodlands with the other creatures residing there. It was cool and moist among the live oaks and hot and dry on one edge. The bugs flitted about and the birds sang out to one another.
Normal sounds are dulled as we walk further and further back along the property. I look out over places where I can see through the dense foliage and try to imagine what the future years will bring as we sculpt and chop and create. I cannot wait to walk this same fence line in a few years time listening to the dulled sounds again, but this time I will hear the roosters call back and forth with the goats and ducks. I’ll be able to see a potting shed peeking out in all its rustic grandeur, proud of the tiny seeds it protects before they are sowed into the meadows that will dot the landscape in between stands of live oaks.
Imagination is going to have to sustain me, at least for a few more days while we wait with irritable impatience for closing day to arrive. There is always one more hurdle, one more piece of paper and one more hoop to jump through before we jump with both feet in and walk away into dense wood. Machete’s in hand, of course! //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.