Spring and Rejuvenation

botticelli-primavera

La Primavera, Spring, and thoughts turn to rejuvenation, renewal and regrowth; to new life and productive times ahead. At Holy Goat, Spring starts in August as we welcome the new kids, but they’re not the only rejuvenation taking place on the farm:

We’re enjoying new life and energy.

Spring is … new kids on the block. This year’s kidding has been a successful one for our maiden (first time) mothers. We’ve kept them with their offspring for the first two weeks after kidding and then we’ve transitioned them to the milking line, though they are still kept alongside their kids for the first month. After that, the kids are adjusted, independent and thinking more about the fresh paddock they are about to enter, than their mums. They soon form friendship groups and they return to the shelter and security of their pens and their mum near by at night. From four days of age, we provide our kids with a bucket of dirt (clean topsoil) which they love to ingest. It stimulates the rumen bacteria to kick in and the kid to become a real ruminant. After this, we begin to introduce solid food; a small amount of concentrate, in addition to cows milk, as well as the green pick. Our kids will drink up to two litres of milk a day, fed two to three times a day, depending on their stage of growth. After three months they are transitioned from the milk to pasture with a balanced feed mix.

Spring is .. Ruby, our new Border Collie pup. In France we saw farms where Border Collies live and work amongst the goats. They bring the herd to and from the dairy, protect against predators and generally keep order. We want to see if we can train Ruby to work with our goats. At 10 weeks old, the signs are promising, if not amusing, as she tries to coordinate her rapidly growing body. She’s already responding to Carla’s commands to ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘drop’; she’s becoming more sure of herself around the goats and she’s revelling in exploring the smells, action and excitement of life on a dairy farm. Leaving the shed at the end of a long shift and being greeted exuberantly by a very happy pup is a gift. We’re enjoying her boundless energy.

We’re rejuvenating our pastures.

Spring is … soil response. In paddocks where we’ve aerated and added compost, lime and dolomite, the increasing daylight and warmth has boosted soil microbial activity and thus given pastures a real boost.  Aeration has been the biggest benefit for our granitic soils; we’ve seen a difference between paddocks that haven’t been given the treatment. Add the soil amendments and it’s been a real surprise, especially given the low winter rainfall. We’ve spread 200 cubic metres (200 tonnes) of farm compost, along with 26 tonnes of lime and 12 tonnes of dolomite. Soil improvement, plus mowing, has decimated the usual capeweed infestation on this Sutton Grange country. But it’s all in the timing.

Spring is … green feed. We’re using grazing regimes to manage the fresh growth, whilst continually improving our pastures. Why use machines when you can use a well placed fence and goats? We’ve divided our farm into smaller paddocks to better control grazing and manage internal parasites (worms). Once our farm was four large paddocks. Now we have 21 and still some more dividing to do. The big hay paddock has become five smaller paddocks (four of three acres and one eight acres) and the goats spend about 8 days in each. Goats will prefer some plants above others, but the short, concentrated grazing means nothing is ‘hammered’ too much and can regrow because the plant’s meristem (growing point) is not damaged. Perennial grasses and other herbs and clover can outcompete capeweed, given a chance. And fresh paddocks mean happy goats.

We have ‘new milk’ and new order in the dairy herd.

Spring is … maiden milk. The new mums come onto the milking line for their first time. But they are ready. For the first six to eight weeks after kidding we give them their own space and place to graze before they join the main herd. We have run them as a little herd, kept them on familiar ground and close to the sheds, so they feel confident and have strong connections before they join the others. We make sure the maiden milkers come on the line first-up, feed them a bit more concentrate whilst on it, for about six months. We give them individual attention and focus. As a result, there’s no bullying in the dairy or paddock, everyone knows their place. The entire herd get used to the routine and the herd leaders (us) reinforce it and advocate for the new milkers. This gradual introduction and the setting up of rituals and systems means minimal stress on the herd. Our milk production lifts enormously because every doe is producing. Milk flow continues to increase as the herd moves through new paddocks with fresh pick. It’s spring flush.

We’re seeing the bush coming back, tree plantings growing and new habitat.

Spring is … native regeneration and restoration. Australian native plants are the best adapted to growing on our farm. We are turning to them, rather than introduced species, for our fodder and to increase biodiversity across the farm. The long dry periods have proven them. As well as encouraging the native grasses, we have fenced off the corners of our paddocks, previously underutilised areas, using weldmesh and planted with acacias (eg. black wattle, golden wattle) hakeas and bursaria, for fodder and habitat. A mouldboard plough, press roller and potti pukti treeplanter – link to you tube video – are our main tools and we also use treeguards to stop ‘roo and rabbit grazing. The ploughing means no chemical weed control is needed. When pruned the trees and shrubs will give more green feed, high in minerals and tannins, for the goats come summer. We are also protecting our big, old, sentinel box and redgum trees with the same weldmesh protection. These very large treeguards (!) allow goats access to shade, but protect the trees from ringbarking by goats teeth and will allow some regeneration of seed. We’re aiming at protecting around 20 large trees each year. Our farm would have once been an open grassy woodland – EVC Goldfields 175_61, so our focus is on protecting the big old trees and planting understory species (shrubs, ground covers, grasses) rather than planting any more trees.

We’re renewing our ideas.

