Holistic Sustainable Agriculture from the Soil Up

Posted in Cows, Dairy, Farming, Gardening, Goats, Grazing, Pastured Poultry, Soil on July 3rd, 2010 by Nathan – Comments Off on Holistic Sustainable Agriculture from the Soil Up

Dr. Paul Dettloff

There were 27 people who came out and joined us for Dr Dettloff’s presentation Saturday.   I will type up the notes about local resources which we compiled throughout the day, and distribute them to those who joined us.

The group was very interested in the topics, and our farm backdrop helped illustrate many of the topics we went over.  I hope to host Dr. Dettloff again next year!

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Our milking routine

Posted in Dairy, Farming, Goats on June 3rd, 2010 by Nathan – Comments Off on Our milking routine
Buttercup’s collar is clipped to the pen

Here is a quick roundup of how our milking routine works.  Kathy has gone through several different routines, and this one is working well for us.

Since our goats are enclosed in portable pens, we actually go out to the pen to milk instead of moving the goat.  The ground is often bumpy, so we use a 2 ft x 4 ft piece of expanded metal as the “stand”.  This gives a nice flat area to work on, and is a great help in preventing the milk bucket from tipping over.  

Udder wash w/warm water

Each goat has a collar which we clip directly to the wall of the pen keeping them in one place during the milking.  Depending on weather and other factors, this may be a good time to brush off the coat of the milker and knock off any loose hair or hay stubble before you start.

First, we wash off the udder with warm, almost hot water.  Since we only have a few goats to milk, it works to take a small container of hot water out to the pen with us–it stays warm long enough to last through all the goats.  Each doe gets a clean washcloth, and the cloth should not got back into the water a 2nd time.

3 squirts into strip cup

The first milk that comes out of the teat has the highest concentration of bacteria in it.  These aren’t necessarily pathogenic bacteria, but they will cause the milk to sour more quickly, or give it a stronger flavor.  By sending the first few squirts into a strip cup, it helps to flush these out of the milk pathway.  The top of the strip cup is covered with a fine mesh.  If the milk does not pass cleanly through the mesh, there is a problem with the goat–indicating a need for further mastitis or health checks.

Now that the udder is clean and the first milk has been cleared out, it’s time to collect the milk.  We have a filter that fits neatly onto the top of our milking pail–it’s really a stainless funnel with a screw on ring.  it has a special fiber filter that is held in place by the ring.  (It’s called a stainless steel mini-strainer)  This keeps any surprise objects out – often a couple hairs of blades of grass will try to jump in.  A goat can produce anywhere from 2 cups to  2 quarts per milking.  We’ve found that 1 quart per day is the normal production for our grass & browse fed nubians. 

Milking into pail (handle is forward)

Sometimes the goat will “dance” as you milk her.  There are many reasons why this may happen, and you will want to pay attention to see why.  It may be that she is in pain because of a problem, or she doesn’t want you to finish her off before her goat kids get their share, or she is just impatient to move on.  Prevent “bucket failure” by the pail handle away from the goat’s dancing rear feet.  Sometimes I’ll hold the pail in one hand and milk with the other as we discuss which of us is the more stubborn. 

Teat dip with iodine solution

Last is the teat dip.  Milking is a process that stretches out the teat’s orifices, and can leave the opportunity for bacteria to enter and infect the udder.  We do an iodine based teat dip at the very end to help prevent hitting problems the next day.  This goes into a special squeeze bottle that is made for this job. 

Milk pail & strip cup

Most of our milking equipment we bought from Hoeggers’ Goat Supply.  They can be found online at http://hoeggergoatsupply.com/

The 4 & 6 quart stainless steel milk totes are about the right size to fit under our goats.  The “stainless steel mini strainer” fits into the top of the tote after you cut off the bottom of the strainer’s handle with a hack saw.

A 100-count box of 6-1/2″ round filters cut into quarters will give you filters for 400 milkings.

The taste of raw milk

Posted in Cows, Farming, Goats, Grazing, Soil on June 1st, 2010 by Nathan – Comments Off on The taste of raw milk

Sweet grass + Sweet air = Sweet milk

The pastor at our church in Bellevue grew up on a farm in North Dakota, and we got a jewel of a story out of him last night after church.

As a kid, Doug’s family had a dairy and milked about 70 cows. There were 4 of them who worked the morning and evening milking routine. Two ran the milking equipment, one spent his whole time washing the udders on the cows, and the fourth was out doing the field work of feeding & moving cows. The surge milker equipment ran on a vacuum system which put the fresh milk into 3 gallon sealed milk units hung below the cows being milked. When a unit was full, he had to haul it into the “clean room” and transfer it to 10 gallon can which was hauled to the Yegen Grade A Dairy in Bismarck. The barns were always immaculately clean.

It was a big deal when the Weiser family was accepted by the dairy. The company sent out a representative to visit the farm, and the first thing they pointed out was the wooden silo adjacent to the dairy barn. The cows loved the corn silage, and it was good for them, but it made the barn smell like, well…. silage. The odors of the barn are breathed in by the cow and the flavor almost immediately gets into the milk. The silo had to come down before the farm could join the dairy. I learned about barn odors & milk flavors in a cheese making seminar I took a couple years ago, and it’s true. We’ve tasted the difference in our goats’ milk between the days where they are out in the pasture vs. closed up in a pen–though they were eating the same food.

Pastor Weiser went on to describe the quality control process that the dairy used on each of these 10 gallon batches of milk. They had one person who tasted a sample from each 10 gallon can of milk–hundreds of them every day. Pastor said it was easy for the taster to tell the difference if one of the farm hands messed up and let milk from a cow being treated for mastitis get through the system–that can would come back with a note on it telling why it was rejected. Most people can taste that one, the flavor is off for two reasons: 1. because of the infection, and 2. because of the antibiotics.

There were other reasons why the milk could be sent back to the farm. The main one is they needed a consistent flavor to market to the customer. If the flavor of any can of milk was off it would come back with a detailed note, such as “grazing knapweed after 4 pm.” The farmers took these notes from the German taster very seriously–and never questioned him. If it said the cows were grazing knapweed yesterday afternoon, then they went out to find where that was so they could fix the problem. I’ve learned about this from other sources as well. As the day progresses, the pasture builds sugars & carbohydrates from the sunshine. At night, these sugars are changed to proteins as the grass grows and recharges on moisture. With all this together, it’s no surprise that you could taste the details about the cows’ diet from the day before.

The dairy also dictated how much time on the pasture the cows could get. In the spring flush, when everything is green and growing fast, the cows actually had to be limited in their grazing time. That fast growing spring grass which makes the milk so nutritious also tasted different from their standard. As a result, the cows stayed in the barn lot many hours each day until later in the summer when the pasture had lost much of its richness. Generally, the cows were brought in from the pasture before noon.

It’s amazing how much we as a culture have given up in exchange for a consistent food experience. Our little farm has a wide mix of pasture & browse–We graze thick grass on dark topsoil, blackberry vines, and sometimes the weak stems of what grows in graded fill dirt. The milk and animals directly reflect the food we gave them the day before, in quantity and quality.

I, for one, enjoy the many different flavors & qualities that come with this.

Hey Nathan,
Here’s a site on the milker unit we carried on endless trips to the milk room.

Rotational mob-grazing elimintes buttercup

Posted in Farming, Goats, Grazing on May 18th, 2010 by Nathan – Comments Off on Rotational mob-grazing elimintes buttercup

Abigail stands in thick pasture; 50% grass + 50% buttercup

We cross fenced our main pasture 3 years ago and separated it into 5 paddocks.   One of these paddocks was nearly taken over by creeping buttercup last summer.  

I had spread a few yards of compost over the whole pasture in mid-spring, on the theory that it would give the grass an extra boost to out-grow the buttercup.  Boy was I wrong!  The grass took off, but so did everything else.  By July everything was going great, but the grass was barely above the buttercup, and morning glory had twisted around everything.  I was not impressed by the low percentage of grass.  It was worth grazing, so we put the goats onto it.

High density grazing in a 16’x16′ pen

Our grazing routine uses 16′ welded wire combination panels to enclose the goats into a small area.  They get a fresh patch of grass every day.  We run a mix of milkers and kids in the pen, but it if you add them all together, we put about 1000 lbs of animals in 256 square feet.  This is how we do high density mob-grazing with only a dozen goats.  If you do the math, it is equivalent to 170 cows/acre, which is a LOT.

That stand of grass & buttercup was so thick that half of it was trampled into the ground as sheet mulch mixed with fresh manure–an excellent way to grow soil. 

This year:  Virtually no buttercup, and even less morning glory.  The grass is beautiful, and it greened up earlier than anywhere else around.  WooHoo!

New kids in the goat pen

Posted in Farming, Goats on May 17th, 2010 by Nathan – Comments Off on New kids in the goat pen

This hours-old doe already can stand and nurse

Last night brought the latest addition to our herd.  Two doe kids were born from the first of 4 pregnant goats.  Kathy checked on Penelope (the goat) frequently throughout the day Sunday, because it was clear that she was in labor.  Kathy told me this morning that she made the last check at 10:30 p.m. and that since things looked okay she went to bed and slept until about 4 AM, knowing that the little ones would arrive while she was in bed.  When she got out there in the early morning, Penelope had delivered them both and nudged them into the small shelter in their pen.  The house was a buzz of excitement when the family woke up and got to see the baby goats for the first time!

The new goat kids, named “Star” and “Angel” by our human kids, will get all the milk from their mom for the next couple weeks.  This will give them a good start until they are big enough to be separated for the night, and Penelope will then rejoin the morning milking routine.

This brings our herd to a total of  13.  (Penelope and her 2 doelings, 1 doe still in milk from last spring’s freshening, 3 bred does, 2 yearling does, 2 bucks & 2 yearling weathers.)