I’ve just updated our Etsy shop with yarn and roving from the flock. We have 100% Shetland and Shetland/Llama blends available. Get it here.
I’ve just updated our Etsy shop with yarn and roving from the flock. We have 100% Shetland and Shetland/Llama blends available. Get it here.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
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!
Mom visited this week and helped get the gardens weeded, fertilized with llama pellets and planted with fall veggies.
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.
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.
Nothing new in the pineapple and yucca garden, but now that the weeds are gone you can see how many pineapple plants we have!
The final garden still has some weeds hiding under the cardboard. Hopefully we will get this one finished over Thanksgiving!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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!
If you find Perilla on your property what do you do next?
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 email@example.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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Materials- for one 10’x 10′ shade cover
When we moved into our new place in July there were 4 large raised garden beds completely overgrown with weeds.
Clearing out the weeds is taking a while for two reasons. Mostly it is just too hot and humid to work outside for long. Plus as soon as I get a spot cleared and turn to work on the next area, the previous one starts sprouting new weeds! It is a process, but I’m making progress!
I was pleasantly surprised to find that underneath the weeds, the soil was actually pretty decent. At some point in the past someone must have supplemented it because its not the sandy stuff we have in the yard.But the soil level was pretty low in the shallow raised beds so I bought a trailer load of good, organic garden mix to mix in.
in the meantime, I started some seeds on the porch where I could keep them out of the direct sun and keep them watered. I planted 4 types of tomatoes and jalapenos. They did great and I had to move some to larger pots because they grew faster than my garden prep progressed.
Finally I had one of the beds ready and I eagerly filled it with my little tomato plants.
2 days later they were all dead! This Florida sun is harsh! Thankfully I had saved out some of the best plants, just in case. I quickly ordered some shade cloth and picked up a bunch of PVC piping from the hardware store to make a shade cover.
I’ve just planted half of the remaining plants so cross your fingers that they won’t die this time. I did save some of them in case my shade cover doesn’t work. It only blocks about 40% of the sun so if they still get fried I will try putting a second layer on top. Now that the support is built it should be easy to toss something else over top if needed. Hopefully I’ll be able to use it in the winter with a different cover to keep warmth in on the few nights when it gets cold enough to frost. For a post on how I made the shade cover, click here.
I’ve also started some cucumbers peas and herbs and picked up a couple of bell peppers from the store (mine didn’t germinate this year). The peppers will go into the same bed as the tomatoes once the shade has proven successful. The other seedlings need to grow a bit more before transplanting and then they will go into the second bed once its ready!
We just got back the results from the micron testing we had done on this year’s fleeces. Like last year, we sent samples to Texas A&M for testing. I posted some information about what micron testing is all about in last year’s post in case you aren’t familiar with it.
*note: three of the sheep (Jazz, Juliet, Juno) included in the report are Corriedales from my mom’s flock
It is interesting to note that the ewe I bought last summer (Lily) has the finest fleece of the group — this is what I was expecting and hoping when I purchased her. Eventually the goal is that her genetics will get mixed into the flock, through strategic breeding, to increase the quality of all the fleeces.
The ram that we used on the ewes last breeding, Toffee, also has a very fine fleece as evidence by both our first hand experience with him and the test results. Our hope is that by using rams with fleeces like this we will be able to increase the fineness of the fleeces in future generations but hopefully preserve some of the wool length and density that our ewes have.
It had been days since the last lambing and Kaylee wasn’t showing any signs of labor so I stopped watching her like a hawk and decided I’d have to be patient and she would have her lamb(s) when she was good and ready. When I walked out to the back of the pasture to check the flock today I was mostly checking on the lambs and not expecting to find any changes with Kaylee.
I was in for a surprise! Kaylee was already well into labor when I spotted her, with the lambs nose and front hooves sticking out. I’m not sure how long she had been in active labor at this point, but she continued for at least thirty minutes while I was watching. It is amazing and somewhat terrifying how long they can walk around with a lamb’s face sticking out of their rear ends. Every time I catch a ewe at this stage and it is a prolonged labor I am certain that the lamb isn’t going to make it. They don’t take their first breath until after they are fully born- until then they get their oxygen through the umbilical cord- and even though I *know* this, when I see the still little face poking out, unbreathing, I always think the lamb must be dead. Thankfully, my fears have always been misplaced.
This lamb took a particularly long time being born because he was GIANT. We have had several really large lambs this year which is surprising because the stud ram we used isn’t particularly large. I haven’t actually had a chance to weigh him yet, but I’m assuming he is at least 9lb which is really large for a Shetland lamb, even a single.
This little guy, now named Nigel, isn’t just big- he is also strong and feisty! His feet had barely touched ground before he was up and nursing- much faster than the average lamb in my opinion. The combination of his healthy vigor at birth and the fleeces of both his mom and dad make this fella a great option for breeding when he is older. Unfortunately, he is too closely related to most of the ewes in my flock (mom, Kaylee, is sister, daughter or aunt to most of the other breeding ewes) to keep him as a stud for my flock. Instead, I’m going to offer him up for sale. If he doesn’t sell I would be happy to keep him as a wether- i think his fleece will be nice enough to justify keeping him as a “fiber boy”- but it would be a shape not to let him share is genes with another flock!