Saturday, March 31, 2012

To Milk a Water Buffalo

How about milking one of these...

Female water buffalo

 ...with one of these...

Portable bucket milker one of these...

Custom, work in prograss, water buffalo milking stanchion

Tad bit insane???

This is exactly what Craig Ramini of Ramini Mozzarella is doing. I had the opportunity to get an up close and personal look of the animals and facilities this week.

Buffalo milk is used to make yogurt and mozzarella cheese, or Mozzarella di Bufala, which has a long history in Italy. Water buffalo milk is prized for it's creamy texture and high fat content, plus it is a speciality product that commands a premium price.The fat or butterfat content of milk determines how much solid cheese you can get from the milk. The higher the butterfat content, the more cheese you get from each gallon of milk. You can see from the table below, cows and goats have fairly low butterfat contents, sheep are significantly higher and water buffalo are higher still.

Constituentsunit    Cow    Goat    Sheep  Water Buffalo
Sugars (Lactose)g4.
Fatty Acids:

Mr. Ramini said his water buffalo currently produce about two gallons of milk per day (16 pounds). This was shocking when compared to a dairy cow that produces about 8 gallons of milk a day (64 pounds). But dairy cows have had decades of heavy genetic selection so only the most productive milkers ever reproduce; water buffalo have not had that kind of genetic pressure. And when the premium price of buffalo milk and cheese is considered as compared to the price paid for cow milk and cheese, it more than makes up for this lack of volume in the water buffalo.

Mr. Ramini also very recently finished his micro-creamery where he is in the experimental stages of his mozzarella production. He rents out this small but highly functional space out to several other cheese makers.

Love the windows, lots of light and great for tours to see the action

Cheese vat, temperature recorders and curd knives

I throughly appreciated the opportunity to tour the Ramini facilites and see these fairly wild beasts interact with people. Probably a once in my lifetime experience!

11 day old calf of mother in the top photo.
You don't get milk without a birth!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Farm Firsts in the Rain

Though Toluma Farms, where I currently intern (for another 5 weeks!), is mostly a goat dairy, we do have twelve East Fresian ewes and a ram (ie dairy sheep). Before I arrived last fall, the ram was bred to the ewes so they would lamb this spring (a sheep's gestation period is approxitmatly 147 days, 5 months). We had been expecting the lambs sometime after April 1st but this last Saturday during a downpour I was pleasantly suprised to discover a hearty ram lamb and his mother in the pasture.

We brought them into a freshen pen the barn (not without a struggle, our sheep are a tad wild as they have never been milked) and gave them dry straw to rest on, as well as plenty of food and water for the ewe. Since Saturday four more ewes have lambed and all are doing well.

East Fresians are pretty much the only dairy sheep breed we have in the United States. They are the most common and genreally the most productive dairy sheep in the world. There are many other kinds of dairy sheep out there, including the Awassi and Assaf from Israel, the Lacune from France (from which we get the very famous Roquefort cheese), the Sarda from Spain and the Chios from Greece. Currently we are unable to import any live sheep, embryos or seman into the US from other countries, as the USDA has closed it's borders in fear of importing diseases, among other issues.

The owners of Toluma Farms are interested in producing a mixed milk cheese in the future, so that is the reason we have a flock of sheep. They are trying to convince the farm manager it would be a great idea to milk a couple cows as well!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Kidding Log - 5 and then some

With so much going on in real life, it has been difficult to sit myself down and work up a blog in cyberspace. But is it time for an update...

Here at Toluma Farms we can see the light at the end of the kidding season tunnel. As of this moment 106 does have kidded 245 kids (averaging 2.3 kids per doe), with buck and doe kids nearly even. Here's a short video of the little does we are keeping playing queen of the straw stack (requires a turn of the head or the computer).

one minute of pure yay. from nena johnson on Vimeo.

Almost all of our does will have kidded by the end of March. As each doe kids, we add her to the milking line; thus milking twice daily is fast becoming much more time consuming.

Some rain as finally arrived in our neck of the woods, creating a sense of relief and gratitude in the farming community and I finally get to put my rain jacket to some serious use. I have less than two months left at my internship here and have been thinking about my next steps in farming and life quite a lot.

I recently picked up another job, bookkeeping for Soil Born Farms, an urban agriculture education farm in the Sacramento area. Obtaining this position at this time was great as it combines my passion for farming with my skills in accounting and the timing for Soil Born couldn't have worked out better.

And then there is wedding planning...tents and flowers and dresses, oh my! There is such a riduclous amout of details that go into planning an event like this, I'm glad it's a once in a lifetime event! Thankfully I have some very helpful friends and family.

With all this going on at once, I wonder how I will feel in June, when the internship is over, the wedding is over, the excitement has died down...will I feel a great let down? Will I find 15 other pursuits to add to my plate? Or will I be ready for and appreciate a little break?