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Ag and Culture

Farm Firsts in the Rain

Callie HeadshotThough Toluma Farms, where I currently intern (for another 5 weeks!), is mostly a goat dairy, we do have twelve East Fresian ewes and a ram (ie dairy sheep). Before I arrived last fall, the ram was bred to the ewes so they would lamb this spring (a sheep's gestation period is approxitmatly 147 days, 5 months). We had been expecting the lambs sometime after April 1st, but this last Saturday during a downpour I was pleasantly suprised to discover a hearty ram lamb and his mother in the pasture.

We brought them into a freshen pen in the barn (not without a struggle, our sheep are a tad wild as they have never been milked) and gave them dry straw to rest on, as well as plenty of food and water for the ewe. Since Saturday four more ewes have lambed and all are doing well.

 Mom and Ram Lamb

East Fresians are pretty much the only dairy sheep breed we have in the United States. They are the most common and genreally the most productive dairy sheep in the world. There are many other kinds of dairy sheep out there, including the Awassi and Assaf from Israel, the Lacune from France (from which we get the very famous Roquefort cheese), the Sarda from Spain and the Chios from Greece. Currently we are unable to import any live sheep, embryos or seman into the US from other countries, as the USDA has closed it's borders in fear of importing diseases, among other issues.

The owners of Toluma Farms are interested in producing a mixed milk cheese in the future, so that is the reason we have a flock of sheep. They are trying to convince the farm manager it would be a great idea to milk a couple cows as well!

Layers of a Farm

eggsToluma Farms has many layers to it besides just goats. They include enterprises like pasture management, growing oat hay, giving lots of public tours and raising beef cattle. One of the Farms most profitable layers quite literally lay a variety of beautiful eggs. Here is a look at the fowl of Toluma Farms and the valuable little nuggets they produce.











 Buff Orpington rooster Buff Orpington rooster - no eggs from him.














  Welsummer henWelsummer hen - lay the beautiful brown speckled eggs (my favorite).














 Black Sex Link henBlack Sex Link hen - lay brown eggs.


















  Golden Laced Wyandotte henGolden Laced Wyandotte hen - lay brown eggs.














 Rhode Island Red henRhode Island Red hen - lay brown eggs.














 Barred Rock henBarred Rock hen - lay brown eggs.














 Light Brahma rooster and hensLight Brahma rooster and hens - hens lay brown eggs.














 Ameraucana henAmeraucana hen - lay the green eggs.














 Ancona henAncona hen - lay the white eggs.














 PeacockAnd while our resident peacock is not much of an egg layer, he sure is a stunner ... too bad the goats don't really appreciate his display! 

Insert Cheesy Title Here

Experimental sheep milk cheese

Last night I started the first of a four week class, A Full Introduction to Artisan Cheese and Its Histories at the College of Marin. It covers topics like classifications of cheese (hard, soft, washed rind, bloomy rind, blue), how to professionally assess a cheese (sight, smell, touch, taste, after taste), cheese history and more. This class attracts a variety of folks, from chefs, to farmers, to cheesemakers and lots of cheese eaters. It is a bit torturous to sit through, as everyone has a tray with eight different cheeses sitting in front of them that are not supposed to be eaten until two hours into the class!

The college offers an entire program, created in conjunction with the UC Cooperative Extension office and the California Artisan Cheese Guild, that can be taken in order to earn an artisan cheesemakers certificate. The other classes in the course include:

    -Hygiene and Safety in Cheesemaking

    -Basic Starter Cultures for Cheese and Fermented Milks

    -Milk Types and Quality

    -Cheese Chemistry

    -Principles and Practices of Cheesemaking

I will get the chance to also take the hygiene class during my internship at Toluma Farms and hope to eventually complete the whole program.

Kidding Log - 4: Bottle Raising Goats

Callie HeadshotSo the reality is, people eat goats. Just like people eat cows or chickens. And meat is the fate of many a male goat (and bull calf). We will raise about 40 meat goats this year and sell them mostly to restaurants in the San Francisco area (perhaps have one at my wedding in May?).