Spring is … new approaches and learning.  Ann-Marie was 16 years old when she first had a goat to care for and we’ve both worked with goats for some 20 years now. But still we are constantly learning. The more you learn, the more you appreciate the subtleties, reconsider your ideas, and the deeper you go, and learn. Over the autumn and winter we’ve had the time, and need, to reassess how we deal with animal management in our herd. We’ve developed a four step process that’s all about observation. In any certified organic system observation is the key because you don’t have the luxury of any conventional ‘quick fix’. Our mantra is “know your herd”. Know your individual animals and their unique traits. Respond quickly as soon as they behave or appear outside of those traits. Acknowledge that treatments take time and are more labour intensive (persist). Finally, review your actions; what would you do again and what would you do differently?

So, after winter, comes Spring. Rejuvenation, renewal and a pup called Ruby.

AM check Carla Red Ruby puppy Maggie Terrier

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France, the Font of Holy Goat Cheese

french cheeses on displayFrance. Ten days. Sixty Cheeses. And that was just the Affinage Course. We’ve just had three weeks in France where we took part in a specialist cheese course at Mons – Fromager Affineur the Academie Opus Caseus course – to learn more about French cheese and the ripening and maturation of cheeses. Our small group included an English cheesemaker, American cheesemonger and our American interpreter and French teacher. We also acknowledge all the wonderful cave dwellers who care for the cheese and prepare them for sale.

Apart from the formal cheese tasting (six cheeses each day) and learning about the intricacies and alchemy of maturing different cheese types through the coursework, our trip was a goat cheese immersion. We visited some of our past French interns at Holy Goat and saw how they had developed their own farm businesses. We also visited Ivan Larcher who has come to Holy Goat previously, to advise on our cheesemaking. The trip was so very inspiring and affirming for us. We’ve come home with a two page manifesto of ideas and tasks, from the small to the large-scale. Travel broadens the mind, but travel with a purpose surely focuses and renews it. We already have a couple of larger projects on the go, to improve our efficiencies in the dairy and the cheeseroom, as well as a host of small improvements including specific brushes for affinage, new cheese hoops, changing our maintenance schedule and learning French!

But back to those 60 cheeses. Each day we would have a formal tasting of six cheeses, maybe of the same family, or from the same animal, or a mix. It was a thorough process; first to determine parameters for the cheese – visual, smell, texture – and only then to taste the cheese. We had to try to identify the animal (sheep, goat, cow) what cheese type (goat, fresh, soft ripened washed rind, soft ripened bloomy rind, pressed uncooked, pressed cooked, blue, processed) and where it was from. The French have strict codes on their cheeses – the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protegee) or ‘protected designation of origin’ is a certification granted to certain products to guarantee its characteristics and origins. The AOP defines the region of a cheese and where and how it has been made over centuries, which gives it status that is embedded in French culture; the design, style and origin is a mark of standing and importance. This AOP can be both a blessing and a curse. Here in Australia we have far more flexibility to experiment with our cheeses and cultures. But the French legacy of history, from centuries of cheesemaking, is enormous. In fact it was the Islamic Saracens who first brought goats into France and by about  800AD goats had reached the Loire Valley. Puts our own industry into perspective!

Goat herds have always been an important part of French dairying and so have the small, french goats grazingspecialist cheesemakers, with around 7000 specialist farmhouse cheesemakers like us (for a population of 70 million). Compare that with less than 50 in Australia. Milk is not seen as a product or commodity in France. The French rarely drink milk, but do eat massive amounts of cheese, yoghurt, butter. Australia produces milk. The types of cheese produced in France also reflect the population, topography and climate. In the river valleys where populations are focused, fresh cheeses rule. In the high alpine country, the dense, high protein, high nutrient hard cheeses reign. The French eat at least 24kg of cheese per head each year. Australians eat 12kg.

As much attention is paid to the ripening, care and retail of cheese as the production, hence the course run at Mons. Agricultural education is paramount. Specialist Dairy Technician training is available through five schools across France. Training is industry focused. Graduates have extensive and impressive knowledge of all things cheese, from animal husbandry and milk production right through to the final product. This explains why we have found our French interns so valuable – they have both the applied and practical training before they even graduate. When our interns arrive at Holy Goat, they are ready to work.

More Impressions from France:

  • There are real openings and opportunities for the young and enthusiastic to get a start in dairy farming. For instance, it is feasible to have a small herd of 12 cows producing 200 litres of milk per day, a little factory to produce yoghurt and butter on farm, and to make a living.
  • Goats are vital contributors to agriculture. Goat cheese has a category of its own, ahead of cow, sheep. It is lauded.
  • The willingness of dairy farmers to share information, resources and advice. We experienced a real exchange of ideas, especially from the day to day operations and systems of local farms. Farmers share a real pride in what they do and their industry.
  • Organic methods and inputs are widely used, with many options to improve and support growers, especially with nutrition and animal health. Animal health observation cards, “Obsalim” a fantastic example. We were thrilled to find out that they are available specifically for goats, and also in English!
  • Because goats are such a large part of the French dairying, there is a huge amount of resources and research to support the industry.

And what’s next? Well back to our two page list, for a start. And to enjoy the inspiration from seeing our goats, and cheese, anew.

Thank you to our generous sponsor who enabled us to travel and study. Also the amazing team at Holy Goat for sailing the goat ship and cheese room whilst we were away.

Here are a few pics from the trip … click on the images to see the larger version.

