Obsalim Takes the Cake

Every week we prepare a cake for our staff meeting. But this cake isn’t for morning tea – it’s a poo cake. This poo cake, together with a milk curd test and specific herd observations, forms the basis of our Obsalim practice and is helping us to produce consistently high quality cheese every day, every year, regardless of the season.

If you are a regular reader of our blogs you will know that we love Obsalim! (See this earlier blog post, and this one, for a start.)

We’ve been working with Obsalim for five years now, but it has only been in the last six months that we have been applying the method in a consistent, analytical way – carrying out standard operating procedures, observing, recording, then discussing the results and deciding on a definite action.

Obsalim helps us manage herd health and cheese quality. It gives us instant feedback. This is really empowering for managing our enterprise as we can directly see the impacts of our management actions in the milk, and in the cheese. As Isis said, “I didn’t quite believe it before. Now I do!”.

Since we’ve been employing Obsalim in this systematic way, everyone on our farm has become engaged with it; Paula our office manager, our quality control and dispatchers Julie and Annie – everyone involved in the farm business is learning about these techniques and what is happening in our herd, then discussing what this means for the cheese. We can also rely on the results, regardless of who at Holy Goat is doing the testing.

How do we do it? Using three tests:

  • The Obsalim Cards
  • The Poo Cake Test
  • The Micro-curd Test

The Obsalim Cards – we consider the whole herd, not just individual animals, and at least 60% of animals need to be showing a certain sign (eg. hair/pH – see the card below) to use that card. You also need to have at least three cards to get a result. There’s more info on using the cards here. If we can’t get three cards, we just consider their current grazing (what is the quality and quantity of pasture they are eating?) and their hay (is it short or long fibered, how nutritious?) over the past week. We look at the pH zone on the goats flank, and their eyes.

The pHG area – a critical observational point

The Poo Cake Test – the goats’ manure tells us a lot about their health and digestion. A stable rumen means the goats are digesting every bit of feed and extracting maximum nutrients from it. Which is borne out in their milk.

We are always scanning the poo inside and outside of the sheds, but on Mondays we collect it from a defined area in the holding yards. We take one cup and then wash the poo under running water until the water runs clear, press the ‘poo’ – now more undigested vegetable matter and fibre than poo – into a potato ricer and turn it out onto a piece of absorbent towel. We measure the height of the cake. A smaller cake means more fibre has been digested, a larger cake means less digestion.

Finally we break open the cake and look for any undigested grain and at the fibre size – are the fibres big or small? Ideally there will be no grain visible and only small fibres.

The poo cake after washing and pressing; almost all (small) fibre

The Micro-Curd Test – this is a really quick and easy test to look at the strength of the curd, which reflects Calcium and Phosphorus levels in the milk, plus protein. We can use raw and/or pasteurised milk.

We put decreasing amounts of milk in five test tubes and add decreasing dilutions of rennet, from 100% then 70%, 50% and finally 30%. We look at the size and shape of the curd that forms. Ideally it should be about 4mm thick and should have a slight twist.

If the curd is dead straight, Calcium levels are too high and Phosphorus too low. If the curd is very kinked, Phosphorus is too high. It is easier to increase Calcium levels – we simply add limestone (Calcium carbonate, CaCO3) to the feed. Adjusting Phosphorus is a bit trickier. The adjustments are tiny, for example we might only add 1/4 cup of limestone to the feed and then wait a fortnight to see what happens. It means we can also fine tune our need to add Calcium Chlorine (CaCl) post-pasteurisation.

If a curd forms at the lowest rennet dilution (30%) that means protein levels are good. The micro-curd test allows us to keep our cheese quality consistent all through the year. It is of great benefit to the cheesemaker.

The micro-curd test – look at shape and thickness at each dilution

What Next?

Then we look at the results across the three tests and decide on an action. Often the action is to take no action!

The weekly testing and recording allow us to build a picture of the herd health and milk quality through the year and to see the impact of changes to diet or herd health. For some conditions/cards it will take a fortnight or more to see the results of a management intervention. Other changes are instant.

Here’s an example:

The micro -curd was strong and consistent, showed a good Calcium Phosphorus balance, but the poo cake and Obsalim cards showed a lack of long fibres.

Our conclusions?

Increase the rumination time by taking the goats off the pasture and away from the short green oaten hay, with more time for rumination and digestion:

  • Give the herd longer fibres – we fed out black wattle branches (high in tannins) for two days.
  • Reduce ‘gutsing’ on hay by putting herd in the rumination paddock earlier in the day,
    allowing the herd to ruminate for longer to ensure total digestion.

And the result? We will find out next Monday! Though we have noticed the goats are holding their heads higher and generally coats are in better nick.

Dairy farmers everywhere can be overwhelmed by the quantity of data, information, testing and records that their farm produces and collects. Some of that record keeping is required by agencies and authorities, for food safety, quality control and organic certification. Some is essential for animal health and breeding purposes. But some – perhaps much more – serves little purpose beyond its collection.

