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

Delicious! Holy Goat wins again

The 2016 delicious. Produce Awards were held this week at the Pier One Sydney Harbour Hotel. We couldn’t make it to the affair, attended each year by the who’s who of small, sustainable production, and those who support, sell and cook with their produce.

Sally Gosper and the team from our Sydney-based distributor, Simon Johnson attended on our behalf and were just as thrilled as we were to pick up two ‘gongs’ – one for our Brigids Well cheese and another for our farm, awarded “Producer of the Year”.

We are really proud and honoured that our cheese, our goats, and our farming systems are continuing to be recognised and lauded by the industry. We are also proud to represent small, sustainable and biodiverse producers that keep focused on their farms and production. We don’t believe the statement you need to work on your business not in it! Farming is a vocation. The daily presence of us with our team, goats and cheese room means we grow, change, develop and move with the needs of the goats, and the cheese.

Sixteen awards were presented, including three new awards: In the Bottle, celebrating Australia’s artisan drink makers; Outstanding Design, recognising the artists and designers whose products enhance our cooking and dining experience; and Outstanding Region – Readers’ Choice award. delicious.

Nominations for the 2016 delicious. Produce Awards were, for the first time, opened exclusively to industry experts, and this year we received more new and exciting entries than ever before. Innovation was a big factor that set good produce apart from exceptional produce. I would like to congratulate all of our winners and gold medallists and make special mention of Melbourne producers Carla and Ann-Marie, who show no sign of slowing down and whose Holy Goat Cheese is the absolute pinnacle of Australian produce.”

Kerrie McCallum, Editor of delicious.

The produce awards have been going for 11 years and we have been nominated in a fair few of them. Nominations are made by experts in the food industry (it’s a bit like the produce equivalent of the Academy Awards!) so we feel chuffed that leaders in the food industry continue to acknowledge our cheeses, and our cheese production.   The national judging panel this year was Matt Moran, Andew McConnell, Peter Gilmore, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Maggie Beer, Guillaume Brahimi, Christine Manfield and Shannon Bennett.

“I was once again lucky enough to be a part of the National Judging Panel for the delicious. Produce Awards. Every year I am so excited by the quality of produce. This year I tasted some of the best seafood, organic vegies and cheese I have ever tasted. As a chef, it is a really exciting time for the Australian food industry and so much of that comes down to the quality and accessibility of our produce.”

Matt Moran, host of the Awards

Sally Gosper and the Simon Johnson team with Holy a Goat producer of the Year Award. The fabulous team at Holy Goat are very honoured to receive this award.

Sally Gosper and the Simon Johnson team with Holy a Goat producer of the Year Award. The fabulous team at Holy Goat are very honoured to receive this award.

The full list of winners and gold medallists appears in the October issue of delicious. and on delicious.com.au.

And on the topic of small, sustainable production, you might like watching Ann-Marie talk about why farmers markets are so important to Holy Goat Cheese.

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Producing, Employing, Sustaining, Conserving … and it’s a Farm

We were proud to host a recent farm field day at Sutton Grange and on our property last month.

The focus was on biodiversity and production, and how it is possible to manage the land for the benefit of both of these elements; to sustain the environment, farmers, and communities.

We were also thrilled that Connecting Country and the North Central Catchment Management Authority worked together and with us and several other local farms to create the day, which saw around 70 attentive and engaged participants listen, walk, question and talk about what it means to be a productive, diverse and biodiverse, farming enterprise. All this on a very cold and wet, very wintery (but very welcome) central Victorian day.

Along with Katie from Mount Alexander Fruit Gardens, Mandy (Guildford Winery), John (JCB Honey), Ben (Farm Forest Growers of Victoria), Sam (Sidonia Road Organics) and Clare (Pig in a Box), we talked about the road thus travelled; what it means to be a farmer in the current climate, how we have diversified and value added, and what it takes to be sustainable on an economic, environmental and also a social level.

A lot in a day, and that’s not even mentioning the farm walks!

Carla and Ann-Marie:

“The farm field day was an important milestone for us, the connection and importance of our farming enterprise and the preservation and care of the natural world together with Connecting Country and the North Central Catchment Management Authority.