We pull the intended boys from their mothers after 3-4 days, when their mother's milk is clean enough to go into the milk tank and sell. The boys then learn to drink from a beer bottle filled with milk from other freshening does. (Freshen means a doe (cow, horse) has babies and starts producing milk.)

Nature's nectar

Then the meat boys graduate to the bucket. The bucket has ten nipples sticking out of it, so it is like a milk buffet free-for-all; easier and faster for the farmer and the kid. These guys get 2 buckets a day and they certainly loudly demand their meals.


It has been a quiet couple days on the kidding front; only one set of twins in three days. Some of the youngest kids finally aren't so much white. This soft little guy's dad is our other herdsire, Sting, who is an alpine buck.


We are resting up for a kidding storm to match our long awaited rain storm - 26 does are due to kid in the next week!

Kidding Log - 3

The playpen 
The playpen 

Since my last post 29 kids have been born to 13 is definitely the year of the white goat! Dairy goats are very prolific animals; most of the does have at least two kids, many have had triplets and two have had singles.

It's interesting to compare kidding this year to lambing at Flying Mule Farm last year. Here with the goats at Toluma we usually kid in a barn, then move the moms and babies into their own freshen pens for 24 to 48 hours so they can bond, eat and not get trampled, stressed or mixed up. It is labor and capital intensive. 

Some of our freshen pens, kind of like my cubicle in a past life 
Some of our freshen pens, kind of like my cubicle in a past life. 

When I helped with lambing last February, it was out in a leased field with no structures around. The ewes were expected to make sure their lambs were cleaned off, nursing and ready to go within 20 minutes of hitting the ground. If an ewe wasn't a good mother and her lamb died or had to be bottle raised, she usually didn't get to stay in the flock.

The goats I am working with now have not had selection pressure to be good mothers. We keep replacement does based on the amount of milk their mothers produce as well as the length of the mothers lactation cycle; a good udder, general good health and mild temperament (i.e., no kicking in the milking parlor) are also important factors.

Two thirds of the kids born this season have been male...we are still hoping for the female tally to catch up!

Kidding Log: Day 2

Well my clothes are a little stiff with birthing fluid today ... picking up slimy newborns and moving them into freshen pens with the mothers never promised to be a tidy job. As of right now 4 does have kidded today, three sets of twins and a set of adorable half-Boer triplets:

Mom Melissa with her 3 half-Boer babies

So far this season we have had twice as many male kids as female ... which leaves us feeling a little unimpressed with our buck Lars. When you are trying to build a herd of goats (or a flock of sheep), genetics are incredibly important. We need to retain females from our best does to breed and milk in the future in order to build a good business. But if none of our best does have females ... that is a major problem. 

But our best does have yet to kid this season. And some of these males we can raise and sell as meat goats.  Also, if you are interested in having a goat eat blackberries in your backyard, many of these cuties are for sale; leave me a comment if you are interested.

Kidding Log: January 8-9

In the same vein as the Lambing Journal my friend and mentor Dan Macon kept last year, I thought I'd loosely keep a Kidding Log while here at Toluma Farms, if for no other reason than for me to look back at, after this surreal time as an intern is over.

Yesterday, the 8th of January, three does kidded; there were two sets of triplets and a set of twins; six boys and 2 girls, all white. Eric, the herd manager, said white coloring is a dominant trait in goats and over half our herd was bred by our white Saanen buck, Lars.

Two does in labor 
Two does in labor 

Nubian mothers with their bunny-like offspring 
Nubian mothers with their bunny-like offspring 

Here's a short little video full of goaty cuteness.


So far today, one kind of sad, little La Mancha doe has been born.

Little La Mancha doe kid 

Her mother was not too interested in her, so I spent some time rubbing her down with straw to dry her off and get the blood flowing in her legs so she could stand up. I also helped her find her first drink of colostrum heavy milk to get her going. Thus I deservedly earned the seasonal title of 'pathetic goat nurturer,' which is ok with me; I have definitely been called worse.