April 2018
Farm & Field

Old McDougall Had a Farm …

 

Burdette McDougall buys feed from Farmers Cooperative Market in Leroy and proudly wears their cap.

Do you remember singing the popular nursery rhyme about Old MacDonald and all of his farm animals? Historians tell us the original version spoke of a farmer named MacDougal, who lived on a farm in Ohio. As years passed, the name changed to "MacDonald," but the message stayed the same: farm animals bring happiness to their owners.

Ironically, in lower Clarke County, there is another farmer, also named McDougall, whose story parallels the timeless children’s song in a most delightful way. Burdette and Joyce McDougall live on Regal Hill Farm with a merry menagerie that fills their days with happiness and purpose.

Burdette grew up on a dairy farm in Fulton, New York, the heart of the Snowbelt. After he married Joyce, his high school sweetheart, the McDougalls lived on a small farm. Their children were active in 4-H, so the entire family loved and cared for many animals.

In 1979, life changed for the McDougalls. Burdette worked for Cives Steel Company and the company was looking for someone to go south to teach workers. Burdette was offered the job of field liaison in Mobile, right after Hurricane Frederick had hit the area.

Upon arriving, Burdette remembered calling Joyce to announce that there was "no snow down here!" Joyce came after the school year ended in 1980, bringing their son and four daughters. For almost 30 years, the family lived in a quiet subdivision in the city.

Burdette’s work took him all over the country. During his time off, he would hunt along the Tombigbee River in Jackson, about 50 miles north of Mobile.

When Burdette decided to retire, he and Joyce considered moving to Colorado. However, they changed their minds when they thought about the Colorado snow. Instead, McDougall asked his close friend, Larry Jones, to help him find some retirement property near Jackson.

In 2010, the McDougalls moved to a 100-acre tract in Rockville and lived in their hunting trailer for almost four years. This small community is southwest of Jackson and less than an hour from their children in Mobile. The Rockville area reminded the McDougalls of their childhood homes in Upper New York, with small farms, large tracts of timber and much logging.

Joyce and Burdette McDougall lived in Mobile in a subdivision for 30 years before coming to Regal Hill Farm in Rockville. Here they have found their little corner of paradise.

 

After leaving New York, the McDougalls had decided they would never have any more farm animals. However, with their new property and extra time on their hands, the two longed for farm life with animals they could care for. They soon added "a few animals, just to have something to do," as Burdette explained it. First, they bought goats, convinced the animals could clear the undergrowth on their property. They discovered, however, that they would need fences to keep the animals corralled.

"I had never built fences before," Burdette explained, "and I had never put up net wire, but Joyce and I did it."

As time passed, the McDougalls realized how much they had missed their farm life and their animals. They added just a few more animals, naming each one as it became a part of their growing family.

Joyce has always had a deep love for chickens. When she decided to get just a few, she discovered many fancy chickens she wanted to add to her flock. Soon, Orpingtons, Ameraucanas, Silkies, Polish and several kinds of English sex-link crosses had found homes on the McDougall farm. Joyce definitely has a way with chickens, as all are gentle and contented.

 

Joyce McDougall holds Ruby, her prized Jubilee hen.  Joyce has all kinds of breeds and said she wanted lots of fancy chickens.

   

"I don’t know a lot about chickens," she stated, "but I just do what I think is best for them."

Joyce then decided to add guineas, ducks and geese. A visit with her flock reveals some members ambling from pen to pen, singing contentedly in the clamor of clucks, honks or quacks, just like the nursery rhyme. If a stranger comes down the lane, the atmosphere changes as the guineas alert the whole farm with squawks, chi-chis and pot-racks.

The McDougalls built all the pens, coops and runs themselves. Joyce cleans all these areas and gathers eggs that she sells or gives to friends and neighbors.

Burdette stays busy with his goats, hogs and cows. He saw his few Boer goats multiply rapidly. One goat, named Trump, is a special favorite.

"The mother had triplets," Joyce said. "She would not accept this little fellow. We had to milk her and bottle feed the baby. He never grew like the others, but he has become a part of our family. Trump will always stay here on the farm."

The McDougalls have now added some Nubian goats to their herd.

Both Joyce and Burdette told numerous stories of sleepless nights in the barn, birthing or tending to sickly animals.

Burdette’s cows graze contentedly next to the goat pasture. He has Angus, Hereford, Beefmaster and Red Angus. Like every other animal on the farm, the cows are gentle pets and come to Burdette’s call.

He purchases feed from Farmers Cooperative Market in Leroy and hay from a local supplier. He sells his calves at stockyards in Lucedale or Meridian, Mississippi. He plans to increase his flock of gentle giants.

The McDougalls’ farm is in a sparsely populated area of rural Clarke County, where many predators abound. Burdette keeps two donkeys to control these pests. To hear his explanation of how Thelma Joe and Ellie Mae train all the other farm animals is quite entertaining.

"When my donkeys bray," he explained, "them cows know to get in a huddle in the corner of the pasture. Sometimes, the new calves don’t listen. They have to be taught a good lesson before they’ll mind. I’ve seen them donkeys scold the calves and butt them to get them to obey. The calves run and get under their mothers. When the donkeys bray again, all is clear. Every animal here understands them and obeys. At first, I had a hard time understanding it. It was the darndest thing I’d ever seen!"

From left, the McDougalls swapped some goats for these pigs that they will feed out and slaughter for food. The McDougalls raise Boer goats, which have a gentle nature. They built all the pens and feeding areas themselves.

 

Burdette also credits his donkeys with bringing cats to the farm. One day, after hearing the donkeys bray, Burdette checked and discovered a tiny kitten that he brought into his barn and fed. It wasn’t long before other stray cats showed up. Today, he thinks he has five cats on the farm, but he’s not sure. All are welcomed, as the cats keep his feed protected from mice and his yard free of snakes.

In 2014, the McDougalls built their dream home on the third highest hill in Clarke County. They named their place Regal Hill Farm, named after Regal, an abandoned dog owned by their friend, Larry Jones.

"I kept Regal during the day while Larry worked at his insurance business," Burdette said. "I got real attached to Regal and he followed me everywhere.

"Well, one day, we were hunting and a snake bit Regal. I took him to the vet, but he didn’t make it.

"Larry, his nephew and I buried him right here on our property. We all cried like babies. I built Regal his own cross and I go see his grave every day. Regal was real special to me!"

Jones soothed Burdette’s loss by finding two puppies. Jones named his pup Skillet and Burdette named his Jack. The two dogs visit often and enjoy long romps together on Regal Hill Farm.

"Burdette is a gentle, good man who would help anybody," Jones said. "If he tells you a chicken dips snuff, look under its wing for the box!"

Reconnecting to farm life and taking care of their animals have brought Burdette and Joyce McDougall happiness beyond measure.

"Regal Hill Farm is for our pleasure," Burdette added. "The kids and grandkids love it. They come up and spend time with all the animals. Our farm gives us something to get up for and do every day from dusk to dark!"

E-I-E-I-O!

 

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..