Sound the bugles! Pop the cork! It is a beautiful day on the farm!
|Our Field and Mt. Baker|
I am just so excited to see the progress. My learning curve has been steep, but I have trusted the right people.
It is Fall. And in this season, the breeding for Spring milk happens. There are several ways to accomplish a milk supply. We choose to own, breed, milk, and nurture our own goats, producing all our own milk for our cheeses. We breed the does every year, resulting in a kidding season each Spring.
|Smelling a Doe|
Goats are seasonal breeders at our latitude. The does “heat” cycles are triggered by decreasing day length. The bucks know this is their one season of “work” each year. This is why we keep them, love them, and plan oh so carefully all about them. A goats’ gestation period (length of pregnancy) is about 5 months, or 145-150 days from breeding. We have all LaManchas and ours tend to kid (have goat babies) closer to the 145 day mark.
A good dairy consists of good dairy animal stock. There is probably no absolutely perfect goat out there. We know what traits are desirable to us, so we plan and breed to enhance those traits that have worked well for us. All of our goats are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. With that they have a program whereby we can put in the registration numbers of each animal, and it will give us a % inbred profile, and also list the common ancestors that Planned Breeding will share. Pretty slick, eh? This is one of the tools used to plan who gets the honeymoon suite with who in the goat yard.
We don’t put the bucks in with the does for extended periods of time. We know our goats quite well, and we detect their heats (trust me, the bucks know WAYYYY before we do). When a doe is determined to be in an amorous mood, the pre-selected buck is let out of his usual pasture and put in a seldom used one. This is no small task here. We run our bucks as a group, and they know what pulling them means, and they all push the gate trying to be the chosen one. We just can’t get them to read the breed list! When the doe is bred, she is taken back to her pen and the buck is returned to his. Again, great gate pushing ensues. Year after year, we use the same technique. To get the bucks distracted from the gate to accomplish the return, a doe is walked down the buck fence line. Year after year, they fall for this and all follow the does down the fence line. This makes the return so easy! For obvious reasons, this is a task better suited to two humans, but can be done by one.
|Waylon & Willie, Zydeco hanging back|
We have never noticed any off flavors in our milk based on buck encounters. I think our clothing probably harbors more smells than the does seem to. Bucks do have a distinctive smell in the “rut”. They urinate on their own faces, drink the urine of their pen mates, do some head butting, and generally become a different species. Our guys are tame, generally pretty easy to handle, and are loved. Even in this season, I put on gloves and still give them head pats and scratches, etc. They almost stop eating this time of year. Truly a one track mind! They then spend the rest of the year eating, looking good, and not causing much trouble.
And these guys are big! We estimate them at about 300 pounds. They could easily pull me into the next county if they wanted to, but they don’t. Disposition is one of my mandatory traits! Now you see why.
|So Much to Learn!|
Lots of things begin to shift this time of year in farm life. The farmers markets begin to wind down, we, the care givers begin to succumb to exhaustion, and the goats change in every way. Milk production begins to drop-but at the same time that delicious butterfat and protein rise, so the cheese yield per gallon of milk actually goes up. Cheesemaking recipes are seasonally, minimally adjusted. The milk just “behaves” differently. We now have enough years at this with the same essential lines of goats to know our particular needs and how we like our cheese to taste, and can make our adjustments. It is a beautiful dance we enjoy.
Goats this far from the equator are seasonal breeders. That means they have a natural “heat” (estrus) cycle in the Fall. This is driven by day length. OK, so now our days are noticeably shorter, even to us 2 legged creatures. Estrus is in full force with the herd. They tend to all cycle nearly in sync with each other. The cycle is every 18-21 days. The visible signs are crying for the boys at the fence line, some vaginal mucus changes (remember we see them from the tail side twice a day, every day), tail twitching, crying and carrying on some more, fighting, big drop in milk production (which comes back up after the cycle). There is lots of fighting, nuzzling, just odd, not the usual day sort of behavior going on.
Now the boys-they begin the cycle first from what I have observed. In actuality, I think they have detected the female changes long before I see them. They quit eating for the most part, urinate on their faces and each others faces (yep-that’s right-the other guy has to put his face there, and he does this over and over), and fighting for the girl is a frequent occurrence. My usually calm, easy to handle big boys (probably 300# or so) become a bit rowdy and hard to handle.
Breedings are planned here. Quite planned. More on that later if you want. Lots of detail but it boils down to genetic improvements for the herd.
So at 5:30 am as I was out with the dog, I heard all manner of crying from the barn. Not a distress cry, but an unusual amount of noise for the time of day and darkness. My LaManchas are normally very quiet for the most part. This was coupled with the gentle bleat of two older does at the fence. I call them my tattle-tales as they always rat the others out to me. So, OK, change shoes to barn shoes, grab the phone, and go do a pajama check. All is well. Three does crying the fence line. We have 9-10 bred already, I suspect it will be 14 or so by days end.
