Saturday, November 26, 2011

Meet the bucks

Whiney Lars wearing his green chalk

Here at Toluma Farms, the fall breeding season is wrapping up. Like sheep, goats naturally breed as the days get shorter. The females go into heat every 21 days for about 24 hours. You can usually tell who is in heat because they wag their tails, are more vocal and will hang out next to the male goats. The male goats that are used for breeding are called bucks. Bucks come into rut when the does are in heat, which is displayed by curling their upper lip, flapping their tongues and -brace yourself- urinating all over themselves. This creates a pungent goaty musk that the doe's find irresistible; thus breeding commences.

At Toluma we have five bucks of different breeds used for different purposes. A single buck can impregnate a lot of doe's and consequently provides half the genetics of a herd (the other half provided by each doe). Choosing bucks with traits that will benefit your herd (such as coming from milky mothers with quality teats and good parasite resistance), is very important.

So without further ado - the Toluma Farms buck lineup!

Lars (pictured above) is experiencing his first breeding season and by all appearances is doing a great job.  He is Saanen buck and currently ranked the #1 Saanen buck on the American Dairy Goat Association Young Sire list (a statistical ranking for bucks that haven't sired any babies yet).  Lars is wearing a harness with green chalk on it which helps us keep track of who he is breeding.  When he is doing his job well, there should be lots of chalked up doe's.

The does get chalked when the buck breeds them


Sting is a big Alpine buck who looks kind of scary but is actually a pretty sweet guy, when he is not trying to rub is goat musk on you. He is the father of many of our good milkers.

Kazeem the Lamancha

Neptune the Lamancha

Kazeem and Neptune are Lamancha goats and despite their European sounding name, this minimally eared breed was developed in Oregon. These two bucks will likely be used to breed the yearling does (that were born early 2011) as they tend to sire small babies - with the intent to give the first time mothers an easy kidding experience.

Fred the boer

Fred is a boer goat, which are generally used for meat and are quite a bit smaller than the milking goats. Eric, the farm manager, was interested in having some multipurpose goats by breeding Fred to some doe's but truthfully, Fred was more interested in eating than the ladies this year.

The first babies are due January 7th and the kidding storm will continue on into April. We offer public tours the first Sunday of every month, starting in January...come check out the farm!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The view from a Northern California goat dairy

Today marks one week since I started work at Toluma Farms, a small goat dairy in Marin County (a mere 5 minutes from the Pacific Ocean).  Marin County is an hour northwest of San Francisco and fast becoming a "foodie" haven, where folks attracted to locally sourced food can find it in variety and abundance. The region has a long history of dairying due to it's mild weather and abundant pastures; it is host to many small scale farms which are still making livings in cow/goat/sheep dairying and cheese-making businesses today. 

Toluma Farms is currently selling bulk milk to other producers but plans are in motion to start making and selling artisan cheese in 2012. Here is a quick tour around the farm.

Coastal morning fog

Home uh, sweet, home

The milking parlor and grain tank

The soon to be converted creamery

The goat barn

The kids - replacement does

The morning commute - up the hill for fresh air after milking

The sheep love to tag along

Kids solving their arguments

In coming weeks I'll detail tasks and chores that go into operating a goat dairy. It has been a whirlwind change from working full time in an office and I am looking forward to sharing it with you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dairy Sheep Mania

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 17th Annual Dairy Sheep Symposium. For the first time ever the Symposium was held on the West Coast, in Petaluma, California (lucky us!) There were easily over a hundred people at the conference and plenty who couldn't make the trip…it is surprising to see how many people are interested in this sheep milking/cheese making niche!

There were two days of conference-like activity, with various speakers and discussions ranging from mobile milking parlors, to artificial insemination of dairy sheep, to cheese making and marketing information, to results of scientific research projects related to dairy sheep. Included was a cheese tasting, where many attendees brought their wares to sample, as well as a banquet featuring local lamb.

An ewe being inseminated in the "cradle of love"

The symposium also included a day of touring three local sheep dairies; Marin and Sonoma counties have a “Cheese Trail” and the largest (growing) concentration of artisan cheese makers in California. We first visited Bellwether Farm and Artisan Creamery, which produces several sheep milk cheeses, sheep milk yogurt and cow’s milk cheese.

Bellwether's ewe lambs

Bellwether's cheese aging room

Bellwether's milking parlor - this is where milk comes from!

We then stopped by Haverton Hill, where they have high tech electronic ear tags for all the sheep that sync to electronic milking equipment; all the milking stats for each sheep is sent directly to a computer for ease of tracking and decision making. 

The last farm we visited was Weirauch Creamery, one of the newest in the area. The owners have converted an old portable classroom into their creamery and are in the process of converting another into their milking parlor.

Their small pasteurizer and cheese vat

To be honest, the more I heard and saw at this symposium, the more overwhelmed I felt. Sheep dairying and cheese making is far from an easy or cheap profession to get into. It seems to me that there are three way’s a person gets into it – by inheriting a working dairy, by having a large amount of off farm income to dump into starting a dairy, or - for those with neither of those options - by going into substantial debt to follow an internal passion.

Everywhere I look, small farmers face massive challenges to start and sustain their farms. I wonder why is farming on a small scale is so unrealistic? Perhaps we are not placing enough value on what we eat. Agriculture should be what sustains our communities and creates health for us and our environment.  Small, local farms are an incredibly important piece of our "green" future and deserve our support.