I don’t think we have ever really written about one specific goat on our blog before. The story I am going to tell is about a 3 day old goat (who is now 9 days old) that has had more adventures than the majority of our herd put together – unless you count the original 6 and their free range escapades when they arrived at Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
Recently we purchased the adjoining 10 acres. It is now fenced and there are a set of gates that connect the two properties. The new property is dense and difficult to navigate – perfect for goats – not so perfect for humans! The plan we are executing is to hold the goats overnight on the original property (behind electric net fences, as always) and then let them onto the new property during the day so they can have the all you can eat option. This will free up a bunch of time for us to do other projects and focus on some very important goals we want to achieve.
While it’s only been a few days, this new set up has been working very well.
Then a goat had a baby.
This little dude, who we have starting calling Dunk, was born on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 31st. His first couple of days went well. Baby goats sleep a lot and they are pretty unsteady on their legs until about 5 or 6 days. It’s hard for them to keep up with the herd, especially so when there is 10 acres at their disposal to free range and wander about. Goat Maa’s also tend to stash their kids in “secure” places to keep them from becoming a victim of predation.
We have our goats conditioned to meal times. They get a morning ration and an evening ration. On Thursday, they were called for their evening ration and when Mark did the head count the newest member of the herd was missing. This isn’t totally unusual, but normally their Maa’s call for them and they come back. Well, that didn’t happen. Mark fed the goats and the goat Maa kind of called for her kid, but he never came back and he didn’t answer.
In farming, you have to weigh your options. Sometimes the decisions are easy to make, and other times the decisions are harder. Mark looked for Dunk until well past sunset and the dark crept in. He’s small, he’s brown, he’s quiet – there really was no hope of finding him on 10 dense acres. Mark made the decision to let it play out overnight and see what the morning brought.
The natural instinct of a goat when darkness settles in is to hunker down, shut up and sleep. There are coyotes and bobcat in the area around our farm, and we’ve seen both very close by the fences. While we would be shattered over losing the little guy, the greater risk and possible loss of the majority of our herd would be far worse and more devastating financially, so he locked the gates, closed up the net fence, put the electric on and hoped for the best.
Mark arrived at the farm just as dawn was breaking. The little guy hadn’t shown up yet and his Maa seemed to be more interested in her breakfast and foraging. She’d call out, but there wasn’t any answer. Mark spent over an hour looking for the littlest goat, and just when he started to think that things were looking grim he sent me a text that he found him. ALIVE! What the…
He wasn’t injured and he was a little cold, but nothing a warm breakfast of milk couldn’t remedy. Life seemed great in the goat herd for the remainder of the day.
Then it was time to put them away for the night.
Guess who didn’t make an appearance? Again.
Mark looked until dark again, and called it another night. This was starting to get tiresome.
It was another early morning on the farm Saturday. Two sets of eyes spanning out and looking for the tiniest goat in the herd. We must have walked in circles for almost an hour when Mark came up with the idea to look for him grid-style. Tucked away, in the crotch of a fallen tree, under a palm frond Mark found our little Dunk. Sound asleep.
I was determined to make sure that kid spent the night with his herd that night, so we took over Nanny Duty for the day. He was a cuddly little dude and didn’t seem to mind the attention. When we left the farm on Saturday night, he was right where he was supposed to be. His Maa got the hint and kept close to him on Sunday, so we were able to get some real farm work done and his streak of sleeping in safety increased to two nights.
It’s too soon to tell what the future holds for little Dunk. He’s pretty special because he was the first goat born on the new property and he survived three (three? keep reading to the end) nights all alone on 10 acres without his herd. He’s also a male and could become a great herd sire to another farm or provide a family a freezer full of dinners (we are a farm here, not a petting zoo, ya'll) or just maybe he could be wethered and remain on Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm for years to come. We’ll just have to see how this plays out.
After writing this, early Monday evening I was informed that young Dunk, less than 10 days old, made the decision that he would spend a third night alone on the 10 acres. The next morning though, when the pans were banged and the goatie call to breakfast rang out, he came a hollerin’ for milk and his Maa!
Post Post Script:
Dunk spent Tuesday night with the herd and I’ve just heard he’s going to do the same tonight. Maybe he’s just slow to catch onto the herd concept?
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.