Gestation is 145-150 days (LaManchas “tend” to go on the earlier side). So February babies galore here we come! We plan to breed 25-28 does this year unless I actually try milking 3-5 of them through. With goats, you can “milk through” and just keep going without re-breeding them. I am told you get about 25% less production the following year. That may be worth it not to kid out that many more. I don’t so much mind the the sleeping in the barn actual kidding season, it all those darling goat babies to deal with. For 2010 we had 55 baby goats born here. I kept 4 as replacements. That is a LOT of good goat homes to find.
We enjoy the cycles on the farm. We enjoy the predictability. We like working with nature and natural cycles. And there is never a dull moment. The unpredictable always happens too.
Here is a nice review post I found on Skagit Coop’s Facebook page:
Get Your Goat Cheese from Gothberg
Posted on September 14, 2010 by Sarah
Lucky, lucky, lucky we are to have a local producer of goat cheese. All too often I hear people say they don’t like goat cheese. My immediate response is to tell them that they probably haven’t had GOOD goat cheese, and Gothberg Farms makes GOOD goat cheese.
Let’s begin with Chèvre: a fresh, spreadable cheese. Gothberg’s Chèvre is incredibly light and fluffy with a clean, subtle tang. Whenever I have a guest who says they “don’t normally eat cheese”, they always end up devouring Gothberg’s Chèvre. I love how versatile this cheese can be: delicious alone, drizzled with olive oil or honey, rolled in herbs, topped with chili flakes, peppercorns, fresh fruit or preserves… but my favorite may be eating it on Breadfarm Graham Crackers – instant mini cheesecake, yum!
Just as Chèvre must be made with goat’s milk, traditional Feta is made with goat or sheep’s milk (if this was Europe, we wouldn’t be able to call it Feta unless it was made in Greece!). The flavor of Feta cheese depends upon the type of milk used, so it is no wonder that Greek natives flock to the Gothberg booth at farmer’s markets to enjoy a taste of “home”. Gothberg Feta has just the right amount of sharp and salt; strong enough to stand out in salads, vegetable pies, or on pizza, and yet easily eaten slice after slice, bite after bite. As Feta should, Gothberg’s crumbles nicely and has a pleasant zest. Olives and Feta naturally go together, and the Breadfarm Black Olive Baguette makes an excellent match.
If you are fortunate enough to come across Gothberg’s Caprino Romano or Woman of LaMancha, take some home with you. The Caprino Romano is inspired by traditional Italian raw milk cheeses. Aged for a year, it has a surprisingly creamy texture with a well developed flavor. The peppercorn rind adds a nice touch of spice. The Woman of LaMancha is a Manchego style cheese. Also a raw milk cheese, it is drier in texture, has a wonderful nutty flavor and a smoked paprika rind. These specialty cheeses are best savored by the slice with a glass of good, red wine or whiskey!
What makes Gothberg Farms cheese taste better than some other goat cheeses? The quality of the the milk makes all the difference. Some people enjoy the “bucky” flavors often found in goat cheeses, whereas the majority of us prefer a more delicate “goatiness”. Rhonda Gothberg likes her milk to taste like melted ice cream. That can only make good cheese.
We are blessed with fabulous soils where we live. Almost any cool seaon plant will grow here. Our water table is high, so that is good for summer growth, but not so good in winter when we get “ponding” aka lakes on our fields.
Here is a current picture of the pasture we planted just as the rains stopped coming. Weeds have been prolific, but there is quite a bit of grass too. We have consulted with the skilled local farmer next door and the agronomist and are opting for continuing to mow the weeds down. Each time, more grass sprouts. We are not certified organic, but ascribe more to organic principles than not. So, mowing is a better choice than spraying, for us. In the back, there is actually quite a bit of nice, green, freshly sprouted grass!!
Our little fledgling garden is managing to produce some food for us too. This year has been cold and wet, so none of the warmer season plants have done so well. Chard, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, beets, potatoes-all doing just fine.
I had the pleasure of attending this event last night in Seattle as part of the American Cheese Society’s annual cheese convention. The array of fine cheeses we are producing in the United States is phenomenal! And the cheesemakers are just as terrific! And OMG-the eaters, retailers, distributors, promoters……..unbelievable to have so many in one room! There must have been about 600+ people there in all. Wow! Loved seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and having totally cheesy conversations with those who actually share the love. Amazing evening for me.
|Our Cheese Table|
Marcella Wright, or beloved Feline Foodie cheese blogger, was my ever capable “assistant”. She is truly an angel. I so appreciated her help, but more than that, I loved getting to know her better. She has a great knowledge of many things and I think she knew almost everyone in the room! Marcella, thank you again.
Our other long-time friends, Metropolitan Markets, did a super job of hosting. It is so nice to for me to see the same faces and names with them for so many years now. They are a great store, have the best employees, and are so supportive of us local producers. Thanks to you Metropolitan Market! Another beautiful, professional job accomplished.