This was an opportunity to highlight some of the challenges we face in our farming life, erosion, water and weed management and some of the work we do to mitigate these issues. We have great respect for the natural aspects of this land and are humbled to be the custodians here for a short while.

Other producers highlighted the resilience required to farm, how to imagine outside the square and overcome some extreme situations. We feel lucky to be part of this farming community.”

Krista Patterson-Majoor:

“Carla and Ann-Marie have used all the tools available to the nature conscious farmer – protecting remnant vegetation with a Trust For Nature covenant, fencing-off waterways, native pasture management, and biodiverse shelterbelts. We thank Carla and Ann-Marie for their generosity in sharing it with all of us”.

Mandy Coulson:

“A collaborative partnership between Connecting Country and the North Central CMA saw participants share and learn from a host of local sustainable, biodiverse and viable producers. Coupled with the official launch of the soil health guide for north central Victoria, participants embraced the wealth of ideas and inspiration, with many keen for more like minded days”.

Our farm walks aimed to show participants the issues we have been working on and thinking about since we took up the land in 1999. This includes maintaining and promoting our native grasses through pasture cropping, dealing with gully erosion, spiny rush removal using scalping and revegetation with suitable species, understorey replenishment with long-lost species such as Silver Banksia and Tree Violet, and looking after our land during drought using containment areas. Many, if not all, of these topics you will read about on earlier blog posts.

You can read a report about the day from the CMA’s perspective here. And from Connecting Country here.

Thanks to both of those organisations, plus presenters Gerry Gill, Tanya Loos and Ian Higgins, Krista Patterson-Majoor (and for the photos, despite the wet) and Mandy Coulson who shared their knowledge about the cultural, indigenous and ecological aspects on our farm.

We hope that participants went home as energised and inspired as were were by the conversations and connections. We also hope this is the start of more discussions about the Nature of farming.

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Finally, a winter for growth

We have been persevering with our pasture cropping for some years now. Knowing the theoretical returns, only ever seeing some evidence of it. Finally, here’s a winter approaching the average and we’re seeing great results.

Our farm has still many vestiges of native grasses. Broad swathes, including wallaby, kangaroo, spear and microlaena. Long-lived perennials, they are most active during the summer and into autumn, when feed is most needed. A living haystack, in the paddock. Even during the harsh times, given a sprinkle of summer rain, or a sudden thunderstorm, they’ll respond quickly. They are well adapted to the vagaries of our local climate.

But, in between times, especially in late winter and into spring, we still need ongoing feed for the dairy herd, without having to rely too heavily on the traditional haystack.

We’re now discovering a way of having both. Pasture cropping uses annual crops (eg cereals, chicory, plantain, clover, etc) and still retains – and maintains – the perennial native feed. It’s a win-win because the native grasses contain important fibres, minerals and nutrients well suited to the goat herd. And it seems the pasture cropping – mainly oats this year, tries to outcompete the capeweed which has been an issue on the farm ever since we have been here.

Is this the best of both worlds?

We have been guided by Colin Seis in our endeavours to protect, conserve and grow the native grasses, yet still operate a farming system that requires annual pastures as a crucial part of it.

As Colin says:

‘Multi-species pasture’ cropping is ‘pasture cropping’ or sowing crops into perennial pasture/grassland, but instead of one species such as oats or wheat, multi-species pasture cropping uses two and up to ten species of annual crop as a mixture that is zero tilled into established perennial pasture/grassland …. (it) uses a group of plant species that produce good quality forage, have different root systems, includes legume species, flowering plants and species that will add organic matter … and feed a diverse range of  soil micro-organisms which further enhances soil health.”

It’s about cultivating a many-culture, not a mono-culture; plants with differing root profiles and growth characteristics and nutrient needs will be far more beneficial than a single crop, for reasons that include pest and disease tolerance, nutrient use and physical growth characteristics. All the while not outcompeting the native species that exist.

We are trying to create an ecosystem in the paddock that can be resilient in the face of weather, climate, biology and management interventions. (Just as we are trying to create a resilient ecosystem in our ruminants; see our last post!)