In the wide world of dairy data, we see Obsalim – and our three-step weekly test – as critical to our herd and our cheesemaking.

And maybe someone will bring another sort of cake for Monday morning tea?!


For more information:

Posted in animal health, Feeding/Feed, Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, winter | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finding your vocation

Review and reflection is key to how we farm at Holy Goat. We review, reflect and then make well considered change. From the small (how best to sweep the dairy) to the large (implementing a new milking line, or installing a triiion to convert from 2 phase to 3 phase power) making a change on the farm for us is positive and part of a bigger picture.

Over time we’ve made big changes in the dairy, the cheese room and the paddocks that have improved the care and quality of both our herd, our people and our cheese. More of our land is being planted out to trees and understorey for fodder, fuel and habitat. We’ve also improved efficiencies. Now we are looking to human-centred change.

Farming is physically and mentally demanding, it requires long hours and unlike other occupations, is strongly dictated by the seasons (which in Central Victoria means long hot, dry summers and literally freezing winter mornings). A typical work day for us would start at six in the morning and finish at six the other end. There is more than likely some unscheduled or untimetabled work outside of those hours, too. We love farming and we love our farm, but we just don’t think those hours are always sustainable. We’d like to have an ‘average’ workday, as would our staff. (Not that we ever stop thinking about farming, or goats, or cheese!).

Changes to our own worklife open up opportunities for others. Having a dedicated afternoon milker who takes on the latter part of the day is something we are considering at the moment. The role would require someone, who, just like our current staff at Holy Goat, puts the animals first and foremost, gets to know the goats inside and out, and can also manage the mechanics of milking. Connection to the cheese room would also be an important part of this role.

We reckon there is the talent and skills resident in Australia (though we really do appreciate the skills and enthusiasm our French interns bring to the farm). Plus we provide a pretty unique opportunity for training, learning and support that’s rare to find. Our connections with specialists like cheese technician Ivan Larcher and Obsalim creator and trainer Bruno Giboudeau enable us to delve into aspects of animal husbandry and cheesemaking that few other farms offer. You can learn more about poo cakes, pH and titrations than you ever thought possible! Our natural animal treatments and work with Obsalim are quite unique to Australia.

We aren’t employing right now, but we are looking forward, reflecting on what the farm’s workforce needs are and will be, and how we might best address them.

We are looking for a pretty special person, not necessarily experienced in dairy farming or dairy goat herds – obviously a link with the land and the physical workings of it will be very desirable – but most important is an approach and way of thinking that fits with our team, our farming values and cheesemaking techniques. Being able to learn to understand the herd, the milk and the cheese in a way that’s beyond textbook. Although we value the textbook too. The way we think about and run our herd and make our cheeses is more than a management system. It’s a mindset. We’re looking for people with a similar mindset and certainly not looking to be a traditional dairy farmer, or follow conventional dairy systems. Also someone with capacity for physical work and, at times, true grit!

Someone who just ‘wants a job’ on our farm, isn’t going to work here because organic dairy farming and cheesemaking is more a vocation than a job. We won’t ask you to don the wimple or forsake creature comforts, but we will ask you to be alert to the life of the goats…. and to read our blogs to understand more about how and why we farm the way we do.

We are not currently hiring, but if you can picture yourself working together with us and our staff, please email your resume to holygoatcheese@me.com. We will keep it on file and forward application details, when appropriate..

Posted in Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, In the Cheeseroom, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing Scrappy about these Remnants (apart from the Phascogale nest)

1 they cleared up the remnants of the picnic: remains, remainder, leftovers, leavings, residue, rest; stub, butt, end, tail end; dregs, lees; technical residuum.
2 remnants of cloth: scrap, piece, bit, fragment, shred, offcut, oddment.

We try to create an environment on our farm where everyone and everything thrives – people, goats, flora & fauna, soil, microbes, cultures, cheese.

This is why we were so pleased at the results of our nest box monitoring last week. We have 25 boxes set up across the farm. They are located in our remnant patches of bush. The word remnant suggests a negative connotation. But the woodland remnants on the property are rich and vital, not just to our farm, but for the surrounding landscape and the broader region.

Our remnants are hugely beneficial to our farm; they work as shelter belts to protect the goats, pastures and people from the prevailing winds and weather, come summer and winter. The birds and creatures they harbour help keep our paddocks free of pests and diseases. Their deep leaf litter covers our soils and keeps them cool and moist.

Our goats would love to have access to our remnants, but they are and always will be goat-free-zones. Our Trust For Nature covenant ensures this and our NAASA organic certification requires it. But that’s not the only reason we take care of our remnants. The phascogales (and other birds and critters) need large nesting hollows. We put up the nest boxes so there is somewhere for them to stay, whilst we wait for the trees to get old and large enough to create their own hollows. And it’s not just all about the nest boxes. We let fallen trees lie and are not tempted to “clean up” branches and leaf litter, nor harvest for firewood.