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Healthy Soils, Healthy Goats

We had a visit from Peter Norwood the other week. Peter is a farm consultant from Maffra and a specialist in animal nutrition. Peter had been visiting central Victoria speaking to Landcare members and farmers about soil health and links with plant and animal/human health. 

_DSC0106Peter advocates the Albrecht approach to soil health, which is to “feed the soil and let the soil feed the plants” – a famous William Albrecht quote.  When the soil contains the correct chemistry, the plant will be able to acquire all its necessary nutrients in the proper amounts. This means that instead of focussing on the simplistic notion of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) as the key minerals for soil fertility, as conventional agriculture tends to, that farmers focus instead on balancing the soil and ensuring a diverse array of minerals and micronutrients are available for plant uptake.

The chemistry of the soil has a direct impact on animal productivity and health – soil imbalances will show up in animal health issues and ultimately farm profitability. We have worked hard over the years to build up our soil health using composts, rock phosphate, oversowing pastures, and rotationally grazing our paddocks, working towards achieving what Albrecht would define as the ideal soil.

The Albrecht view – and carried on by Neal Kinsey – is that an ideal soil is composed of 45% minerals, 5% humus* and 50% pore space. The pore space is crucial to hold moisture, air and provide a beneficial environment for soil organisms.

DSCF9023Soil chemistry (particle size and charge – linked to Cation Exchange Capacity*) affects soil physics (the structure, strength and water holding capacity) which in turn affects soil biology (microbes, bacteria, fungi and other organisms).

It helps to have an understanding of the Periodic Table and the size and charge of atoms, but when soil chemistry and physics are right, the environment for the biology will also be right.  That is why so much emphasis is placed on achieving the exact level, or ratio, for each nutrient based on the specific requirements of each different soil.

The ideal soil mineral makeup is 60% Calcium, 12% Magnesium, 500 ppm Phosphorus, 4.5% Potassium, 1.5-3% Sodium and 10-20ppm Zinc. Rather than measuring excess or deficiency as an specific amount, Albrecht considers the ratios between cations. The ratios between Ca:Mg, N/K and Zn/P are as important as their individual levels – if not in balance, growth will be affected.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmCalcium and Magnesium are actually two of the most critical minerals, not Nitrogen. As well, trace minerals, such as Manganese, Copper, Boron, Zinc, Iodine, and Chlorine, etc. are vitally important because the metabolic cycles in plant and animal production rely on them for healthy function. This is another reason that organic farmers tend to focus heavily on soil health, since supplementation and intervention are restricted in biological agriculture.

We are becoming more interested in exploring the metabolic cycles in plants and animals as we pursue health and productivity on the farm – more on this in future blogs. But it all starts with the soil.

 

Other Links:  Albrecht Soil Method;  Soil Balancing;   The Albrecht Papers

 * Humusa dark, organic material that forms in soil when plant and animal matter decay. Whilst organic matter refers to the organic fraction of the soil that is composed of both living organisms and once-living residues in various stages of decomposition. Humus is only a small portion of the organic matter. It is the end product of organic matter decomposition and is relatively stable.

** Cation Exchange Capacity is defined as the degree to which a soil can adsorb and exchange cations. 

Cation – a positively charged ion (NH4+, K+, Ca2+, Fe2+, etc…) 

Anion – a negatively charged ion (NO3-, PO42-, SO42-, etc…) 

Soil particles and humus have negative charges on their surfaces. Mineral cations can bind to the negative surface charges, or the inorganic and organic soil particles. Once adsorbed these minerals are not easily lost when the soil is leached by water and they also provide a nutrient reserve available to plant roots. These minerals can then be replaced or exchanged by other cations (i.e. cation exchange) 

 

 

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Life Force and Cheese

Traditionally made cheese is a living, fermented, food; full of living microbes that are dynamically interacting and evolving. It has a life force.  

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmThe milk comes from amazing dairy animals – goats, sheep, cows, buffalo and others. They have a life force.

Our goats (and other dairy animals) produce all the ingredients we need to make cheese:

  • milk: with a beautiful variety of lactic acid bacteria which naturally ferments the sugars in milk (lactose) to preserve it and make it more digestible;
  • rennet: an enzyme in the stomachs of young animals which coagulates the protein (casein) in the mother’s milk so the young can digest it.

With these two ingredients – lactic acid and rennet – we ferment the lactose in milk and coagulate the protein. This produces curds which we drain and ripen to make cheese.

Dairy goats are more than milk machines. Our goats live in herds and have strong connections and friendships to each other and the people who milk and care for them. They live in landscapes, with sun and rain, pastures, hills, valleys, streams, seasons and people. These landscapes provide their food, sense of place, shelter, contentment, purpose, joy. These landscapes are a complex interacting life force.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmThe milk our dairy herd produces reflects the wild diversity of microorganisms from their living landscape. The trees, the shrubs, the flowers, the water, the grass, the soil all contribute minerals, enzymes, esters, bacteria, fungi. Our goats convert feed (grass, leaves, weeds, bark, seeds, grain) and water into milk. Clean healthy milk is biologically alive, complete with protein, sugars, fats, minerals, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts and moulds.

Cheese is an amazing food; nutrient dense and an excellent source of protein, calcium, phosphorus and fat. It is a living food.

Cheese tastes like nothing else – rich, subtle, aromatic -it has sublime textures and even looks amazing. It carries the stories of the animals, the pasture, the landscape and the people who produce it.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmCheese making is an art, a craft, a science, and also hard, rewarding work. As cheese makers we are part of an ancient craft that has been evolving for thousands of years. The role of the cheese maker is to befriend, honour and respect the life force of the cheese and humbly work to nurture the cheese to achieve it’s potential; to create the perfect cheese.

Throughout all of its life stages, from living fodder, to healthy dairy animals, to liquid milk, to cheese, microorganisms are active, evolving, interacting. Creating a life force.

#This is an excerpt from a presentation Carla made at the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers’ Association (ASCA) Cheese Fair, held during the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

 

 

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Why Organic?

Organic husbandry is based on the harmonious relationship between land, water, plants and animals. Respect for the physiological and behavioural needs of animals and the feeding of good quality, organically grown feed.*

Sound like our farm?

That quote is from an early version of the NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia Ltd) Organic Standards and is fundamental to why we chose to farm organically and to seek certification as organic producers.

When we first made the decision to go organic, we thought that we’d be able to find the information and resources we’d need. We had worked on conventional farming properties, so already knew about the issues associated with this type of agriculture.

web version.holy goat logoA certified organic farm means no synthetic fertilisers (urea, superphosphate, MAP, DAP, etc) no pesticides or herbicides, no antibiotics or synthetic additives, no hormones, no GMOs.  But organics is so much more than a reductionist approach of not using, or doing, something. It’s about developing a wholistic farming system, built upon interconnected, natural, ecological processes.  Organic production takes a systems approach to the farm, from the soils through to the people. It means happy healthy animals, biologically active soils and a biodiverse farm.

Wander around any of the Victorian Farmers Market accredited markets and you’ll see the familiar farmers’ market ‘tick’ that signifies the grower who sells it has grown it.  Many stalls also display a copy of their organic certification, perhaps through NASAA, ACO, DEMETER, or another certifying body.

But there’s another side to the story – farmers making claim to produce being ‘organically grown’, ‘spray free’ or ‘biological’. It may well be all those things, but without the independent accreditation or legitimacy to back that up, you can’t be sure. It is confusing for the consumer. The organic industry and ACCC have acted on a couple of cases (eggs, water) where growers were intentionally misusing the term ‘organic’ (see the links below), but at a local level it’s usually lack of knowledge or awareness of the organic standards and the perception of added expense. Our fees are currently 1% of our gross income to NASAA annually.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmThe best way to be assured that the produce is legit is to buy from growers who can demonstrate their organic credentials through certification (unless you can visit the farm and see how it’s produced first hand) so look for the certification number, the label, or the certificate. These growers are supporting and developing the organic industry. Of course many of our customers aren’t fussed about our organic credentials; they just love the taste of the cheese!

An audit inspection of Holy Goat is carried out by our certifier NASAA annually – our latest was in September 2013. We provide our records (production, sales, etc.) for the past year. Our soils, pastures, vegetation, goats, buildings and sheds are all looked over. We have to be able to trace a batch of cheese back to the milking date and the herd and what they were fed on that day and where that feed was sourced. All bought-in products – hay, feed, minerals, etc. – must also be certified organic and we must have that proof (everything but our NSW barley comes from within an hour’s drive of the farm). Machinery coming onto the farm must be cleaned.  A farm diary and an organic  management plan are kept. NASAA have a volume of Standards – NASAA Organic Standard – that must be maintained and these are regularly reviewed and updated as the industry itself develops.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmUsually it takes three to four years to gain full certification. Our farm had been lightly managed, no history of superphosphate use and no soil residues, so we had a ‘precertification’ year and then only one ‘in-conversion’ year before we were fully certified in 2003. Ten years down the track and we have learnt so much from being certified organic. When issues or problems arise you have to look outside the box, because you can’t just treat an animal with antibiotics, or apply a fertiliser to the soil, or buy in feed from wherever you can get it during droughts. You have to know your farm really well. Knowing, through acute observation, is the key – and the benefit – to being a successful certified organic farmer.

All that record keeping isn’t just for NASAA. It’s useful to us – we can see exactly when a goat was mated, or what the weather conditions were on a certain day and what the feed mix was, which minerals were being selected, and how our milk production changed in relation to all those things. Over time, we can see patterns and make links.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmThe other attraction for us was the better welfare for animals under organic management. The focus is on allowing the animal to fully express it’s ‘animalness’, so we can let our goats be ‘goats’, expressing their own quirkiness and inherent nature, and not be ‘production units’.

Some farmers may say ‘I love my animals too much to be organic certified’, because they believe that they will not be able to treat and respond adequately to sick animals. We don’t believe that is the case. It hasn’t been our experience. If an organic animal is very sick and needs antibiotics, you cannot withhold treatment – it just means you cannot use the milk from that animal for 6 months. That can be a strain on a dairy enterprise. Some farmers will move treated animals into a ‘hospital ward’, or send them to a conventional herd, or cull. We will keep the animal apart and handmilk away from the dairy. Even if you do have animal health issues, antibiotics may not be the answer, often an underlying issue, perhaps nutrition or stress, is causing the symptoms which medication can only treat, not cure. We use a range of herbal tinctures, vitamins, homeopathics and minerals to assist with treatment of our herd.