And the people I got to meet………I only wish I could even hope to remember half the names, but of course I cannot. Thank you all for attending, thank you for the overwhelmingly supportive comments/reviews of our cheeses. I thank you, my goats thank you, and my employees thank you. We all work very hard to do our best, and it is a big gratification to see your appreciation of it all!
|Rhonda in “City Clothes”|
For those of you wondering how I even got to Seattle-I left in plenty of time, drove through the blinding rain, used the new iphone GPS assistance, and chose valet parking for convenience. OK-sticker shock at $32.00 for a few hours parking……Coming back home into our Valley was another joy of the day. Beautiful sunset, and no red lights. Thankfully we don’t even have a 4 way stop out here yet. I love that too. The upbeat of the City is sure fun for a few hours, but I am always happy to come home.
Yes, it is true! President Obama had our feta cheese on his Skagit Valley Salad at Seattle’s Grand Central Bakery. This is exciting in several ways:
1) The President was at a successful, small, local business in Seattle
2) He chose from the menu and selected a local favorite salad
3) Our feta was on that salad
OK, this is a very long way from my humble beginnings in Beaumont, TX. Never in a million years would I have ever thought the President would eat a food created by my very own hands (and my accomplished employees). I think this is one of those random events in life that we cannot anticipate. I just love that!
[Links to the news stories below pictures]
|Obama Stops at Seattle’s Grand Central Bakery for a Bite|
|Obama: Turkey Sandwich & Jammer to Go|
Well look at us! Kind words in the news for 2 days in a row. Makes us blush a bit, but also excited and appreciative. Thanks Spaulding Gray for the review. We are very happy to have you join our ranks as a goat cheese convert-all it takes is really good goat cheese.
A wonderful customer of mine at the Everett Farmers Market told me about these yesterday. As you might imagine, I don’t get much time for reading the newspaper, so I searched it out, and low and behold, here we are!
We find ourselves in a bit of a quandary this year, for the first time ever really, over the availability of local hay for our goats. For all years past, we have fed primarily pea hay plus western WA alfalfa, supplemented with grass hay. All of our animals have 24/7/365 pasture access on a great grass blend that works well for us and our soils. Our climate is moderate and the pastures remain green all year.
For 2010 however, we have NO pea hay in our valley. This was a near-perfect goat food: it was affordable and it made an excellent use for a food crop by-product. The peas were harvested for the frozen food market and “our” young farmer, Charlie Lundgren, found the fields, baled the hay, and kept us well-supplied. The peas were a nitrogen fixing crop to follow potatoes, so that helped restore the land. It was win:win as far as I could see. We are seriously mourning the loss of this food which helped meet the needs of so many.
The peas loss came with some warning. I went to the local ag extension office to try to proactively look for a solution. We have land and I was willing to test crop and risk share possible alternatives. I sadly met with no help. Being a “woman” in dairy, with goats no less, I am seldom included in any of their discussions. That is another topic and I don’t lose any sleep over it. I take solace in believing I am doing the right thing, for the right reasons, for the right people. That is all I need.
Enter 2010 again…..the coldest, wettest Spring in a long time. Hay fields were wet and growth started poorly state wide. This, in turn, affected the alfalfa crop in western WA, whom we also depend on. Our goats MUST have alfalfa for the calcium and protein. These are relatively high producing dairy does and we carefully meet their nutritional needs to support their continued excellent health, production, and milk flavor.
In a perfect world, the goats would have a large wooded area to browse in, but we had the farm before the goats, so we get to work with what we have.
Fearing a loss of decent, affordable (?) alfalfa, we were able to secure a full semi truck load of 5th cutting alfalfa from the 2009 fall harvest. This is beautiful hay and we were lucky to get it. At this same time, the potato crop on “our front 20 acres” failed due to the cold and rain. We took this opportunity to go ahead and get some pasture/hay grass planted. Grass hay is what we will now use to feed the bucks entirely and to the girls as a supplement to the alfalfa. So, on July 2nd, we planted, and it has not rained since. The week of July 2nd saw a $10,000.00 hay bill!!!!! Now, we will begin looking into the grass “remedy”..more $$$$$$$$$$$. These are unanticipated costs and hit hard. We still believe our goats deserve the BEST and if we cannot give them that, I will quit.
The alfalfa we got is premium dairy hay. Each bale is 3 ft x 5 ft and weighs 1300 lbs!!!! Not our norm by any wildest thought. We are working this out too. I am being forced to learn way more than I wanted to about the business of hay. We have helped support the same young hay farmer for many years now, and our families have enjoyed getting to know each other. We continue working together on solutions.
These costs don’t get passed on to the consumer now. Hopefully over time it balances out.
On the bright side, we have 30.5 tons of great alfalfa which should last a year. Our does are producing beautifully on it, and the milk tastes great-which of course translates to the cheese.
Y’all do know you can’t make good cheese from bad milk right? You can screw up good milk and make bad cheese, but you can’t fix bad milk. Our sweet, fresh, delicious milk is the key to all we do around here.
Thank you for your support as we weather 2010.