We give the goats the run of the rest of the farm and plenty of good habitat, just for their needs, so although it would be a goat’s dream to get into one of our remnants, they are very happy in the paddock and don’t feel the need to go anywhere else.

Last week’s nest box monitoring was carried out by Asha Bannon and Jess Lawton as part of Connecting Country’s Brush-tailed Phascogale habitat restoration and monitoring project. From 2009 to 2011, clusters of three nest boxes were installed at approximately 150 sites across the Mount Alexander Shire. The boxes are a tool to monitor the distribution and health of the threatened Brush-tailed Phascogale (also known as the Tuan), as well as providing extra habitat for them.

“Connecting Country have 450 nest boxes across the Shire. Holy Goat has nine that were put up in 2010/2011, but Carla and Ann-Marie have also put up lots more themselves”, says Asha.

“Our boxes are tailor-made by Miles Geldard for the Brush-tailed Phasgogale, but sugar gliders also like them too. The phascogale’s presence is a good indicator of a healthy property. If the phascogales are there, then it’s more likely other less threatened species will be too,” says Asha.

On our farm, 23 of the 25 nest boxes (the first put up in 2005, then in 2010, 2011 and 2017) showed evidence that either sugar gliders or phascogales had been using them. And in two of those boxes, someone was home!

Jess has been studying the Phascogales for three and a bit years, with another 10 months left of her PhD at La Trobe University which is looking at the effects on their distribution across Victoria, specifically food sources and landscape ecology. Jess has worked in with Connecting Country’s monitoring project for the past two years.

The Brush-tailed Phascogale, photo by Trevor Pescott

“The Mount Alexander region is a quite special place for them. Even though we don’t have that many large tree hollows and that there is a lot of cleared land, our Shire does have some reasonable patches, compared with the rest of Victoria. Overall, our region is reasonably well connected and we suspect that’s why they use the smaller patches.” says Jess.

“We survey in Autumn because that’s when the populations disperse and there’s more activity, so it’s more likely we will detect them. It’s mating time and the males are travelling far to find their mates.They can travel long distances. Phascogales have large home ranges, at least 50 hectares. And they really eat a lot – insects, occasionally small vertebrates, as well as nectar – so they need large areas to forage in. Ann-Marie and Carla have provided them with excellent foraging material – lots of logs on the ground, lots of deep leaf litter and many box trees with rough bark.”

Jess says that because phascogales travel so widely, they often aren’t home at survey time and when they monitor, ecologists will rely on evidence that a nest box has been used.

And it’s pretty obvious. We can tell whether a sugar glider or a phascogale has been resident in ours. They are like chalk and cheese in their housekeeping habits (hmmm…). Phascogales are pretty scrappy. If you see feathers, piles of smelly scats and a mess of nesting material, that’s a Brush-tailed Phascogale. Sugar gliders are more neat freaks – no scats to be seen, fresh leaves carefully placed in a circular fashion, more clean leaves regularly added and the whole thing smells pretty nice really.

You can see what we mean below:

Interestingly, we have put up a mix of plastic and wooden nest boxes and the resident phascogale was found in the plastic one. Jess isn’t sure whether this is because it’s a slightly different shape, or whether the plastic has different insulating properties, but the trend at Holy Goat has been to find sugar gliders in the wooden boxes and phascogales in the plastic. Maybe they’re less choosy, or something, and it’s another PhD topic, surely!

Aside from the Connecting Country official nest boxes and surveying project, anyone can install nest boxes, says Asha.

“And you don’t need to get up a tall ladder to check for habitation – simply sit away from the box and watch, or put up motion sensitive cameras to see if anyone is visiting, and staying”.

“We love working with Holy Goat as they are so engaged with their farm’s environment and in sharing it with Connecting Country,” says Asha.

We love working with Connecting County, as we get to share the riches of our farm with others who appreciate it. We also get to understand where our place fits within the broader landscape and how we can connect more.

We’d like to improve and extend the quality of our covenanted areas, not just on our farm, but to link with neighbouring properties and roadsides that have good remnant patches. The phascogales need more than we can provide here.

We are inspired by the creatures that have chosen to make their home on our farm, and also by the thought that if we could connect up all these small scraps of precious remnants then what a magnificent cloth to cover the landscape that would be.

More info:

To see a summary of the 2016 Connecting Country surveys click here.
To see a summary example of one of our 2016 surveyed box clusters click here.

Posted in autumn, Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, In the Paddock, winter | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A must read cheese … plus meet the makers

We’ll be at the upcoming launch of “Reinventing Farmhouse Cheese”, a book by British cheese stalwarts Bronwyn and Francis Percival which focusses on the lost (well, certainly not lost from a Holy Goat perspective!) art of farmhouse cheesemaking; once de rigour across the UK, USA and here in Australia.