Each plant brings it’s own qualities; some bring nutrients, others are allopathic (they suppress the growth of other plants through root exudates), or simply outcompete less desired plants (the capeweed is a case in point). We can also try to manage carbon and nitrogen ratios and therefore enhance soil microbial activity with the plants we employ.

Our pasture crop sown April 2016: 1 tonne Saia oats, 25kg chickory. Sown with an air seeder with 1.2 tonne guano. All this done over 42 hectares (104 acres) and dry sown. But then it rained!

Coming to the farm day on August 19th? It’s booked out, but if you are attending, you’ll have a chance to see our pasture cropping in practice.

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More than gut instinct

We have been managing our farm at Sutton Grange for over 17 years now. Before that we’d spent many years developing our apprenticeships with dairy goats, both in Australia and overseas. We are still learning.

It’s very exciting to see things anew and to see new things, even after this stint. The recent visit from Dr Bruno Giboudeau is a case in point. He’s a French vet who has spent 20 years observing farm animals, dairy in particular, with the sole focus on the fact that they are ruminants. Simply put, ruminants have rumens. Rumens rule the animal and they also have specific needs. Put even more simply, if the rumen is out of whack, then the animal, and most likely the whole herd, will be too.

Bruno approaches things from a herd perspective. We know our animals individually (for example, see this earlier post). But it is another thing to watch the herd, as a whole organism, and try to work out what is going on. Goats are herd animals. And it’s another language. Like learning French, or Spanish, or Cantonese, or Goat, when you’ve never even been there.

Hence Obsalim and Bruno’s visit. He ran two workshops last month, one at our farm and another in northern NSW. In France, many small cheesemakers, organic and biodynamic farmers, use it. We had 27 farmers visit from all over Australia – sheep, cow and goat focused. We all learnt to look at our animals in a different way.

Thanks to Alison Lansley for the photos of our local workshop and her great support. You will get a sense of the level of attention, from both people and goats in these images.

It’s all about the ruminant. Most importantly, we must give them time to ruminate (it’s what they’re made for) whether that fits our farm schedule or not. In fact the farm should revolve around the goat’s (or cow’s, or sheep’s) needs, not ours. And if not, we need to be ever aware and observant of our intervention, and make compensation, especially where food is concerned.

For ruminants, rumination (cudding) is like a second feed. The first feed is when they ingest it. The second is when they ruminate and the bulk of their saliva (alkaline) goes into buffering the rumen (acid) to allow nutrients to be extracted and absorbed, thanks to the microbes that live in their guts. The rumen is where things are digested properly, nutrients extracted, then milk (and cheese) eventually made. It takes time. We need to allow our animals to take the time for it to be made. To keep the bacteria happy. There’s a bit of a cycle in goats and sheep and cows (and humans, though we don’t have that many stomachs) during the day and night. We need to be aware and accommodate this.

Nutritional – and then health – problems can arise from not paying heed to the rumen.

Goats give you so many signals that all is not right (or is right) with their rumen function. We ‘just’ need to pay attention. All are rewarded if we do. There’s a bit more info on the Obsalim theory and process here (link to more detailed page on our website) and far more, if you wish to delve deeper.

Our learnings? Leave our goats quiet at rumination time (9-11am and 2-4pm); give them hay first thing at 6am (before any concentrates) and also rougher hay; watch our goats as a herd, as well as unique individuals; and watch our goats with a more directed focus, through the Obsalim cards; be consistent about our herd’s feeding patterns and content. And, well, there’s lots more, but that’s a start.

Your herd may be different. Want to know more about Obsalim? Find out here.

Obsalim cards - workshop and info at Holy Goat Farm Sutton Grange July 2016. An example for the holy goat herd ... how to learn the language

Obsalim cards – workshop and info at Holy Goat Farm Sutton Grange July 2016.
How to learn the goat’s language

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Have a happy, healthy festive season (with cheese on top)

Well 2015 has been another year of growth and change for Holy Goat. It’s been a year where the seasons have certainly teased and tried us, where we’ve all continued to learn and share skills and knowledge, both on the farm and in the cheese room, and where the goats have thrived – despite those seasons – to provide us with exceptional milk. As a result, our farm has continued to develop an enthusastic following of cheeselovers across SE Australia, and beyond.