The US based vet Dr Hubert Karreman has been a great resource for us in managing our herd organically. He stresses that the best dairy management tool is observation. We have a checklist of signs and symptoms to guide problem solving, as well as the other tools – checking temperature, CMT test for mastitis, breathing, rumination. We encourage our staff to get to know each and every goat – faces and udders especially – to become part of the herd.

(Here’s a test … can you match the goat with her face and udder?! See the link to find out who’s is whose)

A small herd, say less than 100 animals, lends itself to organics, because you get to know the individual animals and their behaviours. Knowing when a goat is acting abnormally, (eg she is hanging behind at the milking line up when normally she’s up first, or she’s not standing with her group of mates, or her coat is fluffy) means you can identify a problem very early on. Even then, the goat has probably been ill for a few days. Early ID is critical because organic treatments take longer (a week, rather than a day or two) to have an effect and are more time consuming to administer and monitor than conventional ones.

Being certified organic has meant we’ve had to find our own solutions to problems, rather than just relying on conventional wisdom or science. It has made us better farmers. And usually the organic solution has been superior to any conventional one. Enterotoxemia (Clostridium) is an example – even in conventional herds it is difficult to treat and farmers usually consider vaccination. We worked with a vet to understand the clostridium bacteria and how it works (it actually exists in the gut naturally) and eventually found charcoal to be an effective treatment.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmLikewise, we now understand our soils and their influence on animal nutrition much more clearly. In this granite country, the uptake of some minerals is limited, including magnesium.  The Calcium-Phosphorus pathway is the only one really talked about in dairying, but we have found Magnesium is every bit as important (in mobilising vitamin D) in the goat metabolism. We supplemented with a Magnesium salt lick and this year no goat has shown symptoms of any metabolic disorder. Organics has helped us to understand the biochemical and metabolic systems on our farm in a way no conventional textbook or course could.

We didn’t achieve organic certification to maximise profits, although organic products do generally command a higher price than conventional in the marketplace. For us, it was the organic philosophy and approach; it fits our farm. We enjoy the creativity and the constant learning and application it demands. The sense of camaraderie amongst other certified organic farmers who supply our feed and hay. And the fact we make a quality, ethical and nutritious product.

Why wouldn’t you be organic certified?

 

*NASAA organic standards 2006

More links:

Organic Federation of Australia

http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/groceries/organic-claims

http://www.ofa.org.au/papers/Organic-Claims-and-Consumer-Rights.pdf

http://www.tmorganics.com/livestock/livestock-latest-news.html

http://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/court-finds-egg-packer-substituted-organic-with-conventional-eggs

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Heat and Goats

Heat and GoatsKeeping our herd of 100 milking goats cool, calm and collected – not to mention our two-legged milkers – is our focus as we head into this week’s heatwave. Central Victorian summers are always harsh, but consecutive days of 40 degrees plus can take their toll on a dairy farm.

Goats don’t sweat. They pant and flare their nostrils to try to keep their body temperature down. We minimise herd stress and help keep them cool by providing lots of water, salt and minerals, shade and ventilation, and keep up a supply of highly nutritious feed.

Goats must constantly eat to maintain body condition, health and milk production. When it’s very hot they may not even leave their lounging sheds to paddock graze, so we compensate by providing them with hay and fresh green feed, improving the nutrition of their ration and milking earlier (we try to have the milking cups on by 5.30am) so they can have an hour or more to feed before the real heat kicks in.

On a 40 degree day our goats will still produce milk, but the volume will be less and the protein and fat levels will change. The resulting curd can be fragile, altering the final product. It’s the balance between fat and protein that’s important in cheesemaking. The preferred fat to protein ratio is 1.35. During summer it can be as high as 1.7 This is why providing high protein, green feed is very important over summer.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmWe don’t standardise our milk, so the taste of the cheese will always reflect seasonal conditions on the farm. And the farm itself. We are constantly learning about the effect of season and nutrition, and evolving our farming practices, and cheesemaking, alongside.

As our dam levels drop, the cumbungi growing around their edges become an important source of green feed. By now there is little green feed about, unless summer thunderstorms stimulate native grass growth – wallaby, kangaroo, spear – or our mown firebreaks. The cumbungi provides about a month’s green feed. We also cut back our lucerne trees (a week’s green feed) and branches from our acacia feed/shelter belt plantings – wirilda and black wattle. The wattles grow back lushly through autumn and spring. We do have to watch out for nesting birds in the vegetation at this time of year though.

The feed mix changes over summer. We increase the green feed (protein) component by upping the amount of lucerne and reducing the oaten chaff.  Wheat bran, linseed meal, apple cider vinegar are added to the mix. With the scarcity of green feed we will also supplement with cod liver oil and vitamins A and E.

Heat and GoatsAt this time of year goats have very high salt and mineral needs. Goats do have higher mineral needs than sheep or cattle anyway. Perhaps because by nature they are browsers of (non irrigated) perennial plants, which bring a diverse array of nutrients from deep within the soil profile, rather than the shallow rooted annuals. So we supplement their ration with very small amounts of sulphur, dolomite (calcium and magnesium), magnesium, copper, boron, zinc and seaweed (kelp). We also provide self serve mineral ‘buffets’ where the goats can pick and choose which mineral salt they need – perhaps zinc, magnesium, copper, cobalt, boron, calcium, or just salt alone. Another large salt lick block contains a mix of micronutrients. It’s always interesting to see which minerals they prefer at certain times of the season and at different times in growth and lactation. Right now, the goats are ingesting lots of sea salt as well as boron and copper.

