Joining the military was the simplest move. You just showed up with the items they told you to bring. They were happy enough to provide all your clothes. In fact, moving was so simple in the military that they sent movers to pack out your stuff and shipped it to your next duty station.
My husband and I got married when we were in the military and the military packers did our last move here to Florida when we got out. Of course, we were responsible for moving the farm animals and equipment. We had to move from Virginia all the way down to northern Florida. We had two horses, one donkey, and three pregnant Dexter cows. We also had a tractor (a wedding gift from my dad), corral panels, tack, grooming items, vet items, and feed. My new husband owned a smaller truck and a car, while I had a big truck and a three horse trailer. We also had a two dogs and cat. The first trip was easy. We hauled the two horses and the donkey in the trailer and my husband hauled the tractor with his truck. A friend in Virginia took care of the dogs and cat for us. We spent the first night on an air mattress in the new house and then drove the truck and trailer back to Virginia the next day, leaving the horses and donkey in the care of a Florida friend. The next day, I drove the truck and trailer to pick up the cows and my husband had his car with the cat. The two dogs joined me in the truck and my husband kept the heated seat on for the kitty. She purred all the way down the road. The moving van showed up a day or two later and we were done.
We have spent the last twelve years improving this farm. When we first bought it, we had a metal equipment barn and barbed wire fencing. The cows went out on the pasture, but the horses stayed in the corral panels until we changed the fencing in the main pasture to 'no climb' horse safe fencing. Then, we added a horse barn that winter. We built corrals and various pens as the years went on. We changed more and more fencing to horse safe options and added a bullpen as well as an adjacent hot wire pasture. The garden areas improved and grew. We even tried a small orchard with bees. Right now, our bees are gone. The county sprayed aggressively after Hurricane Irma and killed our bees.
In September 2016, we purchased land for a new farm in a slightly larger town nearby. The soil is much better and we will be closer to work and school. We had to clear several acres of harvest pines first. We left behind the hardwood trees. The area was pasture before the pines were planted, so we were actually turning it back into pasture. Once the clearing was finished, the old oaks and maples had more room. Over the past year, the hardwoods have spread out to enjoy more sun.
February 2017: The next step was to fence the property. We had already put a temporary barbed wire fence around a section of the creek that ran along one side of the property because people on four wheelers had made a trail that ran through it. Even when it was cleared, they still came back with their beer cans and bottles. The creek was spread out into a large mud puddle. The minnows and frogs died and the little creek stopped flowing properly. My husband and I spent a weekend with shovels restoring the creek to it's bed and placing a single strand of barbed wire around the section to protect it from trespassers on four wheelers. The wetlands laws in Florida are very strict. Only hand tools can be used in sensitive areas. I also removed bamboo and other non-native plants from the creek area. It will be a continuous project to maintain it because bamboo is very popular in yards, but extremely invasive. Our new fence kept out the trespassers and allowed us to prepare the property for our animals. We hoped that the creek would recover over the summer. The next step was a proper perimeter fence. The new fence is horse safe with a board on top to discourage livestock from bending it down.
We have one, very odd looking tree. It's a Chinese tallow (Popcorn Tree, Florida Aspen) that grew in the middle of the pines. Normally, these trees are short and gnarled, but this one stretched, just as much as it could. It is the tall, crooked tree just to the left of center. We asked our extension agent about it. He suggested removing it because it's an invasive tree that sends out many shoots. The other alternative is to manage the ground around it by keeping the pasture mowed. We will see how hard it is to manage and act accordingly. It sure is a tough tree. The sap is an eye irritant so we'll need to be careful if we cut it down.
March 2017: After clearing, the earth was raw. It was vulnerable to every weed seed around. We couldn't plant pasture grass until April or May. Since, just like our current farm, we don't use herbicides or pesticides, I had to manage the weeds by hand through early spring. We had a friend till it again, just before planting. There was almost seven acres to plant with bahia seeds. Since our budget is limited, I did it all by hand. I also had a little help from our son's pony, Maggie. I saddled her and hung grocery bags from either side of her saddle horn. Then, I led her through the pasture, flinging seeds as we walked. She was perplexed, however, as to why I kept throwing all that nice smelling 'grain' on the ground instead of letting her have some. Since we only live 30 minutes from the new farm, the trailer ride for Maggie was easy.
It was fun to get a little help from the pony, but I did most of it using plain cotton bags and my own power, which was easier than hauling the pony every day. I got pretty good at flinging the seed evenly from each hand.
By May, the planting was finished and we prayed for rain. It came in nicely and the seeds grew well. We did our first mowing in July. A picture after mowing.
By summer, our little creek recovered very nicely. The minnows were plentiful and choruses of frogs could be heard day and night. We left the area around the creek, as well as another section of natural woods, to stay wild. The livestock is fenced out of the creek area to protect it. It is a very peaceful place.
Meanwhile, we worked with the bank on getting a construction loan to build a house. We had a design and a builder already. Then, on September 10th/11th, 2017, Hurricane Irma hit us hard here in Florida. Our new farm was within half of a mile from a major creek system. The water flooded many of our new neighbors, but we were very fortunate. Only one small corner of our land was wet and it was many feet below the house site. We visited a day after the storm surge. A neighbor's boat was tied to our back fence on the low side of our property. They needed their boat to evacuate from their flooded house! Many of these neighbors were not even in flood zones. Irma was a wicked 100 year storm. Our son's drawing says it all.
In October 2017, we started building our new farmhouse. We should be able to move in later this spring. Our old farm will go up for sale in early spring. In the meantime, we moved three cattle to the new property to enjoy some of that grass (and add a little fertilizer). The first three are one cow, who should not calve until late summer, a steer, and a young bull. Seeing them eat the grass is a reward for a lot of hard work over the past year.
So, how do you move a farm? It takes a lot of planning. We are planning each pen and shelter carefully so the animals will adjust well. The cattle at the new farm are doing well, but it is hard on them to be separated from the rest of the herd. The remaining four Dexters cattle are heavy with calves and will have to stay on the old farm, where we can help them with calving, if needed. All of the rest of the animals will move in late spring, when we move into the new house. We have several things to build between now and then. First, we are hiring someone to build a cow barn and a horse barn (which may just be a roofs because of expense). The sheep barn we can build ourselves. The chicken coop will be tricky because we know raccoons live in the creek. We are researching raccoon proofing the new coop and yard. Electric seems to be the way to go. We will also be building a small rabbit shed for our two pet rabbits.
One last little bit of good news. Our new neighbors are recovering from the hurricane. Some are still staying elsewhere, while others are back in their homes. Many are doing their own repairs. One family lives in a tiny house while waiting for their new one to be built. We all met for coffee a few weeks ago and we heard some harrowing tales. These are good, strong, people and we hope they continue to rebuild and recover.