Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Results are In!

On Monday, March 5, I sat down with some members of the Dairy Business Innovation Center to discuss dairy goats in Wisconsin. It just so happened that this was the same day that the World Championship Cheese Competition was open to the public. I did a quick jaunt around the judging floor, munched a sample of some really good mozzarella before getting in touch with Jeanie, Becky (of Edelweiss) and Norm for a quick chat. 

 Click for a larger size

 The judging floor. Kinda seemed like a factory (what with all the white coats and hats) mixed with 4H judging. I would like to see them implement more of a "Dog Show" mentality, where the owners of the cheese parade their wheels around before the crowd. Of course they have 2,500 entries to get through, and some cheese makers (large companies) probably entered upwards of 100 different cheeses so maybe that wouldn't work.

 Wheels laid out pre-judging.

 Public tasting is not the main focus of the event. Still, it was really nice that they did provide a small array of high-class cheeses for sampling.

 Ok so this is a terrible shot of the goat cheese judging table. The man you cannot see behind the guy in the red hat is Steve Zeng from Langston University in Oklahoma. Much of the dairy goat research going on today can be traced back to him and the Langston Goat Research Extension.

After our initial introductions (in which I found that Jeanie and I each have a Cleveland, OH connection), we started talking about the Dairy Business Center. We talked a little about the low points for dairy farmers in the ‘80-90s, when the population of farmers was aging, the price for cow's milk was low, and most cheese produced in Wisconsin was considered “commodity cheese.” “No one back then used the word Artisan,” Jeanie pointed out.  In 2004 the DBIC was former as a way to help farmers find ways to create “value added” endeavors, such as artisan cheeses, to their farms.  

The DBC is there to help all dairy associated endeavors (goat, cow, sheep etc.), and recognizes the importance of  producers, dairy processors, state and federal government and industry leaders all working together. It is not a "brick and mortar" building, but a nonprofit organization of experienced consultants that can be called upon to help develop businesses for a lower cost than if the owners just went out on their own.

I found out Wisconsin is the only state that has a sheep milk coop  (I always wanted to write about the cooperative efforts in Wisconsin, I really feel they add to the tapestry of our history. It is The Year of the Coop, so maybe I will...) Wisconsin has the most goats in the country (always in competition with Texas and Iowa for milk producing herds.) We have some of the the largest plants for processing goat milk. We also make “mixed milk” cheese – mixing cow and goat milk, for instance, to make a different blended cheese. We are far behind the Europeans, both in our goat stock and our cheese, but that is to be expected with the long history of European dairies.

Goat farming is a fairly low cost endeavor, vs. cow dairying for people to get into, and the quality of artisan goat cheese has skyrocketed. Younger farmers are getting into the business (or back into the business) as promoting local foods, or going organic has risen in the media.  Norm made sure to point out that there are still real challenges. Farming is a lot of work, and this cannot be understated. There are hotspots of goat markets in Wisconsin, and finding a market is very important for the continued strength of goat milk.  Also, the quality of milk is very important. If members of your goat herd are not producing, farmers have to make the choice to cull animals, which can be difficult but necessary to remain financially strong.

We finished our discussion as Becky and Norm had to run off to meet some farmers they had been working with who happened to be in Madison for the cheese competition. Jeanie and I talked briefly about meat goats in Wisconsin, and I will hopefully be investigating that in the future.  

Back to the cheese floor, the World Championship Cheese Contest, though some people may feel it is weighted towards our fair state since it is hosted by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers (and we do have a whole organization dedicated to artisan cheese in our state, as well as being home to the Cheese Underground blog) is an impartial contest. Click on the first image for info on the judging process. The contest, which included judges from 40 countries sampling entries from all over the world that compete in 82 categories (not counting Best of Show), was covered by media from as far away as New Zealand.  

Some of the most interesting results to me included a number of Wisconsin cheeses making it into the "sweet 16" finals PDF (alas, none of them goat), along with a Spanish goat cheese. Montchevre and Carr Valley Cheese both made good showings in the goat milk cheese categories, placing in the top 3 in a number of categories, and (in a rare departure from my goat alliance) a special shout out goes to the small Hidden Springs Creamery for placing 2nd overall in the Flavored Soft & Semi-soft Sheep's Milk Cheeses (I love their little sheep-y label).

The overall winner was a Dutch Vermeer, made by FrieslandCampina. The winner will be honored at the International Cheese Technology Expo next month.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Amish Goat Farm Visit

CLICK the sketch to see FULL SIZE

Another bank holiday, another farm visit! This Presidents Day I was visiting the farm of an Amish farmer who had received a USDA loan to start milking goats and selling the milk to the MontChevre  cheese factory in Berlin Wisconsin (the company is based out of California). My Uncle  happens to be the loan officer, and he had heard that the milk truck had just started to come to the farm, so we set up to go take a look.

It is so funny to think, on our way to the farm, we were discussing Twitter and Bing and iPads and so on (my aunt, who is retired from the University system, knows about all of these things and we were discussing the different reasons for using them.) At the farm, we found ourselves discussing wood stoves used for heating the milk parlor, running cold water around a metal jacket over one portion of the stove to create hot water, and a cistern on the hill that created a gravity-fed water system so that a spray hose could be used for washing the milk house. From inside the grid, to completely off it, in about 15 minutes.

Now, this was an Amish farm, and so I chose not to take any photos. However, I have provided a sketch of the goat barn (see above). I also transcribed my notes on the drive home and, in leiu of a notepad, used a number of paper tags my Uncle had in his truck to track my thoughts.

One of my "note tags" 

The farmer was very accommodating on this mucky winter’s day. He seemed a little overwhelmed by having 150 baby goats to contend with (there was indoor and outdoor pens housing the babies). Also, he had just started milking – they had had only one milk pickup, the second one happened while we were visiting. His family does the milking (mostly his children I believe). He showed us the milking stands - 10 or 14 stands. One that held about 8-10 goats was long and had a neck lock section that could be closed to hold the goats. He really liked this as opposed to the stationary neck holder. Some of his goats had horns, others did not. The long section was for most of the goats, whereas the smaller 2-4 goat stands were for goats that took an extra long time to milk by hand (due to the makeup of their udder, their age etc.)  

Behind the milk parlor was the milk barn, made up of a hoop house that was open at one end. On right side he had his milking goats, and on the other, he had the dry goats.  He has some Billy goats (bucks) on site in a separate barn. One of them is his “$300 Billy goat” whose mother was known for being a very good milker.

He has 100 dry goats. He hopes to breed some of them in a rotation so that he will always be milking. Since he is selling liquid milk, there is a premium for it paid in winter (since, in the natural scheme of things, this is when goats dry up.) We chatted about how long a goat is expected to be in the milk production system (only about 3- 4 years actually, which surprised me a bit. Goats can live 15-20 years. On another website I found information that a goat can be bred before age 1 year, and “retired” at around age 10 and still live to old age. ) He said that the two most important things in getting milking goats are looking at their bloodlines, and providing them with the best food possible. He wished he had been able to have his barn a little wider, as then he would have two troughs for food (he currently has one that both sides of the barn eat out of.) That way, he could feed the more nutrient dense food to the milkers.  He really liked the airiness and light of his hoop barn though.

Some other things taken into account when setting up the farm were how many people could milk for how long. Due to his family, his farm can have 10 people milking goats for approx. 10 years before the children are old enough to grow up and leave to go out on their own.  The goats sold for meat went for about $1.35 / lb. The hoop house cost about $10,000. Once again, the Great God Hay came up in that it is hard to create good milking quality hay in Wisconsin. Much of it is “western hay” which comes from Nebraska.

A skid-steer is sort of a Bobcat type vehicle that can  run through the barn and cleans up the manure. In winter, the barn is a little hard to clean out, and a lot of work to do by hand with pitchforks. There was some discussion about bringing in pigs – if you poke holes in the packed down manure and put corn in the holes, then let pigs root around in it, it will loosen and fluff up the material so that it can be more easily dug out. 

Currently, it takesabout 1.5 hours to milk 75 goats by hand. He is currently getting a good winter milk price of about $37 per 100 weight (here is some historic info on goat milk prices in WI). Eventually he’ll be getting about $750/ ton. In other words, making about $100 / day at peek production (which was figured to be no less than 5 lbs of milk per goat per day. He already has one goat that gives nearly 20 pounds of milk!) Out of that $100, about $75 goes towards feeding the goats. His setup has the goats housed in a hoop house and not on pasture. All hay and other feed needs to be bought, brought in, and fed. 

 As the milk truck driver was lamenting the fact that his route keeps changing now that all the goats are starting to “freshen” (i.e. give birth and start to be milked), he also said he has to work long hours in hopes of not falling behind. “No rest for the wicked,” quipped my aunt. To which the farmer responded, “ya, not too much rest for us good guys neither!”

Goats hang with the cool kids

From a study in England, as reported on GeekoSystem:

Goats Form Accents Based on the Hip Goats They Hang Around

"... the next time you happen to be hanging around some goats, you’d do well to mimic them if you want them to think you’re cool."

So I got tipped off to this by the They Might Be Giants Facebook page. They also had a video of a goat massage (work safe!). And later, they lamented not seeing any fainting goats.

I love TMBG.

My MinkCar. Click to understand (or be confused.)