Tuesday, January 31, 2012

-Insert cheesy title here-

Experimental sheep milk cheese

Last night I started the first of a four week class, A Full Introduction to Artisan Cheese and Its Histories at the College of Marin. It covers topics like classifications of cheese (hard, soft, washed rind, bloomy rind, blue), how to professionally assess a cheese (sight, smell, touch, taste, after taste), cheese history and more. This class attracts a variety of folks, from chefs, to farmers, to cheesemakers and lots of cheese eaters. It is a bit torturous to sit through, as everyone has a tray with eight different cheeses sitting in front of them that are not supposed to be eaten until two hours into the class!

The college offers an entire program, created in conjunction with the UC Cooperative Extension office and the California Artisan Cheese Guild, that can be taken in order to earn an artisan cheesemakers certificate. The other classes in the course include:
    -Hygiene and Safety in Cheesemaking
    -Basic Starter Cultures for Cheese and Fermented Milks
    -Milk Types and Quality
    -Cheese Chemistry
    -Principles and Practices of Cheesemaking

I will get the chance to also take the hygiene class during my internship at Toluma Farms and hope to eventually complete the whole program.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kidding Log - 4

So the reality is, people eat goats. Just like people eat cows or chickens. And meat is the fate of many a male goat (and bull calf). We will raise about 40 meat goats this year and sell them mostly to restaurants in the San Francisco area (perhaps have one at my wedding in May?).

We pull the intended boys from their mothers after 3-4 days, when their mother's milk is clean enough to go into the milk tank and sell. The boys then learn to drink from a beer bottle filled with milk from other freshening does. (Freshen means a doe (cow, horse) has babies and starts producing milk.)

Nature's nectar

Then the meat boys graduate to the bucket. The bucket has ten nipples sticking out of it, so it is like a milk buffet free-for-all; easier and faster for the farmer and the kid. These guys get 2 buckets a day and they certainly loudly demand their meals.

It has been a quiet couple days on the kidding front; only one set of twins in three days. Some of the youngest kids finally aren't so much white. This soft little guy's dad is our other herdsire, Sting, who is an alpine buck.

We are resting up for a kidding storm to match our long awaited rain storm - 26 does are due to kid in the next week!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kidding Log - 3

The playpen

Since my last post 29 kids have been born to 13 does...it is definitely the year of the white goat! Dairy goats are very prolific animals; most of the does have at least two kids, many have had triplets and two have had singles.

It's interesting to compare kidding this year to lambing at Flying Mule Farm last year. Here with the goats at Toluma we usually kid in a barn, then move the moms and babies into their own freshen pens for 24 to 48 hours so they can bond, eat and not get trampled, stressed or mixed up. It is labor and capital intensive. 

Some of our freshen pens, kind of like my cubicle in a past life

When I helped with lambing last February, it was out in a leased field with no structures around. The ewes were expected to make sure their lambs were cleaned off, nursing and ready to go within 20 minutes of hitting the ground. If an ewe wasn't a good mother and her lamb died or had to be bottle raised, she usually didn't get to stay in the flock.

The goats I am working with now have not had selection pressure to be good mothers. We keep replacement does based on the amount of milk their mothers produce as well as the length of the mothers lactation cycle; a good udder, general good health and mild temperament (ie no kicking in the milking parlor) are also important factors.

Two thirds of the kids born this season have been male...we are still hoping for the female tally to catch up!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kidding Log - 2

Well my clothes are a little stiff with birthing fluid today...picking up slimy newborns and moving them into freshen pens with the mothers never promised to be a tidy job. As of right now 4 does have kidded today, three sets of twins and a set of adorable half Boer triplets:

Mom Melissa with her 3 half Boer babies

So far this season we have had twice as many male kids as female...which leaves us feeling a little unimpressed with our buck Lars. When you are trying to build a herd of goats (or a flock of sheep), genetics are incredibly important. We need to retain females from our best does to breed and milk in the future in order to build a good business. But if none of our best does have females...that is a major problem.

But our best does have yet to kid this season. And some of these males we can raise and sell as meat goats.  Also, if you are interested in having a goat eat blackberries in your backyard, many of these cuties are for sale; leave me a comment if you are interested.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kidding Log

In the same vein as the Lambing Journal my friend and mentor Dan Macon kept last year, I thought I'd loosely keep a Kidding Log while here at Toluma Farms, if for no other reason than for me to look back at, after this surreal time as an intern is over.

Yesterday, the 8th of January, three does kidded; there were two sets of triplets and a set of twins; six boys and 2 girls, all white. Eric, the herd manager, said white coloring is a dominant trait in goats and over half our herd was bred by our white Saanen buck, Lars.

Two does in labor

Nubian mothers with their bunny-like offspring

Here's a short little video full of goaty cuteness.

So far today, one kind of sad, little La Mancha doe has been born.  

Her mother was not too interested in her, so I spent some time rubbing her down with straw to dry her off and get the blood flowing in her legs so she could stand up. I also helped her find her first drink of colostrum heavy milk to get her going. Thus I deservedly earned the seasonal title of 'pathetic goat nurturer,' which is ok with me; I have definitely been called worse.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Additions!

Today while out in the pasture, Brown Maggie had the first kids of the season!

Brown Maggie + 2

Brown Maggie wasn't due to kid until the 10th but nature decided she was ready today. She had triplets, two boys and a girl but one of the males didn't survive. The other two were nursing and having a sunny, warm first day on earth, despite it being the middle of winter.

Lars the proud papa

Lots and lots more to come!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Breeding Goats Out of Season

This time of year is difficult on a goat dairy, there is very little milk being produced as the goats are at the end of their lactation cycle. Thus there is not much product to sell and not a lot of income. And input costs are still high with alfalfa for the goats to eat, straw for bedding and labor costs. So to produce a consistent stream of milk year round, Toluma Farms is doing some out of season breeding. 

Goats naturally breed seasonally; as the days shorten in the fall, does naturally cycle and can get pregnant. In order to breed out of season it becomes necessary to simulate that shift into shorter days. 

To accomplish this, we have a string of bright lights that we hung in one side of the barn. We rigged up pens held together with twine for the youngest group of does (all born early in 2011) and for two bucks so they would be exposed to the lights. 

The lights are on a timer and are on from 5am to midnight each day, simulating summer-like length of light.  After two and a half months we will turn off the lights completely and totally separate the does and bucks. And within six weeks of removing the lights the does should come into heat. We'll introduce the bucks back in with the does and out of season breeding commences.

The bucks in their own"summer" pen

A lot of our farm is held together with twine

If all goes according to plan, these does will breed in May and kid in October, supplying the farm with a fresh wave of milk for the winter months. While this will make the farm more financially viable, it also means increased labor and no slow down in the winter months.

Toluma Farms bred out of season several years ago and had a 100% conception rate; I am very interested to see if those results will be repeated.