Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Raising 14 Head Of Cattle On Only 14 Acres

Substantia Micro Ranch
Conservation on small acres produces big results

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Aug. 23, 2017--You won’t see this cowboy rope calves, brand steers or ride into the sunset on a cattle drive. But Barry Viljoen has big plans for his tiny ranch in Clermont, Fla., where he manages 14 head of cattle on just 14 acres. A half hour west of Orlando, Mr. Viljoen is making a living on his small-scale suburban operation by breeding and raising high-value Wagyu cattle mixed with Brangus. And he is doing it sustainably, moving two groups of cattle sometimes as many as two or three times a day.

Every day, a single line of cows follow Mr. Viljoen down a path cutting his property in half, leading to one of the 14 one-acre sections of pasture. Portable electric fencing subdivides each into one-fifth acre paddocks. He varies the size of the paddock and the length of time the cows graze depending on the season and the herd weight. His herd weight is approximately 7,000-8,000 pounds, with his medium-framed cows weighing approximately 1000 pounds each. Even during winter when the cattle are eating hay, they still get to graze a few hours a day on stockpiled pasture.

“It’s all about intensively managing the grazing,” Mr. Viljoen said. During winter he supplements their diet with a grain mix to help them produce more milk. “Wagyu cattle are notorious for low milk production.”

After they graze, Mr. Viljoen leads them back to their pen. Each has its own personality.  “Sparky, the full-blood Wagyu bull is quite a character. Some people have a bull dog, and Sparky is mine,” he said.  Sunshine, a full-blood Wagyu cow, is the friendliest of them all, quick to approach strangers and give them a lick on the hand. Buffy is the ugly one and 13 is somewhat skittish, but she produces fast-growing cows with long bodies. Hoppy, one of four bull calves, is a handful. “He is a hooligan, but also the smartest, always in trouble, with the others following,” Mr. Viljoen said. He doesn’t name the ones he sells. 

“A handclap means come my way – and I never clap my hands unless it has to do with eating. Cattle have no desire to follow you unless they know there is food at the other end,” he said. He never raises his voice. One stern word, “back,” is sufficient. When they are restless, he holds their ears to calm them down, a trick he learned from an old timer in Missouri.  “My cows are so well behaved, the gates to my pastures are just two electric wires across the entrance,” he said.

Mr. Viljoen’s approach to raising cattle completely changed after reading Mary Temple Grandin in 2013. An animal science professor at Colorado State University, she is an advocate for the humane treatment of livestock and an expert on livestock grazing behavior. As a famous autism spokesperson, her first-hand experience has influenced her work developing livestock handling practices.  When cattle are stressed, it increases cortisol in their bodies, which toughens the meat, Mr. Viljoen explained.  But he is also concerned about safety, and calm animals aren’t as dangerous. “I have developed a reputation for selling docile bulls, and that is why I am able to sell them before they are born and at the time of weaning,” he said.

The herd consists of full-blood Wagyu, Wagyu/Brangus and two Brangus cows. He is slowly rotating out the cows until he has a herd of full-blood Wagyu. He sells full-blood Wagyu bulls and steers for beef.  “Grass fed beef is the current rage, and I don’t have the acreage to finish my steers on grass, so I send them to the ‘fattening farm’ at seven months where they are grown until 18 months and delivered directly to the butcher,” he said.

“Consider that the average small commercial operation requires two to three acres per cow/calf compared to my one acre per cow/calf:  where I use 14 acres of pasture for my one bull and 13 cows, a conventional cattle operation requires at least 26 acres of pasture,” Mr. Viljoen said. He grosses approximately $3,000 per steer sold as quarters of beef after paying to have them fattened. “Assume I sell 13 steers in a year at about $3,000 each, my gross income is $39,000. The commercial operation that sells 13 seven-month old steers at a sale barn for about $1,200 each grosses $15,600 only,” he said. The commercial operation uses 54 acres for one bull and 32 cow/calf pairs to produce $39,000. And because Mr. Viljoen’s operation is small, his expenses are less.  