Heat and GoatsDuring the heat at milking time we provide a dilute solution of harvested seaweed (Marrawah kelp from Tasmania, soaked overnight and added to 40 litres of water). It’s very popular! The seaweed provides an important mix of micronutrients and minerals, including iodine, and acts as a bit of a pep-up or tonic for heat stressed animals, as well as rehydrating them. If very badly heat stressed, we will give a goat electrolytes.

Breeding also helps. Saanen goats can get sunburnt, but because our Sannen x British Alpine crosses have tanned udders, noses and ears, they’re much less prone to cancers and sunburn.

Goats drink huge amounts of water during summer, more than 20 litres on a hot day. In the lounging shed we provide fresh rainwater, collected from the dairy and shed roofs into tanks. In the paddocks, dam water is pumped up to a header tank and then gravity fed to troughs around the farm. Monitoring water supplies is a vital job over summer as a few goats can very quickly empty a 200 litre trough.

Heat and GoatsGoats will hunt out shade. Plenty of large paddock trees, shedding and a range of shady sites is important. Our sheds are large, airy, vented and well positioned so they do get cross breezes. We also use vents and fans in the dairy. We let the herd move around the farm freely. They particularly love to hang about under the shearers quarters. This can be disconcerting for the residents above – the goats have been known to pull out power cords whilst having a scratch, stopping the water supply mid-shower and cutting electricity!

Black goats are more affected by the heat, so when they come in for milking we will drape them with cold wet towels. On really hot days we will turn the sprinklers on in the dairy before the goats come in, to cool it down ahead of milking. But we also try to be frugal with our water in case of fires.

Grass seeds (goats have three eyelids so removing seeds from eyes can be a delicate operation) and snakes are our other summer concerns, as well as the ever present awareness of bushfire. We have a well prepared fire-plan, a sprinkler system surrounds the dairy and cheeseroom, and we keep our goats close to the dairy on high fire danger days.

Will you survive the summer ahead as well as our goats?

 

 

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Happy Christmas and New Year from Holy Goat

Well 2013 has been another year of growth and change for Holy Goat, a year where the seasons were (mostly) kind, the goats thrived and our cheeses continued to find new appreciation around the nation.

We look forward to a brief spell, some time to reflect and celebrate the festive season, before embarking on another farming year.

We’d like to wish our fantastic staff, supporters, distributors, customers – and of course the goats – a wonderful Christmas and New Year. May it be joyous and feature plenty of goats cheese!

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NB. If you haven’t stocked up on your festive fromage, we will be selling cheese at the special twilight Melbourne Farmers Markets leading up to Christmas. Check the market link here for more info.

Cheesemaking - Nectre, hard cheeseskyla  Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic Farm

 

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Cheesemaking – the Science, and the Art

Our goats have flourished in the spring conditions and milk production reached an all-time high this month. Last month 8400 litres poured into the vat, compared to 5600 litres last spring, and 4200 litres the year before that. But it’s not only sheer volume, the milk is sweet and balanced, with medium protein and fat levels.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmThe surfeit of riches this time of year allows us to experiment with our cheesemaking. We can develop other cheese types and learn more about the changing nature and chemistry of the milk itself. We’ve been continuing to develop a hard cheese – we’ve named it Nectre – for the past three years now.

Making cheese is both a science and an art. While pH/acidity, temperature/humidity and time dictate the process, we are also dealing with a living, changing, organic substance.  Microorganisms create the cheese and the milk itself changes according to season and goat nutrition. It’s not possible to create quality farmhouse cheese simply by ‘wrote’ or recipe. Fine cheese also requires intuition and understanding on the part of the cheesemaker.

We’ve been guided by international experts such as Ivan Larcher and worked with him last week on our Nectar. It is 7 months since Ivan last came to Holy Goat; we were able to refine our methods and have him taste the fruit of our labours so far.

Cheesemaking - Nectre, hard cheeseAs farmhouse cheesemakers we don’t standardise the milk, but we can adjust temperature, the amount of rennet and the starter cultures. We can further understand milk quality by measuring the titratable acidity and the length of time it takes to achieve flocculation after renneting. For example, our milk has less protein now than in winter, this is confirmed by a lower acidity (18 dornic) compared to 23 dornic in winter.

The cheeseroom always bustles with the usual staff at work – turning cheeses, salting, ashing, wrapping, washing and cleaning, but there is added energy and excitement when we are making a batch of Nectar. See the photo gallery below for the step by step process.

We have 200 litres of milk set aside in the vat (at a temperature of 32 degrees) and the process begins by adding the selected starter cultures. For our slow fermentation cheese we use a lower temperature, slow lactic acid fermentation, where lactic acid bacteria transform the milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. Rennet is added to coagulate the milk. While we use non-animal rennet in our fresh and soft cheeses. animal rennet is used in the Nectre, to avoid bitter peptides as the hard cheese matures.

and more

The lactic acid and rennet cause the milk to curdle and separate into curds (milk solids, fats, protein, minerals, etc) and whey (lactose, whey proteins, minerals, but mostly water). This happens over a 24 hour period. When the lactic acid concentration reaches a certain level (eg. in the case of our La Luna, a pH of 4.3) the curd is gently ladled.  Nectar is a rennet set cheese and the curd set time will vary, depending on the quality of the milk, somewhere between 40 to 60 minutes.