Global industrialisation of food production has had a big impact on cheese making, but some small producers have held out, stayed true to their herds and their small-scale cheesemaking craft and now many others see it as a viable, sustainable way of production.

To launch the book, the Australian Specialty Cheesemakers Association (ASCA), of which we are members, is holding a panel session at the Calendar Cheese Company, 326 Lorimer Street, Port Melbourne on Friday 23 March, 5.30 – 8pm.

Richard Cornish will moderate the panel, which will focus on the important and exciting work and collaboration between scientists and cheesemakers.

Carla and microbiologist Dr Ian Powell will talk about our work in culturing great goat’s cheese.

Other speakers include Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, USA and Bronwen Percival of Neals’ Yard Dairy in London.  Mateo and brother Andy create raw-milk cheese on their farm and also age cheeses from other small farms in the area in their Cellars at Jasper Hill.

At Neal’s Yard Dairy, the Percivals select, mature and sell farmhouse cheese from the UK and Ireland, working with about 40 cheesemakers to select the batches the Dairy will mature and sell.

Hear about what it takes to flourish in the world of farmhouse and artisan cheeses today, then taste some of these cheeses, accompanied by matching wines.

Cost to attend is $25 for ASCA members and $50 for non members. You don’t have to be a cheesemaker to join ASCA; being a cheeselover alone is enough to become a member. For more info on the night and to book and purchase tickets,  click here.

Posted in Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, In the Cheeseroom, marketing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obsalim training: motivated farmers + small on-farm change = big returns

Dr Bruno Giboudeau has just completed his Victorian workshops (the last one was at our farm) and he headed back to France yesterday, having brought the Obsalim techniques and learning to over 50 keen participants over the past fortnight. Though most of the workshoppers were dairy farmers, we also had a vet, animal nutritionist and organic milk supply manager attend.

Since Obsalim is regional (and farm) specific, the format of the workshops involved using local farms as case studies for the training. Bruno and Lucy Quin – who worked with us to organise and manage the logistics of the workshops and assisted Bruno with the training – visited the case study farms prior, took photos and carried out some Obsalim investigations, providing the host farmers with a report before the workshop proper. During the workshop session, participants were able to learn from the case study farm directly.

Lucy has arrived at Holy Goat after a big career change and is particularly interested in the links between animal health and the quality and nutrition of produce and how Obsalim can make those connections.

“We had really engaged and interested farmers at every workshop; there were lots of questions, a really positive energy and everyone was really happy to learn and observe and interpret.”

Ron and Bev Smith, long-time farmers at Fish Creek said they benefited from Bruno’s training and learnt new things, even as dairy farmers for 50 years. “Retired” to 12 acres and two cows, (though they have a newsletter connecting 400 dairy farmers and are off to King Island next week to advise and support other farmers …).

Bev says the workshop had a good energy and they had a great time as host farmers.

“We started farming in the 1970s and then organic dairying from the 1980s, when we had 95 head on 250 acres and it was all pasture based,” says Bev. “We did introduce a keyline irrigation system for the summer months and we had a big variety of pasture species.”

“We attended last year’s workshop with Bruno at Holy Goat which was great – I saw it as another tool that we can use – but I found this year’s workshop of much more direct benefit, since the focus was on cows and in our part of the world.”

“Most participants were farmers within an hour of our farm, two were organic and one was in-conversion. I think Obsalim needs to get into the conventional stream though; that’s where the biggest benefits will be. The uptake of Obsalim will be a bit like the early days of organics; but it will happen in time.”

Ron agrees. “I really loved the workshop. I think it’s cutting edge stuff for Australian farmers. When they realise and understand it, I think our whole industry will benefit hugely.”

It’s about being animal-focussed, not farm/farmer focussed. Ron gives the example of another participant who attended the workshop who told him afterwards ‘I look at animals over the fence much differently now’.

“I’ve been milking cows for over 50 years and I’m still learning. I’ve always observed the cows and known their names, their natures and their inclinations. When our cows were on heat I could tell the animal from 150 meters away. The eyes, ears, nose, demeanour, they way they act, are all telling. You can see if something is amiss. These things we have observed all the time, but Obsalim really puts it all together for us in a meaningful way.”

“We’ve been growing many of the species that Bruno suggested – cocksfoot, timothy rye, red clover – which was affirming too,” adds Ron.

One of the key aspects of Obsalim is being able to make a direct link between the appearance and health of the animal and the quality and composition of the milk, through milk testing.

“Farmers can see straight away how efficiently their animals are converting their feed and the quality of that conversion, “ says Bruno.

Lucy agrees. “Dairy farmers get results, maybe weekly, from the processors about their herd’s milk solids and protein, in percentages, but not about the quality of that protein, which is really important in cheesemaking and for the digestion of drinking milk.”

Casein is the important protein for cheese quality and yield.

“The milk test shows the coagulation of casein, globulin and albumen. The casein correlates to cheese yield and quality. We want more casein than the other proteins for cheesemaking,” says Lucy.

