I just returned from a two week wwoofing stay at Sutton Grange Organic Farm – the home of award winning organic Holy Goat Cheese.
This was my first experience of a commercial dairy and I now truly understand what to expect when keeping a herd of animals for production. The intensity and maintenance increases exponentially the larger the herd.
This farm is run by 2 women, with 5 female staff. There is a current milking herd of 60 goats ranging from 2 to 12 years old. 23, 1 year old does. 8 does in season. 5 whether boys. 2 bucks for mating. 18 pregnant does that were all giving birth to twins or triplet kids while I was there – making each day full of new challenges and delights.
Each day started with the 6am milking (by machine) and ended at 6pm with cleaning up (which involves a lot of sweeping up goat manure), putting out fresh hay feed in the barns or feeding the kids after the 4pm milking (and more). Then of course there is the pasteurizing of the milk and making of the cheese between milkings, of which I had a brief encounter. Yes – long days and very good nights sleep. I had a 2 bedroom shearers shed with wood heater to myself and was provided enough food to make my own dinners. After lumbering some kind of meal together, checking emails and showering, I collapsed into bed with a book around 8.45pm most nights. No TV, no music, no friend by the fire but plenty of hours spent in contemplation and consideration.
Goat health is maintained with a strict diet formula of mixed dry feed and supplements combined with daytime grazing. The owners prefer to treat any ailments or illness with herbs or homeopathy, and after 12 years in business and an ever increasing herd they have coped well to keep the goats in good health.
After 7 or so years of little rain the whole region in Victoria is experiencing unprecedented levels of rain and subsequently issues around drainage and placement of sheds etc are now revealed as the water table is so engorged much of the run off into low areas is not being absorbed. We discussed methods of mitigating or redirecting the run off across areas where the goats travel or congregate – as goats hate having wet hooves.
My reason for visiting this farm was to better acquaint myself with the ‘goat’. I became more than acquainted – I became a surrogate mum for several ‘kids’ that needed to be weaned off their mums so that mum could be added to the line up of milkers. The kids are incredibly energetic just at one day old, running jumping and butting even if it is slightly on the un-co0rdinated side of things – they’re very entertaining.
The adult goats are beautiful intelligent creatures and very patient yet sometimes very vocal – usually its to tell you or the herd something like ‘wheres my kid!!!’ mmbbbAAAAAHHHHHHH, in a Tarzanesque shriek!
I really would consider owning goats but need to make sure all their dietary requirements would be catered for on my 5 acres. What concerns me is keeping these animals fed in dry times. I would not want to become too reliant on buying in feed. I would love to put them to work pulling a simple cart as I think all animals like to feel useful.
Keeping any animals is a huge responsibility and the more I keep the bigger the responsibility and the increased cost of feed and health treatments. Goats are social animals so just keeping one is not an option – this and more is what I need to take time to consider.
All in all my experience with these Holy Goats was well worth the 10 hour drive and icy mornings.
Suggested reading – Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats by Jerry Belanger