We do one large cut – the Ninja cut – as coined by Ivan Larcher, to assist with removal of whey from the curd. Then 10 minutes later we do the more conventional cut.

The last stage is ripening, or affinage, where microbes and enzymes within the cheese work together to mature it, under controlled temperature and humidity. The Nectar is initially washed daily in brine and cultures.

The whole process is fast paced with many measurements of pH, acidity and temperature through the make. It’s vital that we monitor and record our steps to help refine our cheesemaking and identify what works – minutes and seconds matter, as does a tenth of a unit of pH, half a degree of dornic or of temperature.

_DSC0018Our cheese is a pure expression of the milk and the goats. The season, the pasture and the time of lactation all create the essence of Holy Goat. We simply combine quality milk, with culture, pH, temperature and time. How we work with these factors is where the detail and the delicacy lie. And we also know that, in the end, the ultimate test of a cheese is not with the pH meter, or temperature probe, or burette, it’s actually with the taste buds.

 

See the cheesemaking process below. To enlarge, click on the thumbnail.

 

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All in a Weekend’s Work

It’s 5.15am on any Saturday (and some Sundays) and you’ll find our ‘market car’ with its cargo of Holy Goat cheese, lovingly packed and refrigerated, on it’s way an accredited Farmers’ Market in Melbourne, or perhaps closer to home at Castlemaine or Bendigo.

By 8am our stall is set up and ready – our cabinet stocked … with tubs of creamy Fromage Frais, wrapped barrels of Silk, pyramids of ash-coated Black Silk, the lovely La Luna, delicate logs of Skyla, and the more mature cheeses – Eclipse, Pandora and Veloute … and tasting plates on hand. Many market-goers know exactly what they want and ask us for it. Others are new to the market, or to goat’s cheese. We have plenty of time for both, because the markets give us an opportunity to interact directly with our customers, to receive feedback on our product and to help us keep developing our cheeses, and our farm.

_DSC0505This two way connection is vital for us and other small producers around the State. It also means we get a fair price for our produce and the buyer knows exactly what they’re buying, how it is produced, and by whom (including the names of our goats, if they should ask). They can also find out how seasonal conditions are influencing the final product. Selling cheese here is much more than just a financial transaction.

Victoria’s uniquely successful, voluntary Farmers’ Market Accreditation, which ensures the produce customers buy has been grown by the person they hand over their money to, and that it has been grown within defined local, regional, or state boundaries, has been an important part of our success.

OVG - Yarra RiverToday we’re Collingwood Children’s Farm and Bendigo Farmers’ Market.  Of the weekly Melbourne farmers’ markets, Collingwood attracts some 3000+ visitors and many are regulars at our stall. The city farm is in a beautiful location on a bend of the Yarra River and many shoppers stay to enjoy the animals, music and lovely Spring sunshine.

Fairfield, at the local primary school, is one of our newer markets and we are gaining a loyal following. ‘Once people have tasted the cheese they will walk back to our stall month after month. It sells itself,’ says Gen, one of our farmers’ marketeers. ‘Children love the fresh cheese. Market-goers have a real taste for the La Luna.’

‘People are very curious to know how the cheese is made and where the farm is. Selling at Farmers’ Markets means you get to meet lots of different people and you really get to know your regular customers. At Gasworks market, people are at the point where they bring along photos of their kids or grandkids to show me! It’s the most enjoyable selling I’ve ever done,’ says Gen.

_DSC0495Naomi lives a five minute walk away from the Fairfield Farmers’ Market and is a regular Holy Goat Cheese buyer.  ‘It’s the real deal. The cheese is tasty, creamy and very versatile. It’s stylish on a platter served with crackers. It’s conversation worthy and it has never let me down.’

‘I like buying from the growers and seeing that all of my money goes directly to them without the middlemen. It suits my ethos, the produce is always good and it’s worth the money,’ says Naomi.

Sooz from Brunswick is another regular. ‘I love the social aspect of the Farmers’ Markets, I love cheese and chocolate, but I especially love cheese!’

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Farmers’ Markets provide around 30% of our turnover, the rest of our cheese is sold through distributors to regional Victoria, Melbourne and Sydney. Selling our cheese direct at markets suits our farm production schedules, but not all market-goers can find our cheese when they want, which is where the distributors, retailers and restauranteurs come into the picture. It’s a healthy business model to have a wide range of outlets, without the monopolies of supermarkets. Besides, we are a farmhouse producer and not geared up to the sort of scale (and low returns) that industrial farms and supermarkets demand. Plus we rely on the expertise and skill of the cheesemongers and restaurant staff to care for our delicate cheeses prior to sale.

_DSC0544Farmers’ Markets also allow us to carry out product development and research without large outlays; to test the market. Eclipse, a geotrichum ash coated cheese, is an example of our market customers tasting – and then buying – a cheese developed with their feedback. We can also respond directly to questions – how to prepare, serve and cut the cheese.

By 12.30pm we will have sold out and begun packing up for the drive back to Sutton Grange, returning by around 3.30pm. This has been the routine, weekend in and out, for the past 11 years, since the very early days of Farmers’ Markets. That’s every weekend, every month, 8 markets, month in and out.  Mostly we sell out, or close to. Then it’s the same all over, the next weekend.