Grazing management – what, when and for how long – influences the milk proteins.

“With changes to the herd ration and to the cycles of feeding, we can see greater energy efficiency and feed conversion – in Obsalim we talk about the Global Energy – so there will be more casein than globulin with better efficiency. The timing of feeding and cudding and the type of pasture have a big influence,” says Bruno.

Bruno stresses that Obsalim is not asking farmers to implement wholesale, large-scale changes to their farming operations.

“The main thing is for farmers to have confidence in their observations and the confidence to make changes. We advise making small scale changes and observing. It is not about making large changes to the farm management or buying in concentrates. It is about committing to the system and using what you already have – your seasons, soils, pastures – in a more efficient way.”

“In France, 70% of farm house cheese makers use Obsalim. Of those half would use it on a daily basis and the other half would know about it and use it less regularly. But they are all able to manage their pastures in a more economic way. We see an increase in the cheese quality and a decrease in vet expenses on these farms.” says Bruno.

Now the workshops are over, Bruno and Lucy aim to keep farmers connected and motivated to continue to use Obsalim on a regular basis, as well as to develop further training opportunities.

“I would like to come back and run a more complete course that goes to a deeper level, as well as the more basic sessions,” says Bruno. “It is a new approach for Australia. After the course people will go back to their usual routine, so it is important that the Obsalim becomes part of that routine; that the observing becomes second nature.”

“We are looking to build the momentum and consolidate participants use of Obsalim,” says Lucy. “After the workshops we now have a nucleus of engaged and interested farmers. We want to find the best way to keep the conversations going and to keep them practising the techniques. It could be an Obsalim helpline for farmers, or on-line support and updates.”

And Bev and Ron are off to King Island next week, where they’ll meet other dairyfarmers and talk about the Obsalim workshop held on their place. Who knows, perhaps King Island will be the next stop next year for Bruno?

Dr Bruno Gibidou revisits Australia to run a weries of Obsalim workshops around Victoria

For more information:

Posted in Feeding/Feed, Holy Goat News, In the Cheeseroom, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, spring | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop, Look and Listen. Ruminate.

Obsalim. If you follow our blog, and us, you will know we are big fans of this method of animal husbandry and its French instigator Dr Bruno Giboudeau. We have been fortunate to have Bruno visit the farm several times to teach us and other dairy farmers about the benefits of Obsalim and how it can translate from the French, to the Australian context. Our goats have definitely benefited.

If you’ve missed hearing from vet Bruno previously, then you have another chance this October when he comes to Australia to speak at the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) AGM. NASAA was formed in 1986 to support the education of industry and consumers on Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable agricultural practices. It’s fully owned subsidiary NASAA Certified Organic (NCO) carries out certification of organic farms in Australia and internationally, including ours.

Their AGM this year will incorporate field visits to local organic farms, including a visit to Holy Goat, where you can also see how we have put Obsalim into practice.

And you can delve deeper into the theory and practice of applying Obsalim to your own farm, because we have brought Bruno out from France to run three ruminant nutrition workshops in regional Victoria. The workshops will be applicable to sheep, goat and cow dairy enterprises and involve a 2-day workshop and a 1-day farm visit to see how to apply the tools in a hands-on setting. The training is designed to be straightforward and hands-on and will give farmers the tools and confidence to monitor and make the changes that will result in improved herd health and the farm bottom line. Northern Victoria (24 – 26 October), Fish Creek in Gippsland (30 – 31 October) and Sutton Grange (2-3 November) are the locations.

You can download the flyer here to find out more about the workshops and book here. Make sure you book early to ensure your place.

To find out more about Obsalim in practice at Holy Goat, see this earlier post. And this one.

Our farm is in central Victoria, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take learning and inspiration from overseas and afar, and especially from France, the font of goats cheese. Other organic farmers think the same.

This year’s NASAA AGM will feature another international agriculturalist alongside Bruno Giboudeau; Rei Yoon will introduce Jadam Organic Farming – a system rooted in the traditions of Asia (Korean Natural Farming) and bolstered by modern science. Closer-to-home speakers will be Terry Hehir, the inaugural Chair of Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia Co-operative, soil ecologist Dr Christine Jones, soil scientist and microbiologist Dr Ash Martin, and Chris Alenson who has spent more than 35 years teaching and consulting in organic/sustainable agriculture. There will also be a tribute to the late Rod May who was a stalwart of the organics industry (and to NASAA in particular).

Held in the Macedon Ranges on 26th and 27th October, “Into Organics” should be an event worth taking time out from the farm or business for. It’s a chance to catch up and connect with other organic growers and, importantly, to stop, ruminate and reflect upon your own place into organics. You can also find out how focussed observation and attention can improve the health of your herd, and of your farm.