For us, Christmas Day (and the other holidays) will still mean morning and evening milking (just like Sunday arvos). But we will take some time out to reflect and celebrate the festive season, and the year that was, before we set sail into 2016.

We’re already excited about the year ahead, especially the possibilities opening up for specialist, artisan cheesemakers like us, right around the country.

We held our Holy Goat christmas celebration at the Guildford Stables (behind the General Store and and actually a wine bar) last week. It was fabulous to be able to have almost everyone around the table. This is a rare event because our farm business has many aspects – and people – involved; from chaff cutting to cheese wrapping and from farmers’ market selling to bookwork and blogging.

We value each and everyone in our team, and the unique qualities they bring to our business. The christmas celebration isn’t just about relaxing and sharing good food and company, it also allows us to publicly and specifically acknowledge our people. And share Kris Kringles, paper hats and bad bon-bon jokes.

We’d like to wish our fantastic staff and interns, supporters, distributors, customers – and of course the goats – a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

May your festive season be joyous and replenishing, and of course, feature plenty of goats cheese on the menu!

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, or facebook and twitter, for more info. 

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Sunday arvo on the farm

It’s been a while since we posted a blog, but things have been busy on the farm. Sundays are no different. A typical Sunday at Holy Goat involves milking early morning and afternoon (just like every other day) cheesemaking (just like every other day) and the usual farm related chores (and farm related things/events/surprises that happen when you have animals). We do try and have a proper Sunday lunch down at the house, invite friends over, and our interns, to have a few hours down time. Until 3pm.

And because it’s spring, there’s more happening on a Sunday of late; even after a very low rain-fed autumn and winter (less than half the average totals for our farm). Spring so far has seen around 20mm and we’d certainly wish for more to fill our dams and the soil. But the pastures are doing surprisingly well. We’ve just let the dairy herd out onto a pasture cropped paddock – see earlier post – in small stints. The poor season to date meant there was no point putting them out onto short grass before this. So it was mostly hay and supplements. Now they’ve been out and slowly introduced, a couple of hours over the last couple of weeks, to fresh pick. Last weekend was their first whole day out; a Sunday treat.

There’s new kids – and new mums on the milking line-up (with trimmed tails to remind us all). Our first lot of 14 kids have now been weaned. After three weeks on their mothers milk they are big and strong, very healthy, and just a little wild. Even though separated by wire mesh, they still sleep and talk and hang about with their mums for much of the day. The kids – already forming their own herd – have proud lineages. Crema begat Cream; Cafe begat Tea; Nut (her sister was Meg) begat Almond and Tibet begat Nepal. There’s more to these names than just wit; see this earlier post to find out more.

Our compost is brewing and we’re about to clean out the sheds and create more feedstuff for the microbes.  Tristan Jubb – remember him? – is coming back to do a farm boundary walk with us to hone in on biosecurity issues. Ruby has been learning and helpful in moving goats from A to B. Sometimes she’s over helpful.

Spring milk means making more Nectar  every week. We’ve been driving over to the Mannes’ organic shorthorn cow dairy for extra milk to supplement our goats milk whilst we wait for our own herd’s production levels to increase.

We’ve also been planting trees, or shrubs. We have 70 understory species – read more about the importance of shrubs here – planted in spots where we have thinned small and very close growing saplings (using their root activity to help establish the young seedlings). Around our two dams where spiny rush had taken hold over decades, we’ve removed ten tonnes of the noxious weed, placed it in piles to compost, and replanted with species that will hopefully tolerate damp and slightly saline conditions. More on planting for biodiversity and productivity in an upcoming blog.

And there’s feet trimming. We trim now because the feet get really tough and hard over summer. It doesn ‘t matter whether it’s a Sunday afternoon or any other day of the week. We trim every three months; it’s constant and ongoing. If you are really interested in this highly important activity, there’s a link on our animal health page here more explanation and images. If not so interested, just know that it’s a critical aspect of dairy goat husbandry and just another Sunday afternoon activity.