But it’s no chore. We love the Farmers’ Markets and not only for the loyal customers we’ve met and got to know. We’ve been part of our customers lives, their joys and sadness. Farmers’ Markets also mean that producers like us are taking marketing and retailing back into our own domain, becoming price makers, instead of price takers.

There’s a vital place for Farmers’ Markets in this country and our farm is demonstrating that you don’t have to be big to be a successful primary producer; small farms that pay heed to the way they produce and market will always have a place in the economy. We think consumers feel the same. From what we see at the Farmers’ Markets, customers are happy to be paying for quality organic produce and most importantly they are happy to be paying us, directly, for it.

 

Farmers Market Dates:

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Who do you think you are?

_DSC0126Ivy was born on the 9th August this year, the last of the kids born to the maiden does (first time kidding). She comes from a long line of goats. Her mother is Hoya, borne by Jasmine, who came from Lilac, out of Buddelia. Muse is her great great great grand dame. Ivy’s father’s is Milano (Petra’s son) the grandson of Carlos, one of our foundation bucks. No SBS production needed here, because our joining’s are carefully considered and mapped, and besides, the offspring themselves give their heritage away.

Genetics are an important consideration on our farm. We believe that environment, animal care and nutrition are 90% of the story, genetics the rest. But faulty genetics will never result in a happy, healthy, productive animal. Inbreeding can cause conformation weaknesses, neurological problems and poor milk production. So we work just as hard on improving that 10%.

People think it’s nice or quaint, that we name all our goats. In fact it’s for a very practical reason. Not only can we and our staff remember each and every animal when we look at them, milk them and feed them, but through their name we become aware of every other goat that she is linked to – the whole family ancestry and all that comes with it.

Holy Goat Cheese and Sutton Grange Organic FarmWe have several maternal lines – the famous singers (eg. Piaf, Bonnie, Marlena, etc), the precious metals (eg. Copper, Silver, Pewter, Bronze, etc), the fruit (eg. Guava, Pear, Mulberry, etc). Performers, goddesses, herbs, and of course Ivy, of the climbing plants line (we started with flowering plants but there were two sisters we wanted to breed from so we split them into the climbers and the flowers).

Naming our goats gives us instant recognition of family lines and traits. Traits get carried down through the lines. We notice the quirky things the most – the adventurous ones that strive beyond the regular goat, like Muse who was always breaking out of her paddock, sussing out the wheelbarrow of feed at milking time. Muse had triplets (Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Bette Davis) – all of them escapees as well, but usually only at milking when they’d come and oversee activities, or seek an extra feed. Even grand daughter Lola does the same!

_DSC0129Besides this behavioural tendency, conformation is another major feature – feet, udders, build and milking volume are all highly heritable. Chervil, Chicory, Mint and Parsley are all big milkers with well formed udders and sturdy bodies.

Our breeding plans are put in place well before joining, based on generations of observation – of a goat’s mother, sister, aunt, grand mother, her sire. We don’t mate underperforming does.

We mate our young maiden does in March. But we don’t join these maiden does until they are one and a half years old, which gives us an opportunity to observe their milk production, behaviour, health and how closely they resemble their heritage. We also want the does to have a fully developed rumen before they kid, which takes at least 18 months. This means they are better prepared for the stresses of birth and lactaction at 2 years old. Our three bucks are put in separate paddocks and we introduce small groups of young does who stay there for 6-8 weeks.

Our older dairy does are mated individually when they are 4 years old. Goats cycle, or come into oestrus, every 3 weeks (a bit shorter than humans) and will tell us by their actions – typically tail wagging, flirting with each other, hanging about in small groups, standing up. If a buck is nearby it’s pretty obvious, but some of the quieter goats need closer observation of behavioural or physical signs. We take the doe individually to the buck we have chosen for them and it’s all pretty quick – impregnation only takes a 5 seconds or so.

_DSC0123Sometimes, despite all our intentions and good fences, a doe will decide for herself who she fancies! In most cases that’s okay, but we have to make sure the buck isn’t closely related to them.

Other dairy farmers may increase nutrition at mating – primarily protein levels – but we have no problems with fertility in our herd (this year we have 35 kids from 17 does) so it is not an issue for our farm. But we do alter nutrition during pregnancy, especially in the second trimester, and focus on providing a selection of minerals for pregnant does.

Over time we can see the genetic influence of the bucks because the maternal lines are strong and repeatable. We want to avoid inbreeding. With only 2 to 3 bucks we need to keep alert to it and ideally would introduce a new buck every three years. The reality is that many large goat herds have animal health issues such as Johnnes disease and Caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE) so even if their genetics are good, they are a risky proposition. Small herds can run into inbreeding problems. So far we have been able to keep a balance between self replacing our bucks using the maternal genetic traits and bringing in new genes through true and trusted breeders. We don’t try to improve our herd through bucks alone – there are enough strong and diverse genes through our maternal lines to ensure we keep our animals strong, healthy and productive.

It gets more complex the more generations are produced. We have a series of spreadsheets to keep track and ensure we are always outbreeding. Over the years of working with the herd we make connections and we are always thinking about heritage, ancestry, progeny. At every milking we look down the line and ask how is this goat performing? How true is she to her heritage? How variable are her traits, compared to her relatives? What could the next branch of this family tree be?

We are already contemplating Ivy’s perfect match…

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