The field trip to our farm will be on Thursday 26th October, with The Organic Mushroom Farm at Diggers Rest and Harcourt’s Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens also on the itinerary. The AGM featuring keynote speakers including Bruno, will be held on Friday 27th at the Macedon Ranges Hotel.

Posted in Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, In the Paddock, spring | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Nothing backward about these producers

The only thing backward about the winners of the delicious. Produce Awards is the video that highlights their produce as it travels from the plate, back to the land, or sea, or dairy, or …

You can take a look here at the goats ‘backing up’ as well as some great overhead shots of our farm in all it’s late winter, green, glory. A very nice perspective!

This year delicious. filmed promotional footage in Victoria, including on our farm, highlighting the Victorian winners from the awards ceremony that was held on August 7 in Melbourne.

The Awards give Australia’s smaller producers an opportunity to get their product in front of influential people and be showcased to the public, says Lucy Allon, delicious. Produce Awards Project Manager, based in Sydney.

“Smaller producers may not have the time, budget or skills to do their own marketing and the Awards help them to tell their story. I was first involved in running the Awards in 2010 when there were just a few hundred nominations. Nominations soon grew to 3000 plus, at which point the nomination process changed to be chef driven,” says Lucy.

“The Awards have evolved to showcase products that chefs are using on their menus and importantly to tell the story, the hard work and the quality behind that produce. We couldn’t have successful chefs and an exceptional industry without the producers.”

This year marks the 12th year of the Produce Awards and Holy Goat have gained accolades in some form every year.

“Holy Goat have shown they have an undying commitment to the best faming practices, year in, year out. Carla and Ann-Marie focus so much on what happens on the farm and embrace what the farm produces. This translates to amazing quality on the plate.” Lucy says.

“It takes time, focus, season, hard work and passion to produce an award winning product and this is why Holy Goat have featured every year.”

This past Award was a Gold Medal for our newest cheese, Nectar Cow/Goat. Nectar is a brine washed, semi-hard cheese made from 75% cow and 25% goats’ milk. We think this unique cheese brings the best of both breeds – and herds – to the table. Our goats and the fifth generation Mannes family dairy shorthorn cows make a perfect match, or at least cheese. The rich cow’s milk imparts a soft texture, whilst the goat’s milk adds nutty complex flavours.

We started making Nectar to offer a wider variety of cheeses over the winter months when the volume of goat milk is lower.

Link to our earlier blog about making Nectar here.

The Mannes have been certified organic with NASAA since 1993. In 1854, their great great grandfather, Franz Mannes, aged 23 (on the advice of Bendigo’s first Catholic priest) set up a farm, rather than try his luck on the goldfields. The Mannes have been selling milk to Bendigo since the 1920’s. We have an important connection with the brothers, especially Bernie who has been a great mentor. Farming organically for 24 years, he has helped us source feed and provided support in times of drought.

The family are pleased and proud we make this beautiful cheese from their milk. When he found out about winning the Gold Medal for Nectar, Bernie Mannes said “well, you’re the alchemists, we just supply the milk”.

But making exceptional cheese requires exceptional milk and the Mannes provide it. Every Monday we drive the 20 minutes to Strathfieldsaye, on Bendigo’s outskirts, in time for evening milking. We collect their milk for a Nectar make on Tuesday morning. Four months later, there’s nectar for your plate.

But back to the Awards.

Besides the accolades, we really value the opportunities that being a part of Produce Awards like delicious. give to our farm. We get to meet other high achieving, passionate and engaged producers from across the agriculture sectors. There’s a lot we can learn from other industries, beyond dairying. It’s also excellent feedback on the taste and quality of our product, because it is the chefs using our produce that are nominating us.

Awards remind us to reflect and acknowledge the results of our farm’s continued progression – not always evident when you are working away in the freezing cold dawn of a central Victorian winter.

Here’s the broader promotional video.

But it’s worth watching Paul Righetti reverse feeding the chooks and Lance Whiffen back landing the mussels, just to see how really skilful our local producers are!

Posted in Holy Goat News, In the Cheeseroom, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, marketing, spring | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Goat Dynasty

We’ve just had another successful kidding. Kidding is always a stressful time, but this season was so much easier for us all, thanks to our repurposed shed and refined management systems.

The new shed has a concrete floor – its thick layer of straw bedding can be quickly and easily cleaned out and replaced. Twelve separate pens means everyone gets individual attention and space. A big whiteboard lets us keep a daily track of health issues for each goat and the kidding herd more generally. One of the biggest pluses is that the shed is literally at the centre of the farm. We can easily move does and kids and keep a regular eye on them at this critical time.

But before that comes the kidding. Dairyfarming by its nature is an intensive farming activity, but we try to minimise interventions and provide the herd with what nature intended (given that goats have been domesticated for some 10,000 years, it’s more about working with their hormones, physiology and innate behaviour in the context of our farm).  Our does kid out in the paddock. They choose their own location; a sheltering tree or a preferred patch in the lee of a hill. We leave them to it until they’ve cleaned up their young and eaten the afterbirth. After that we bring doe and kid/s into the shed.

