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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casein is the important protein for cheese quality and yield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information:

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Stop, Look and Listen. Ruminate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nothing backward about these producers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to our earlier blog about making Nectar here.

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

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

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

But back to the Awards.

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

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

Here’s the broader promotional video.

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

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Holy Goat Dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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Up on the new line

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

Watch our new dairy in action.

or go to the link here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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.

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

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

Posted in Holy Goat News, Holy Goat News, spring, winter | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment