A couple turns a plot of timberland into the property of their dreams, a homestead with a Western-themed Florida goat farm.
Patrick and Janis McCarthy saw much more than timber when they bought a 20-acre plot of forest land off a quiet dirt road in Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Patrick, a highly-skilled home builder and the mastermind behind many of the community’s historic renovations, had the imagination to see what the land could become.
He knew where he would clear the trees to build a house, and where he would make a pasture for his daughter’s horses. He knew he could reshape the odd, rectangular-shaped pond on the property to make it more visually appealing. His wife picked a spot for a garden and had her vegetables growing long before the house was complete. But neither could have imagined the new “kids” that were about to come into their lives, and the western-style complex Patrick would build to house them.
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The McCarthies’ 12x60-foot porch was built using timber Patrick harvested on their land using a portable sawmill.
Wild Bill, Doc and “the girls”
It started with some adorable photos of baby goats on the internet. Patrick showed them to his wife and asked if she would want to have a goat farm on their Florida property someday. Looking at the cuddly little animals, Janis gladly agreed.
Within a few years, the couple had extended their family to include a Florida goat farm that at one point grew as high as 20 Nigerian dwarf goats. Raising and caring for them became one of Janis’s main and favorite tasks at their homestead. And watching them became a favorite pastime for the couple in the evenings, when they sat on their sprawling 12x60-foot porch, which Patrick built using timber he harvested on their land. He used a friend’s portable sawmill to make the rafters he would need for the project.
With an endlessly creative eye for building, Patrick constructed a house for the goats, but it wasn’t just any house. He designed it to look like a saloon in a town in an old western movie, and “the girls” - as Janis refers to her does - loved their new home, with its large windows and covered porch. The “boys” - the two bucks in the flock, aptly named Wild Bill and Doc Holliday - got their own, separate house in a pen nextdoor.
Getting schooled on goat Farming and Care
Though the McCarthies knew little about goats when they began, they made it their mission to learn how to care for their flock in the most natural and healthy way possible. They went to “Goat School,” a course taught by a goat farmer who traveled from his Maine farm to Ocala, Florida, to teach the course. And they attended other classes at local universities.
Janis became mom to the flock, who to this day come running to greet her whenever she steps out of the house.
“I can be out here in the afternoon, and they’ll just come sit in my lap. They’re just like pet dogs. Each of them knows their name,” she said.
But these pets produce a rich, wonderful milk that has served the couple well. Janis has experimented with it, using it in place of cow’s milk and to make ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Some of her goat farming friends have used the milk to make yogurts and ice creams. But Janis discovered a different passion: making soap. The goat’s milk was the perfect medium for creating high-quality, natural bars of moisturizing, handmade soap. Janis makes it for friends and family, and can’t ever seem to keep up with the demand for more.
But most importantly, the goats are the empty-nesters’ new “children,” in a sense. Janis likes to joke whenever someone asks how her kids are doing.
“Which ones do you mean?” she always asks. “The human kids or the goats?”
Just like her children, she raised many of the goats from the moment they were born. Three of them, named Sugar Cookie, Snickerdoodle and Gingersnap, were born just before Christmas.
“They’re all a little on the chunky side,” Janis said, grinning as she recently fed the flock some wax myrtle branches. “They’re spoiled.”
But, spoiled or not, the McCarthies take their goats’ health very seriously. Janis did her research and only purchased goats whose owners belong to the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association and American Dairy Goat Association, reasoning one should buy from good stock in order to raise good stock. She decided to feed the goats fresh hay rather than grass to help prevent parasites. And she gives them mineral supplements.
The McCarthies sell goats from time to time, but they make sure the buyer is well-prepared.
“It’s hard to give them up,” Janis says. “We’re at the point where the buyer is almost applying for the goats so we can make sure they’ll be safe and well taken care of. I sent the last buyers five pages of information.”
The chicken wagon
The McCarthies also started keeping chickens along the way. They have 13 birds - a variety of unique breeds - and collect just under a dozen eggs every day. Not to be outdone by their goat siblings, the chickens also live in luxury: Patrick built them a nesting house that looks like a covered wagon. The project, still under construction, will eventually feature a canvas top and wagon wheels.
The McCarthies also are putting the finishing touches on a split rail fence, which inspired them to name their property Split Rail Farm.
The best of it
Before they moved to their rural land, the McCarthies lived in a subdivision on Amelia Island, where space was limited and restrictions prevented them from owning farm animals or building beyond the community’s specifications. They didn’t really know what they wanted - not even how many acres they were looking for - but when they found their land, they knew it was the right place.
It has been the home to their family and animals and also has served their community. Local church groups and Boy Scout troops have camped in their yard, and many canoe merit badges have been earned in their catfish pond.
“We’ve got the best of it here,” Janis said. “We found this land, and it just fit.”
Are you ready to start your own rural life? Raydient Places + Properties features land for sale in the same county the McCarthies live in, Nassau County, Florida, and in other locations throughout the South in Florida, Georgia and Texas at RaydientPlaces.com.
All photos by Boston Photography of Fernandina Beach, Florida.