By having a dedicated nursery that’s set up just for them, the kids stay warm, well and connected to their mothers. The kids develop greater immunity and their mothers benefit too. There’s more time with their offspring to bond. Time for us to bond with them too, which is crucial to herd management. Spending time with the goats now means easier, calmer stock management when we need to trim feet or carry out treatments, at milking and when moving the herd. We also get to know the goats as individuals.

See this earlier post about the importance of knowing your goat.

Our first-time mothers go on the line for the morning milking – another new experience – and then the kids have them for the rest of the day. Having the time with their mothers not only benefits the kids. As the kids constantly drink, butt and suckle, any hard spots in the udder are worked out and there’s less chance of secondary problems like milk fever or mastitis. Milk flow and oxytocin release are also triggered by the attention on the udder, so the kids soon put on condition. The kids manage the health of their first-time mothers just as much as the mothers do their kids. We’re setting up conditions for both kids and does to thrive.

The Holy Goat lineage is now well into it’s fifth generation. Vision was one of our original goats and you can see her genes carried on through into this latest crop of kids. Her line is the strong Nordic one: Vision begat Lilith, who begat Hilde, who begat Erda, who begat Freya, who begat Olga – the mother of Nordic and Viking. Winona and Blanchett are the offspring of Hath and Anne, whose mother was Anne Hathaway. Likewise our Chinese line: fifth generation Tibet is by China, who’s mother was Ming, and hers Dynasty. It really is a royal lineage.

You can read more about our lineages and why we name our goats in this earlier post


We couldn’t manage kidding without the help of our interns Eloise, Lydia and Caitlin. Each kidding we have an intern (or two) who’s sole focus is the nursery. This season it’s Eloise, a 19 year old French Agricultural Engineering student. Eloise is the latest in a line of exceptional interns that have come to the farm from France. The interns, alongside our permanent staff, ensure the mothers and kids get all the care they need and a good start in life.

The new kids always provide us with a sense of joy. Not just because there is new (and let’s face it, very gorgeous) life on the farm, but the fact that this cohort of kids will be the next in line – and on the milking line – to continue on the dynasty and legacy that is Holy Goat.


August 2017 progeny at Holy Goat; warm and snug in their new kidding shed and carrying on the genes of more than five generations of holy goats.

Posted in Holy Goat News, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, spring, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Up on the new line

It’s been 15 months since we upgraded our dairy and it’s made a big difference for everyone. We have gone from 12 goats up on the line and eight milking cups, to 12 cups with 24 goats up. More space for everyone and a better feeding system – more ergonomic and efficient for humans, less stress and standing about for the goats.

Watch our new dairy in action.

or go to the link here.

Presently we are milking 92 goats, seven are our oldest does – the blue collars – who are nine years old. Even with these ‘lower producers’ the milking herd is giving us around 140 litres a day. Not bad, especially when you consider that most of our herd is “milked through” and some goats have only ever had one kidding to date. We are selective with our breeding, so after their first kidding, most of the does are four years old before they have their next kid. This time allows us to keep a longer record of performance and traits and means we can select our goats to best breed from. This was something we observed in WA when we worked there. We don’t want to grow our herd, well, we don’t want to grow the numbers of goats in our herd over time, but we do want to grow the milk quality and quantity and herd health and resilience. We can afford to be selective and take the time for it.

But back to the new, improved dairy. It’s wider, for a start (our goats are large framed compared to the norm; they don’t kid until they are two years old) so more space for them, and for us as we feed out with our nifty trolley (sure beats the old wheelbarrow and scoop!). The milking cups slip off automatically and we can adjust their pressure – both of these factors mean less pressure on the udder, literally.  Most dairies work at a pressure of 51kpa. We try for 36kpa. We want to be gentle on the udder sphincter  and not cause damage and untoward, unavoidable problems. The goats milk just as well.

Our higher viewing platform means we can see what they are eating and whatever else is happening. It’s a good height for the milker to operate at. The swing door at the end of the line operates smoothly; no wire hook or mesh or make-do setup there either. We have a you-beaut flushing system, swirling down the line in a circulating wave. We can see what each goat, and the line, is producing on the digital display.

So, how do you keep a dairy herd milking when you are putting in a new dairy? Ask your very good neighbour. Mark Collison helped us enormously. We kept milking on our old dairy – displaced and sidelined, very cramped – whilst he installed the new. It took a week, ‘only’ 14 milkings to install. Mark did a fantastic job.

Now the goats aren’t standing about in the milking shed for three hours from go to whoa. Cups on and off is about 90 minutes. We still get the same opportunity to observe what’s happening with the herd and individuals, and the goats get the same time to eat. Our efficiencies have improved enormously.

Kidding starts in one month, the new stand will be greatly appreciated then.

