Lawn Moo-wers

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After lots of rain and sun this summer, the grass in our pastures is growing tall and thick. Which isn’t something I’ll ever complain about (it sure beats the alternative) but it is a bit of a problem. Our herd of 14 goats is barely making a dent on the 5 acre portion that they are on, and the other two sections are just getting taller by the day. If we don’t do something the grass will die back in the winter and form a matted mess that is difficult for the new growth to break through next spring. Really tall grass also attracts and supports a lot of bugs, including those that bite and suck on both livestock and people. Plus it looks really bad and over grown. We considered having someone come out and harvest it for hay but its not really the proper type of grass for hay (its mostly bahia which is better for grazing than for haying, or so I’ve been told). We considered just hiring someone to mow it all down but a) that seems very wasteful b) I worry that the dead grass left in the fields will kill the grass that it covers, leaving us with bare spots and c) it isn’t a very sustainable solution since it should be done twice a year and would cost several hundred dollars each time.

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We opted for a much more fun solution- – we are borrowing cows! While looking for advice on a online farming forum we got in touch with someone in the area who has a small herd of mini Hereford cows and not enough pasture for them. Instead of pouring expensive feed into them every day, he’d much rather have them eating grass. And I’d love to have them eating OUR grass. Cows are, from what I’ve heard, the best animal for maintaining pastures because they eat a lot of grass (unlike the goats) and are gentle grazers and don’t pull the grass up by its roots (like horses).

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We now have 4 mini herefords (3 cows and a bull) and a young belted galloway steer in the front pasture. I have no idea how long it will take them to get the grass under control but once its a length we like we will swap them with the goats in the back pasture. We may even fix the broken fencing in the smaller front pasture and let them get it under control for us too. And the best part is, once we run out of pasture we will just send them home! Plus, I think they are pretty cute…

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Biting Bugs

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Spent all afternoon yesterday consulting with a vet and still don’t have a firm diagnosis, but it seems that some type of biting insect has been attacking the goats. Not sure what type, but its not something that lives on the skin or lays eggs/larva in the skin (so not mites, lice or bot fly). Its bad enough on a couple of the girls that they are getting 2-weeks of injectable antibiotics.

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The good news is that the vet confirmed that even with the hot, damp weather we’ve been experiencing none of the Kikos are showing signs of heavy worm loads– bright pink eyelids and dark red blood mean that they aren’t anemic one bit. No sign of hoof rot, another warm/wet weather problem, either. 2017-06-21 17.55.13

Nelly, our milk goat, is still struggling with worms but that isn’t a surprise- I think she has had them since I got her. We dewormed her again (Cydectin) and took a fecal and will re-test in 2 weeks. She also got a mineral shot and new diet regime and will be getting the daily antibiotics. Hopefully the combination of these things will help her put on weight and get healthy. I’d like to breed her with everyone else later this summer but she needs to get healthy first. I’m posting a couple of photos of skinny Nelly below so I can compare them to how she looks in a few weeks. Hopefully there will a noticeable difference! 2017-06-20 13.05.58

New Goats

After the difficulties we had last summer with our pasture we have been slow to add new livestock to the farm. After clearing out all the toxic perilla mint we could find last fall, we got one new goat, named her Hope and hoped for the best. Not only did she survive but she surprised us with a healthy kid early this spring! We suspect she probably get in with a buck while she was at the livestock auction where we bought her. Feeling hopeful, we decided to bite the bullet and buy more goats.

On April 6th we brought in 6 Kiko does and 2 doelings. These ladies will, hopefully, be the matriarchs of  a herd of meat goats. The plan is to use them for breeding and sell the offspring. I’ll be adding a buck to the herd later this summer. All of the does kidded in February or March so I want to give them at least one or two more months off before breeding them again. Right now I’m thinking of using a Boer buck so that the kids have more of the traditional boer “look” that most buyers around here are accustomed to. I’m using Kikos as the does, though, because they have much better maternal instincts and abilities than boers and are generally much hardier goats an easier keepers. Since I need lots of does and only one buck, I’d rather have lots of easy keeping Kikos and only one delicate Boer.

Of course, I can’t have a herd of goats without having at least one dairy goat. I miss all the fresh cheese and icecream! So on April 28 I added Nelly, a Saanen dairy goat, and her two kids (one male, one female). The kids are half boer so they will probably go to market, but I could potentially keep the doeling as a second dairy goat. Saanens are big framed goats and can easily handle being bred to boers so in addition to hopefully being a good source of milk, Nelly can also serve as a breeding doe for market kids. She was given a dewormer a month ago that can get into the milk so I’m not supposed to milk her for a few more days (its fine for her kids to drink but humans aren’t supposed to drink it), but fingers crossed that she is as good a milker as her previous owner promises!

Fall Garden

Mom visited this week and helped get the gardens weeded, fertilized with llama pellets and planted with fall veggies.

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Broccoli and cabbage plants with onions in between the rows (not yet sprouted). Summer’s basil struggling in one corner and Cuban oregano thriving in the other.

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Assorted lettuce in the back with garlic beginning to come up between the rows. Patches of thyme and oregano. Newly planted in the front: beets, carrots and onions.

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Nothing new in the pineapple and yucca garden, but now that the weeds are gone you can see how many pineapple plants we have!

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The final garden still has some weeds hiding under the cardboard. Hopefully we will get this one finished over Thanksgiving!

Perilla Frutescens ~ Perilla Mint ~ Shiso

If you’ve been following my blog you know that I recently had a devastating loss of nearly my entire flock of sheep and goat, all due to a toxic plant called Perilla Frutescens. You can read about my story here, but this post is going to be an informational PSA. There will be some graphic images at the end. If you have any experience with Perilla please comment on this post or email me at squarepegfarmfl@gmail.com

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Perilla Mint- also called Shiso, Beefsteak Plant and by other regional names- is a non native invasive that is grown as a culinary herb or by permaculture gardeners. As a member of the mint family it has the characteristic square stem, extensive underground root system and minty smell. The smell is more earthy and less sharp than a peppermint or spearmint, but still distinctly minty. The leaves are more broad than most mints and it can be confused for a member of the basil family (if you aren’t sure, smell it– it smells like mint, not basil!) Perilla comes in green or purple. The variety that is on my property is green, but you can see pictures the purple variety here.

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Most information I’ve found about Perilla says that livestock will not eat it unless they are desperate.. Do not let this make you complacent about the dangers of this plant!!

If your animals have not been exposed to perilla before and are introduced to it either due to a move to a new pasture or to the plant spreading to your property then they may not know to avoid it. In fact, they may actually seek out its minty flavor. My flock actively hunted for it, ignoring the plentiful grass and other forage in favor of perilla.

If you have always had perilla in your pasture you may think that you are safe because your animals have ignored it in the past. Unfortunately that is not true. If we have a particularly hot or dry summer your regular pasture forage may get crispy and unappetizing. Perilla doesn’t require much water so it will remain lush and green, inviting your animals to give it try. Because Perilla kills so quickly and there is no treatment, you may not have any warning or get a second chance. 

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Identification

  • minty smell
  • square, bumpy stem
  • small purple flowers (and later seeds) on a stalk
  • leaves: broad, ovate, with serrated edges

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Toxicity

  • deadly to all ruminants (cattle, goats, sheep) and horses
  • all parts of the plant are toxic, both living and dried
  • death can occur within 24 hours of exposure so you may never notice symptoms– I didn’t. if you do notice symptoms you may see heavy panting or difficulty breathing
  • death is due to respiratory distress. lungs may swell and fill with fluid (pulminary edema)
  • necropsy findings include hemorrhaging (bleeding) throughout the respiratory system (mouth/throat/lungs) and heart. Photos below are of one of my 3 month old lambs  during a field necropsy performed by veterinarians from the University of Florida
  • necropsy may also reveal undigested pieces of the plant in the rumen/stomach contents and/or a minty smell

Where to Find It

I know for sure that perilla can be found in pastures throughout the southeast US from Tennessee to Florida. If you have seen it growing wild in other areas please let me know!

When looking around your property pay special attention to fence lines and shady areas. You can practically map the spread of perilla in one of my pastures by looking at the shade cast by the trees running down the fenceline.

Also keep an eye on any newly disturbed areas. A neighbor of mine just discovered several plants growing in an area where she recently lost a tree. Remember that even if you haven’t seen it in the past, any changes to the land could provide an opening for it.

Update: after posting this people have let me know that they have found perilla  growing wild in the following states: FL, AR, NC, KY, CA

Keep in mind that these are observations of individuals who are not professional botanists and Perilla can be confused with other wild mints. However if you live in one of these states and find a plant in your pasture that might be perilla, its certainly worth a closer look!

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Next Steps

If you find Perilla on your property what do you do next?

  1. If you have livestock in the affected field you may want to move them to a non-affected area while you deal with the perilla. If this isn’t possible, make sure that they have plenty of other options for food- supplementing with additional hay or grain if necessary.
  2. If you have small areas of mint, you can remove by hand making sure that you get the roots. If it has already gone to seed make sure to check the area frequently to remove any new plants. Perilla makes a lot of seeds and new seedlings grow rapidly!
  3. If you have a large areas of perilla (like we do) you may need to spray with a broadleaf pesticide. Our agricultural exenstion agent recommended 2-4D. So far we have had moderate succses spraying with 2-4D. Unfortunately it is difficult in Florida to time your spraying to avoid rain and it only works if it doesn’t get washed off. Once you kill off the current crop of perilla you will need to check back often for new growth, either from seeds or from small plants that the spraying missed. Depending on how bad your situation is it may take several sprayings to get rid of it all. Make sure to check back the following spring for any new growth and re-treat.
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Dead perilla all down the fenceline after spraying

Prevention

I’m still researching this and would appreciate any advice or links to additional resources. From what I’ve learned you can keep it from taking over by mowing before it goes to seed, however it grows so quickly that I wouldn’t risk keeping animals on a pasture that has had perilla mowed down since while this might prevent it from spreading it won’t kill what is already there. I’m also hesitant to recommend keeping it mowed short because it opens your pasture up to creeping indigo, which will only survive in short grass. In order to prevent CI from coming in where the perilla used to be, I’m planning to plant a fast growing cover crop anywhere we clear.

 

If you have any experience with Perilla please comment on this post or email me at squarepegfarmfl@gmail.com. I’d really like to find out more about how common perilla is, whether it has affected your livestock or not so please let me know if you identify it in your pastures! 

 

Additional Resources

Garden Bed Shade Covers

The Florida sun killed the first round of seedlings I planted this summer, teaching me that a shade cover for the garden is an absolute necessity in this climate. My raised garden beds are 10ft square which is pretty large (they were here when I moved in otherwise I would have made them narrower) so I decided to do flat topped covers rather than the arched ones I’ve done in the past.

I ordered shade cloth online – a 10ft x 20ft sheet will give me enough to cover two beds. You can order it in different strengths but since my plants will need SOME sun to grow I got the one that only blocks 40% of the sun.

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The frame was very easy to build out of PVC pipe. For this tutorial I’m going to pretend like I used 3/4″ PVC for the whole thing. In reality I used 1/2″ for the legs because I had some on hand. It takes 4 10ft lengths for the rails and two 10ft lengths for the legs. I cut each 10ft length in half (5ft) for the rails and in quarters (2.5ft) for the legs. Because my garden isn’t a perfect 10ft square, after I cut my 5ft lengths I took them and the connecting pieces out to the garden and measured how much additional I’d have to cut off to make it fit. The connectors eat up a bit of length and I wanted the frame to fit snugly within the wood sides of the raised bed so I marked the lengths to fit, rather than using math.

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Once everything was cut I snapped the pieces together with the connectors. I didn’t glue anything because I want to be able to take the frame apart to store it when not in use. Also, by being able to take it apart I can cut longer leg pieces in the future if I want to use it with taller plants (right now it’ll only work for short, young plants.

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Now what makes this cover really neat is how the fabric is attached to the frame. At first I just used short bungee cords to secure it at the corners and midway down each side. This held it on great but it was hard to remove the cover to actually work in the garden. The solution? Shower curtain rings!

I used shower curtain rings to attach the shade cloth along two “sides” and then used the short bungies only on the “front” and “back”. After detaching the bungies on the front its easy to slide the shade cloth all the way back to the middle of the bed (where I have a walkway of tiles) to access that half of the garden. I made my legs short enough that its easy to step or lean over them, but tall enough that if I sit on the ground outside the garden I can reach under, so I can garden in whatever position is comfortable and easily reach all parts of the garden.

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Materials- for one 10’x 10′ shade cover