Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Season on the Farm

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We Love Good Reviews!

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.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Plant It & It Will Grow

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.

A few foods did manage to survive my neglect and crummy season.

Scarce tomatoes and purple cabbbage.

We are so blessed with our soils.  The garden is fed 100% with goat bedding compost.  It is all that is ever needed. I don't water, weed sporadically (usually with help!) and still it feeds us partially through my benign neglect.