Posted in Feeding/Feed, Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, IN the Dairy, spring | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A four-eyed focus on Obsalim

We’ve written about Bruno Giboudeau’s, visit and our training and learning with Obsalim in an earlier post and page.

Since July, our two interns Maider Haicaguerre, from France, and Eva Zanettini, from Italy, have been undertaking a focussed project using Obsalim with the dairy herd. Four eyes are better than two, and Maider and Eva have been observing the herd everyday, carrying out milk tests and using the Obsalim cards every week, and discussing and questioning everything they see all the time.

In just three months they have been able to pick up issues in the herd and address them though nutrition and management.

Maider and Eva’s work has helped all of us at Holy Goat become more attentive to the herd and the conditions on the farm as they impact upon the herd; we have all participated in the discussions around Obsalim and we have also seen a change in herd health, for the better.

I am doing the internship at Holy Goat as part of my University training in France, where I must study a question as part of my stay. Bruno arrived on the farm to run the Obsalim workshop on the same day that I arrived, so it was a good fit and I could assist with this project. With our first observation we noticed issues, but without being very sure. After about a month we became very confident and the milk tests confirmed what we were seeing.

We already observe the animals on the farm closely, but not so much as a herd and how they behave together as a herd. This is the first sign to look at; to recognise differences and changes in the herd over time. Having others who know the animals from before is also a plus. For example Tango, who wears a blue collar, is 8yo and one day we noticed her body and neck was covered in small red lumps. The other workers Tessa said she was like that 8 years ago, which helped give a history for us.

Maider and Eva’s main finding from their observations using Obsalim was that PhG area (see the earlier blog and page) was reactive – a sign that the rumen pH was dropping too quickly and causing rumen instability.

They introduced three main changes to the herd to balance the gut:

By adding bicarbonate of soda to the whey, we were able to increase the pH of the whey to neutral (pH7). Because of the lacto-ferment process, whey pH is 4.4, quite acid, and when we give that to the goats it causes a big dip in their rumen pH, leading to rumen instability. Bicarb is quite alkaline, so it will buffer the whey and therefore the rumen pH.

The other change has been to  the feeding and milking schedule so that the goats are able to ruminate more naturally. Before, we would milk at 6am – the herd would arrive on the line and be fed concentrate on an empty stomach. Now we milk at 7am. We feed them hay at 6am before they come on to the line. They feel fuller, have more fibre in the gut and the rumen can manage the concentrates much better and so there is better rumen stability.

Before, our afternoon milking was at 2pm. The peak time for rumination is between 2 and 4pm, so we don’t want the herd to be eating when they would naturally be digesting. Now we milk around 3 -3.30pm. Maider and Eva bring the herd up from the paddock at 2pm so they can ruminate, not eat.

The third change was to reduce the level of concentrate fed to the herd, in response to the seasonal conditions, feed type and availability in the paddock. They have found that the goats are producing the same amount of milk, even with lesser concentrates, and the herd is in very good condition. The PhG symptoms have disappeared in the main part of the herd. all but a couple of the older goats.

Maider and Eva both agree that Obsalim does take a lot of time, and that implementing changes to adapt to the animal’s schedule (and its rumen) can mean that it is harder for the humans – it does ‘stretch the day’.

The most important thing for the farmer to see is a healthy herd and so the time spent is worth it. Because we are interns we work and live here, it is our passion and we are happy to spend the time. For employers it may be harder because time is limited and there are many jobs to do.

Both women say that working together was much more effective because they were able to share what they had each seen during the day and also to question other staff. Obsalim became a broader conversation – and observation – for the whole farm. Plus four eyes are always better than two!

We need to adapt to the goats and respect the cycle of the animal. But you are not just working with the goat, you are also working with millions of microorganism animals in the gut; it is the symbiosis of the goat and the rumen flora. Obsalim gave us each a pair of glasses and helped us how to read the body of the goat.

We will be sorry to say goodbye to Maider as she returns to France to finish her University studies. Maider hopes to work on other farms and then maybe come back to Holy Goat one day but for the time she will being continue at University and on her family sheep dairy.for another stint.

Eva has just headed south, to work at Bruny Island Cheese after she rides a bicycle along Tasmania’s cost to work at Bruny, where she will look after a smaller herd, 35 goats, and make cheese. She wishes also to return to Holy Goat.

Both interns have valued their time at the farm and say the Holy Goat environment is a very special place, full of ideas and great produce. In turn we have valued their energy, enthusiasm and dedicated hard work, not just in Obsalim, but in the life of the farm.

Interns Maider and Eva, from France and Italy, have provided important input to the farm, not just by their presence and work, but by taking on the Obsalim project over three months at Holy Goat. And there's the new dairy set-up; good for goats and humans alike.

Interns Maider and Eva, from France and Italy, have provided important input to the farm, not just by their presence and work, but by taking on the Obsalim project over three months at Holy Goat. 

Posted in Feeding/Feed, Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, spring | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment