Can I just quickly say that this blog has, today, passed the 20,000 page views stage, running at 20,395 as of today as we hit 1173 posts. Not bad! Thank you for all your interest and support, readers.
With plans to try to improve the grazing in the local fields and clear the rushes up, a job which neither sheep nor cattle will do and horses only if very hungry, we have been looking at goats as a possible option. They will eat the rushes when they are new growth (i.e. once topped), they can be used to browse out rubbish like bramble and nettles and, unlike horses they can be used for meat or used to produce milk which is reasonably easy to turn into cheeses, yogurt and then whey for use in baking (e.g. soda bread) or for feeding to chickens. Mum and Dad started to look around on the internet for goats in Roscommon and came across a small holding close by which runs Goat Management courses. The course we chose was a 6 hour one on a Saturday which claimed to include lots of hands-on dairy stuff from milking through cheese making and even eating the meat. Both Mum and Dad have had goat milk before from Tesco which they had found slightly unpleasantly 'goaty' so they were also keen to try some fresh, well produced stuff to see was this flavour a part of the territory. It isn't, incidentally.
The farm and the course are run by the delightful family 'Kelemen' including Hungarian Judit and her sister Zsuzsa, Irishman, Pat and various children, primarily young lad Zoli who seems to be chief goat-herd and is definitely a skilled efficient milker. Incidentally, it occurred to Mum that she knows very few Hungarians and the vast majority (OK, 3) of them seemed to be called Zsuzsa. The zs by the way, is pronounced like the French "J" in Rosé d'Anjou. The farm keeps 2 purebred Saanen goats for milking (they are a good dairy breed but scrawny and rangy and not particularly good as meat), Charm and Lucky, and they get these girls into milk each season by siring with either a Saanen (if they want milker females) or the meatier Boer breed if they want meat-goats to either eat or barter with. They also keep a few sheep and lambs, ponies and lots of poultry.
The course itself was brilliant and Mum and Dad come home singing its praises. The first half of the day is a classroom session going through legal stuff, the breeds, health, nutrition and feeding, housing, fencing (this is a big one - they are escapists!), managing the grazing (rotation etc), then milking and use of the products. There is a hand-out from the (excellently presented) Powerpoint session. The 2nd part is practical stuff where the gang meet the goats, lead them about, take them to a barn to see and do foot-trimming and be shown how you'd administer wormer doses and medicines. They are shown milking and given a chance to try, along with all the teat-cleaning, strip-cup stuff to check for mastitis and so on. Both Mum and Dad manage to get a good flow of milk going milking by hand so they are happy with that. They move into the kitchen area and get to try starting a cheese batch, a yogurt batch and even getting ricotta to separate from the whey (whey is the clearish liquid left once you've taken the main cheese curds off, but can be boiled and persuaded to produce yet more curds using rennit, and these curds can be made into ricotta cheese.) They also get to try lifting the cheese curd off the original whey for a cheese batch started the day before placing it in the moulds to further drain and dry, and learn to pasteurise milk.
All through the day there are frequent breaks for food and coffee, the food being all goat-based products and sometimes Hungarian specialities to show the 'students' what can be done. There is delicious home made rolls and cheese, drinking-yogurt and normal yogurt, pasta parcels with spinach and cheese, rye bread and a variety of cheeses (e.g. with sun dried tomato in oil or with pesto made using wild garlic and salads to try. There were also a few barbecued ribs. It was all delicious and lovely, report Mum and Dad and with none of it showing any unpleasant 'goaty' flavour. There is even a blind trial where milk A and milk B are presented un-labelled to try and only one course member allowed to see the preparation and know which was which. Mum alone of all the group manages to correctly identify the goat's milk. Dad finds them so similar that had Judit said - haha, fooled you, they were both cows'! he'd have not been surprised. Finally there was a beautiful cheesecake made with goat cream cheese. Everyone was sold on the products.
Mum and Dad, who took the 2CV to the course (and generated the usual amount of delighted comment and curiosity) drove home buzzing with goat facts and knowledge. They are almost convinced they will go ahead with goats as a plan but need the herd number to come through from the District Vet Office, and some fencing doing, so it may not be any time very soon. They feel they have enough to be going on with at present.
For its first six years, this blog was "written" by my Westie Pup, Deefer but now on reaching its 30,000th page-view she has passed the keyboard to me. It remains a light hearted look at the lives of our family, human and animals first in Faversham, Kent, then through our recent 'up sticks' move to County Roscommon, Republic of Ireland where we have gutted and rebuilt a farmhouse and are now starting a small holding.