We’ve been 15 years on the farm now, making cheese for 12. The farm has developed it’s own quite highly developed routine, for both humans and goats. We all fit into that routine. Sundays are no exception.

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Safe and Secure

“If it can move, it can carry diseases, pests and weeds.” *

Last week we met with Tristan Jubb, a Bendigo based vet,  who also specialises in biosecurity issues, working in export marketing and with national livestock bodies.

When you think of ‘biosecurity’ do you think of apples and New Zealand, or frozen berries and China? Well these international issues may be a lot more than just ‘bio’ and also about ‘trade’ and ‘political’ security. Look a lot closer to home and ‘biosecurity’ becomes an issue for every farm, everywhere.

Basically, biosecurity is about managing the on-farm animal and plant health risks, to ensure a clean, healthy environment – and food – for everyone. It’s also about safeguarding farm futures and livelihoods.

We are organic certified, so the issues of managing risk are a lot more familiar to us through the annual organic audit processes. Though in this case, it’s more about managing the risk from contamination through conventional (non-organic) inputs into our operations. So the focus is on buffer areas between us and our neighbours, aiming for peak animal and soil health, and supply chain tracking of our certified organic inputs.

As well, we have the more regular, very intensive, audits of our dairy and cheesemaking operations, covered by our HACCP and Dairy Food Safety Victoria audits. Their focus is on public safety and confidence in our product. Our processing activities have a constant concentration on health and safety for humans and animals alike, but what about the rest of the farm?

This is where biosecurity comes in. It’s no good having all these well documented and well managed systems in the processing part of our business, if the farming side is open to compromise. Last year we had some animal health issues and in dealing with the problem we met Tristan Jubb. We’ve been working with Tristan on developing a biosecurity plan for the farm, but without any trade and political complications!

Most farmers think their farm is ‘clean’ because nothing ever happens, but this thinking is very dangerous. It’s especially important for us, as we aim to refresh and improve our herd genetics. We want to ensure any bucks we bring onto the farm are not also bringing latent or undetected health issues. The same goes for machinery, people, other animals, or any other organic inputs that come through our front gate (or through fences, or via other vectors like birds or foxes, kangaroos or rabbits…) Tristan coins this PATIO – People, Animals, Things Inorganic (machinery, vehicles, etc) and Organic Things (feed, water, seed, etc).

Tristan gave us a run down on the basics of biosecurity and how we might look at protecting the integrity of our farm at three points; before it gets to the gate, at the gate, and after it gets through the gate. Keeping these three levels of protection in mind, all the time and at once, are critical.

No farm is an island, but by improving our farm’s resistance to disease (and pests and weeds and …) and concurrently reducing its exposure to pathogens (and pests and weeds and …) we are in a much stronger space. ‘Resistance’ focuses on good nutrition, minimal stress levels, good shelter, low worm burdens, good genetics, etc. ‘Exposure’ means ensuring high levels of cleanliness and hygiene, reducing opportunities for pathogens/problems to build up. The real challenge is to keep resistance and exposure levels at odds and apart, whilst at the same time being cost effective.

One sick goat might be just an ill animal, but at the same time it may also be an indicator of a much bigger issue, so by keeping resistance and exposure as far apart as possible, we increase the odds of having just one sick goat.

Ovine Johnes Disease (OJD), Q Fever and  Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) are the primary disease and environmental health concerns for dairy goat farmers, then follows worms and enterotoxaemia. We can ensure our biosecurity plan addresses these five main issues by looking at the management, environmental and animal factors that contribute to them. For example, with Johnes, we can source disease free bucks (pre-entry/gate), carry out clinical testing of blood and faeces and quarantine the animals (point of entry/at the gate) and vaccinate other goats (post entry/through the gate).

Our next step is to have another session on the farm to discuss the principles, and then start developing our plan for the farm. We can see already where things might be changed, more attention paid, and by walking around the farm with PATIO on our mind.

There are many reasons for farms to be serious about biosecurity. It’s about ensuring the people that work on the farm are safe and healthy, as well as the animals and plants they look after. It’s about immunising the business (not just the animals) against risk, and improving our production and farm efficiencies.