“My beef is flavorful and extremely tender with abundant intermuscular fat in the meat. I use no antibiotics or growth hormones on my cattle,” he said.

Mr. Viljoen cleared the former tree farm 2012. “The property had enormous soil erosion, and I was able to reclaim the land,” he said. His first stop was to USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service in Tavares, Fla. District conservationist Suzy Daubert and range conservationist Pete Deal made a site visit. “We didn’t think it could ever work, there was no pasture. But he did. He made it a success,” Ms. Daubert said. They helped him identify natural resource concerns, develop a conservation plan and navigate the application process for financial assistance to apply conservation practices. The first year he built interior fence, splitting the property in two for grazing management, which he further divided into one-acre pastures. He installed water troughs. The second year he built a compost facility that he plans to use to fertilize the high tunnel he will build next year to raise produce to sell. He is growing plots of pollinators for his vegetables.

Next, he will plant fruit and nut trees to create Silvopasture. Between it all, he expects to earn a steady revenue from Substantia Micro Ranch. The former mechanical engineer said he could have retired and watched TV in his air-conditioned condo, but that would have started him down the slippery slope of ill health. “Since I started farming I have lost 25 pounds, eat like a horse and sleep so well dieting and gyms are no longer part of my vocabulary,” he said.

Note: Florida ranked 10th in beef cows and 18th in total cattle nationally. All cattle and calves on Florida farms and ranches as of January, 2016, totaled 1.69 million head, up 10,000 from 2015. The three top-ranking cattle-producing counties are Okeechobee, Highlands and Osceola. Beef cows in Florida were 915,000 head, up 9,000 head from 2015. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Hurricane Andrew - 25 Years Ago This Week

National Weather Service's 25th anniversary video of Hurricane Andrew that hit South Florida August 24, 1992.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Theatre Open Auditions Sept. 9

The LaBelle Firehouse Community Theatre is holding open auditions for its upcoming 25th season. Have you ever thought about performing on stage or helping behind the scenes? The time is NOW!
The theatre needs actors and actresses from 6 years old to 106 years "young" and additionally, the theatre needs volunteers to help with lighting, sound, props, costumes and back-stage.

Open auditions for the Firehouse Theatre’s 25th Season will be held Saturday, September 9th from 10am to noon at the Firehouse Theatre (241 North Bridge Street).

Obituaries - Ed Langdale, Joyce Snell

Oscar "Eddie" Edward Langdale, age 81, of Belle Glade, passed away August 20, 2017 in West Palm Beach. He was born Nov. 5, 1935 in Moore Haven, FL, to Oscar I. Langdale and Levey Lucille (Morris) Langdale. He was a self-employed contractor for years. Eddie started Langdale Dragline service in 1954 at the age of 19 in Delray Beach Fl. But soon after he moved back to the Glades at the height of developing of farmland. He developed digging canals, built roads on the farms in Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Belle Glade, Fl.

He is preceded in death by his parents, brothers: James I., Ray Donald and Roy Langdale and a brother in law he considered a brother: Roy C. Lee.

Eddie is survived by his wife of 64 years Mary R. (Lee) Langdale, daughter: Susan Langdale (Jimmy) Forrester, son: Michael E. (Mercedes) Langdale, granddaughter: Patricia Forrester (Rodney) Yount, grandson: James V. (Julie) Forrester III, great-grandson: Jonathon Bailey Hedrick, five great-granddaughters: Hannah Hedrick, Katelyn, Jessica Lee Forrester and Madison Forrester and Hailey Yount and a brother in law he considered a brother: Billy Jack Lee.

The funeral service will be held Thursday, August 24, 2017, 11:00 a.m. at Akin-Davis Funeral Home in Clewiston with Mr. Steve Weeks officiating. Interment will follow at Ortona Cemetery

Joyce Marie Snell, age 88, of LaBelle, passed away August 19, 2017 in Oakbrook of LaBelle.

She was born Sep. 21, 1928 in Moore Haven, FL, to Alice Marie (Tilden). She married James Henry Snell, he preceded her in death on May 19, 1973. Joyce worked for over 30 years as a manager for Handy Food Stores. She attended Palmdale Baptist Church for many years. She was a loving mother, grandmother, great grandmother who will be greatly missed by her entire family.

Joyce is survived by her children; Linda Crawford and Sandra Hayes both of LaBelle, Jimmy Snell of Ocala and David Snell of Palmdale, she is also survived by nine grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Celebration of Joyce's life will be held at 11 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017 in Ortona Cemetery Pavilion. Burial will follow after the celebration also in Ortona Cemetery.

Celebration arrangements by Akin-Davis Funeral Home - LaBelle.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hiking The Florida Keys - A Walk Across Florida

Excerpts From A Walk Across Florida by Bob Kranich
I checked my map and looked south down the highway towards the Keys. I could expect a raised causeway, about 10 miles of Everglades swamp, and 10 miles of mangroves. It looked like the mangroves would be high on each side, so I couldn’t expect much breeze. The raised causeway is what Flagler’s two dredges built. The railroad was built on it where the highway is now. In April of 1905 two of Flagler’s huge traveling dredges set out from what now is the Florida City area, south heading for Cross Key to Jewfish Creek. The dredges worked side by side with the marked right-of-way in the middle. They piled up the fill between them making a canal on each side and the raised causeway in the center.

As the dredges moved along, rock was brought in and spread on top of the causeway and then tracks laid…..

Why build a railroad to Key West? One may ask.

There were a few reasons. We would be able to trade with Cuba. The Spanish American War with Spain was over, thus the Panama Canal could be completed. Key West, which was then the largest city in Florida with approximately 20,000 inhabitants, had a very nice economy and a natural deep-water harbor. That harbor and its location in the Caribbean would make it an obvious choice for trade from the Panama Canal and the Caribbean nations.

I started off with Australian pines lining the road on both sides. It was a narrow two-lane road so I was on the left side facing traffic. The Sunday traffic was fierce and heavy, but most of it was coming from behind me going to the beaches. Some kids went by in an open flatbed truck playing drums and mariachis. I got hot and stopped to cool off in the canal. I saw a big bass dart away and then some small minnows nibbled on my feet. Since I had left the Australian pines behind me there was no shade, so I just sat there and evaporated off.

All day, as I hiked along, I had to wave back at people. I guessed they didn’t see many hikers. When there was a break in the mangroves, I could feel an occasional breeze as well as a salt smell in the air, not entirely ocean, still some Everglades memories. I tried to get a photo of the ospreys which had some nests on the poles along the highway, but they seemed to scare easily and stayed away. This was sure a long straight stretch. The side of the road was marl and rough coral rocks, really putting my boot soles to the test. I almost felt like I would flake out! Then up ahead I saw a rise in the road. I figured that it must be a Florida flood control canal. It was at least a mile or so away but I poured on the speed and moved out with a last thrust of energy.

It was nice under the bridge, real cool with the breeze moving up the canal. I lay down like I was about to die. After a nice rest I ate my meager rations and drank some old canal water. I was back out on the highway, and in a couple of miles I came to a marina. I stopped for snacks and some fresh water. I had a long talk with some people who had seen me in the morning, on their way out to the beaches. I guessed that is why so many people waved at me the next five miles. They had seen me in the morning when they were driving out to have some fun and relaxation. Here it was late in the afternoon, and this guy is still hiking in the sun!

The traffic coming back from the Keys towards me was solid. Sometimes it stopped, bumper to bumper. Everyone was waving and hollering at me, actually encouraging me. It was like I was a one-man parade and they were all bystanders waving, hollering and whooping. What a time! The enthusiasm just carried me along.

About the Author: After getting out of the Army Bob Kranich backpacked from the Georgia border to Key West in a 40 day adventure walk across Florida. His recently published book A Walk Across Florida is available from his website or