Our little broody hen, Merica, proved to us that embracing her broodienss was a wise decision. Our broody hen was unflappable in her desire to become a mother to some chicks. Trying to break her broodiness quickly became a tiresome task that was totally unnecessary. There is nothing like watching a broody hen and chicks take off across the farm in search of fresh scratching ground.
It is hard to name one scene that exemplifies the simple joys animal husbandry has to offer, but a broody mother hen and chicks has to be up there. A brooding hen has certainly proved to be a welcome addition to Must Bee Kiddin' Farm and now something we fully embrace. Our broody, Merica, proved to be a great mother with fantastic instincts.
This is part two of Operation Mother Merica. Here we follow the broody hen and her chicks as they get a bit bigger. Merica shows us how keen her watchful eyes and ears are when it comes to her chicks. She's proven to be a great broody hen that can take a clutch of eggs all the way to chicks and get them off to a great start on Must Bee Kiddin' Farm.
Operation Mother Merica: Part 2
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
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.
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.
If there’s anything universal when folks start thinking about farming, it’s, “what are we going to name our farm?” You know, the simple question is easy to bandy about and arriving at an appropriate name is even easier when the farm is still in the visionary phase. The second the ink dries on the deed, throw all those names aside, because not a one of them is going to make sense or ring with that same sweet melody it initially had when you are standing at the edge of your property and see what you have actually done to yourself. Yes there’s always the path of least resistance that has a long standing tradition, the old family name followed by ranch, farm, homestead, compound, etc, but let’s face it, that ain’t us. Come on people, easy just isn't the way we roll.
Embodying the spirit of our farming philosophy as well as conveying our central business purpose were two essentials when it came to naming our property. The common driving factor at the core of our farming passion is fun. If we are not enjoying what we are doing, something is wrong. Now as far as the business side of things we both agree with the KISS philosophy all the way...keep it simple stupid.
So, one gloomy Saturday we were heading to the property and were passing the farm of the county’s hay baron when Mark muttered in jest, at first, a simple three word name that actually sounded plausible. We played around with it, using it in sentences: “Let’s get a dozen eggs from XXX XX XXXX Farm”. “Did you see that XXX XX XXXX Farm is selling honey and goat meat?” “Let’s drop by XXX XX XXXX Farm and see what’s in season.” Damn, it was actually working. Snatching up a scratch piece of paper and scrounging a pen from the depths of the glove box, Mark scribbled the name so all would not be lost before the pain of manual labor erased our memory banks.
Rounding the final turn to the property, the overcast sky cracked. Collecting our tools from the trunk and mustering strength from the warm sunlight we trudged into the depths of the property, and I muttered to Mark, “we’ll see if it sticks.”
Over the next few months, our property grew into a farm with the addition of our livestock - goats and honeybees. And believe it or not, it stuck. Yeah, sometimes under our breath we would mutter the name with a sarcastic note, but hey, it still worked.
So, what’s in a name? Like we said before, everything. And that’s why we have decided to name our little farm and future farmstead, Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm.
PS: Thank you to all of you who helped in the naming of our farm. We’ve heard that line out of the mouths of more than a few of you, and we’re sure even more have muttered it to yourselves after a casual conversation with us or reading a blog post.
In just 10 days we will have owned our property for 6 months. My how time flies! Looking back we have achieved so much in this time. The monthly wrap-ups are clickable under categories in the side bar just in case I've forgotten to list something here.
We sat down on January 1, 2015 and have outlined our goals for the coming year - it's a big list, but we are so excited about it! Stay tuned!!
Finally, in closing out 2014 and ringing in 2015, we would like to thank everyone who has visited the blog. We would also like to thank everyone who has supported and encouraged us.
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.
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
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.