Most of all it is about security and peace of mind, for us, and for everyone who eats our cheese.

More links:

* www.farmbiosecurity.com.au

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Managing Mastitis

We get many queries from farmers and cheese-lovers alike about animal health. How do we manage specific issues? What are our treatments and protocols? How do organic farms differ from conventional ones? We will cover a few of  these questions through these blog posts and have created a page dedicated to animal health on our website which contains links to more specific issues and treatments.

Our industry is still young. We don’t have the hundreds of years of experience, observation and research to draw on that our French counterparts do. Our knowledge has been hard earned, through reading, talking, watching, and on occasion, and unfortunately, post mortem.

Holy GoastWe work closely with our vets and natural health practitioners, we stay updated on the latest overseas research and we are continually applying what we learn. Two of our key sources of information are the vet Hubert Karreman and nutrition advocate Jerry Brunetti. Keeping farmed animals healthy is a work in progress – every season is different, each goat has their own makeup and we must continually assess, act and react.

A common misperception is that organic farming involves gentle, minimalist, ‘hands off’ animal treatment. ‘I’d farm organically but I don’t want my animals to suffer, so I use antibiotics’ is an oft-heard quote from conventional farmers. The fact is that when an animal is unwell, we intervene, we treat and we do it rapidly and responsibly. We just don’t use antibiotics. And it works.

Animal welfare is paramount in certified organic systems. Yes, the treatment options are fewer and more complex, but organics demands that the farmer be very familiar with her herd, and constantly alert to any behavioral clues or physical signs that all is not well. Goats are stoic animals and won’t outwardly show the first signs of illlness, but when they get ill, they become very sick. It can be too late if you miss those first signs of malady.

This is one of the reasons why we keep a ‘Formulations Book’, rather than a ‘Disease Manual’. We want our staff to be thinking more about signs and symptoms and observing how the goat is presenting, rather than some clinical diagnosis of what might be wrong. By observing key signs in that specific animal, we better understand what might be happening and treat those, rather than the generic goat. The key is early recognition.

We’ve developed a list of signs and symptoms and a set of diagnostic tools to help work out what might be wrong with a goat. We use this, along with our Formulations Book to provide focused treatment for her.

Mastitis, “inflammation of the udder”, is a good case in point. A multitude of causes (environmental, genetic, herd management) can lead to infection (from a range of possible bacteria) so there’s no one answer (or treatment) for it. The udder is a good environment for microorganisms, and most are normal, healthy flora, but if the goat’s immunity is compromised, the udder can also be a harbour for pathogenic bacteria.

Numerous signs and symptoms can be associated with mastitis. If we see any of these signs, the next step is a diagnostic test. Along with using sight, touch, smell and our personal knowledge of the goat, her stage of lactation or stage of gestation and family or treatment history, we will take an anal temperature reading. We test the goat, and the goat next to her on the milking line to get a comparison, gently pressing the thermometer against the anal wall. If it is greater than 40.6 degrees Celcius we know it is time to act.

For mastitis, the CMT (Californian Mastitis Test)  – link to youtube video – is also a valuable tool. It indicates the presence of somatic cells, primarily white blood cells which are an immune response to infection (or injury, or other stresses). You can buy kits. Drawing milk from each teat into separate compartments and then adding an indicator which contains a reactant will show whether there is clotting (clinical) or slimy/gel-like (subclinical) signs of mastitis. The CMT is useful to use on new goats to the line and if we are unsure about things, as it can give us an indication of their state and if all is not well.

Speed of response is paramount. Even if we are still unsure of the specific cause, we can still treat the symptoms. There is no harm. Because goats are so stoic, by the time we do notice something, they may be three or four days into illness.

A more localised mastitis, for instance where there is hardening of the udder, or thickening in the teat, redness, clots in the milk, can be caused by cuts, bites, kicks or scrapes there, which then leads to bacterial infection. Since we milk twice daily this type of problem can be detected and responded to pretty quickly. But it does present in many forms; prominent glands, a sore back foot, so we always check the udder.

Kidding is the time when mastitis is most prevalent in goats. It is a more systemic form and usually begins with a goat being off her feed, turns into milk fever and then mastitis. If not picked up quickly and treated, the goat can cascade to a more serious infection, septicemia, and that can be fatal. We have found a strong relationship between milk fever (or Calcium collapse/hypocalcemia)  – link to earlier post –  and mastitis, so it is important to observe the animal for signs of milk fever and treat before it escalates.

A number of  treatment options are available, depending on how the goat presents. We use minerals, vitamins, herbal and homeopathic remedies, and work with the sick goat for a week to 10 days to bring her back to health. The critical thing is to treat, don’t wait. The first 24 hours are vital.

(See a recent mastitis protocol that we used to treat one of our goats here.)

Prevention is always the best. Goats with good immunity will be able to withstand the odd kick, scrape or cut to the udder. Keeping shedding, dairy and paddocks hygenic as possible and having strong genetics are all a part of this. Nutrition is a key aspect. Having a calm herd, minimal stress, happy groupings of goats. These factors all contribute.

Kidding is the most stressful time for goats (and humans!) especially our maiden does, so having them on a good plane of nutrition is important. The eight weeks leading up to kidding are critical. It’s called “lead feeding” and we have talked about this previously –  link to previous post. As well, we provide ad-lib minerals, mainly Magnesuim, stirred into water and placed next to the drinking water. Ten goats can easily consume this in two days. We also provide salt licks – link to previous post – to provide Boron and other minerals which the soils on our farm are low in.

We would strongly recommend you consult with your vet and animal health practitioners to develop your own protocols for dealing with mastitis. We have provided a guide, based on our own experiences, but your farm situation, your management, and your goats will of course be a different scenario.

Finally, best wishes for a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year period to all our supporters, distributors, retailers, market-goers and cheeselovers. And of course, to our goats.

Holy Goast


Posted in Feeding/Feed, Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, hooves and udders, IN the Dairy, In the Paddock, summer | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Luna, Holy Goat’s Holy Grail

cheese.Holy Goat_170914_0121 Our La Luna is the best known and most rewarded and awarded of the Holy Goat cheeses.  And who better to rely on for its successful evolution than a nun? Mother Noella Marcellino is known in cheese making circles as ‘The Cheese Nun’. But this moniker suggests more divine intervention, than the scientific rigor and intelligent persistence she has applied to cheese making research and development since the mid 1980s.

Asked to become the convent’s cheese maker at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, Mother Noella’s first attempts were failures; most ended up fed to the pigs, until a visit from a French cheese maker who showed her the traditional way. Since then, the Cheese Nun has championed artisanal cheese making worldwide, as a microbiologist and advocate for diversity and traditional methods.

Mother Noella has been an inspiration and a guide for our cheese making and for La Luna in particular. The Cheese Nun’s special area of research (and the subject of her PhD) has been “Geotrichum candidum,” the wrinkly, velvety, white mold that encases some of France’s greatest cheeses. It is this Geotrichum that produces our signature La Luna.

Geotrichum goats milk cheeses rule in France, but here in Australia (and in the US and UK) they are not the norm.  More Australian specialist cheese makers are now starting to produce Geotrichum cheese, but it’s still considered a minority cheese.

We first started researching and trialing with Geotrichum in 2002. It wasn’t until 2005 that we started making good cheese.

One of the features of Geotrichum is the diversity of strains that exist.  Mother Noella found that in France, Geotrichum strains are regionally specific – particular areas grow specific Geotrichum strains and hence their cheeses are absolutely unique to that area. The differences, even at an individual farm level, were quite astounding. From 180 samples of milk, curd and cheese, 64 different ‘Geo’ strains were isolated. Tightly held (secret!) family cheese making traditions, maintained over centuries, have nurtured diversity and created iconic cheeses, like the Normandy Camembert, St. Nectaire and Reblochon.

The Cheese Nun found that within the Geotrichum genus, there are three different forms or morphologies: “strains with yeast-like colonies that produce abundant arthrospores and have generally low proteolytic activity, strains whose colonies are white and resemble filamentous fungi with a predominance of hyphae and high proteolytic activity, and those that fall in between”.

These three forms give rise to many different strains, all a reflection of their environment, all imparting a different characteristic and taste to the cheese, and as far from processed industrial cheese as you can get.

yes.Holy Goat Farm_160914_0055Like Mother Noella’s research (published in 2001), Swinburne University also looked at isolating Geotrichum strains in some recent research. Surprisingly, ours was very different, with a unique ‘signature’, to the other French Geotrichum goats milk cheeses. It sat on a completely separate ‘DNA branch’ when mapped. Our Sutton Grange strain is a yeasty form.

So in the same way as the French, we have developed a very unique and characteristic ‘terroir’ in our La Luna. It’s a combination of factors – the pastures, native bush and vegetation, water, feed, soils, and the goats themselves that make our microbes – and therefore our cheeses – unique.

Working with Geotrichum involves intricacies and challenge. The organism can be very competitive and will quickly change the microbial dynamics of the cheese room.  A visiting Swedish cheese maker was quite averse to our Geotrichum, saying that in her farm house cheeses they would not develop this rind, they especially didn’t want to have the yeasty form we have, because it would compete against – and predominate over – the white molds that they produce camembert’s and other soft cheeses.

This is true. The La Luna Geotrichum dominates in our cheese room. But we are able to manage all various microbes at work there, so that the Geo only grows where it is wanted. (Though we do sometimes wonder if someone was to fall asleep in the cheese room whether they would wake the next morning with La Luna transforming every moist cranny! We also wonder whether our increasing wrinkles are actually the effects of La Luna, and not aging…)

We strongly believe it is worth the extra diligence and attention to cultivate Geotrichum cheeses. The flavour profile of this remarkable cheese is like no other.

La Luna starts life in the same way as our other lactic acid fermentation cheeses. After the milk is drawn from the goats, it is pasteurised at 63 degrees C for 30 minutes, then it is chilled to 26 degrees C and the starter cultures are added. Curds begin to form slowly over a period of about 20 hours at 20 degrees. We then hand ladle, very carefully, into moulds. The molds are left to drain all day, turned the next night and then the curd is turned out of the mold the following morning, and salted. We reduce the temperature to 14 degrees C. The young cheeses are turned daily until the rind is well formed and the cheese matured. We find that the cheese grows its rind within 24 to 48 hours after ladling the curd into molds.

cheese.Holy Goat_170914_0028The ‘Geo’ transforms the whole cheese. At ladling, the curds have a pH of 4.4 (the same as yoghurt) but as the cheese ripens, the Geotrichum activity causes the pH of the cheese to rise to 4.95. This markedly changes the taste and qualities of the cheese, creating a complex, yeasty, lemony flavour.

Salt balance is a critical part of making cheese. By using salt we are making cheese safe – preserving it – as well as helping to balance and intensify its flavours. Salt is nature’s preservative. When you eat ‘low salt’ or ‘no salt’ cheese, odds on you will also be eating other not-so-natural preservatives, which are added to mimic the role of salt.

From milking, to having La Luna cheese on sale at a farmers market or local providore or regional outlet takes between 10 days and three weeks, depending on the size of the cheese and the maturity sought.

We expect most people will eat their La Luna in one sitting. There’s no better way than serving up a small circle of la luna, cut it into segments like a cake and eating as-is, or just with bread. Cheese is a complete food. The simpler the better. Ensure that you smell the cheese before you taste it (will enhance the taste hit) and warm it slightly in your mouth to let the flavours infiltrate. Take the time to eat and savour it, from the rind to the paste.

If you do need to store your La Luna here are a few tips. Our cheese is a living being and needs to be able to breathe. Our packaging wrap has perforations to allow this. La Luna also requires some humidity. The domestic frig is a very low humidity and drying environment – disastrous, even fatal, for unwrapped or poorly stored cheese. The best method is to leave in its original wrap, in the frig (or place in a plastic container, still wrapped, if you find the smell too strong).

Fresh cheese is best eaten fresh, not stored, so buy the size that suits your needs (hold your mouse over the image to see the size and type):

* Images created by Bronwyn Silver.

Links :

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