Gardening & Agriculture Archive


The Importance of Monitoring Somatic Cell Counts

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Recently the FDA raised the maximum number of somatic cells that Grade A goat milk can contain from the former limit of 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 (while at the same time lowering the number allowed in cow milk from 750,000 to 500,000).  Our state (Oregon) followed suit and adopted the new limit. While I applaud the cow levels, I am concerned about the goat levels.

I have read and heard somatic cells in milk referred to as “pus”. This is not correct! Somatic cells (SC), by simple definition, are “body” cells.  In milk, these can be normal skin cells (epithelial) shed by the milk ducts (more on that in a bit), portions of the cells (cytoplasmic particles),  or white blood cells (leukocytes) that are present in order to fight off an udder infection (white blood cells are also present in “pus”). So let’s talk about why a healthy udder matters and the difference between the epithelial and white blood cells.

First, udder health correlates with the animal’s health and wellbeing. If you believe in the humane treatment of animals, then this should be important! Second, milk produced by a less than vibrantly functioning udder will not be of superior quality – either for drinking or making cheese.  A healthy udder is created and maintained by a nutritionally, physically, and emotionally balanced animal. (Yes, they do have emotional needs!). While I won’t be covering all of these needs here, it is important that you remember that they are the foundation for the production of superior milk).

White blood cells migrate into the udder in order to fight off microorganisms that could cause, or are causing, an udder infection – the same job they do throughout our own bodies. When they are called to the battle front within the udder their presence is indicative of a problem. The problem could be unseen, meaning you can’t see any difference in the milk or the udder – no swelling, heat, clumps in the milk, etc. This is called “sub-clinical” mastitis and is the most common form of mastitis (udder infection). When a severe udder infection is present, it is called “acute”. Animals can suffer greatly from an acute case of mastitis – including loss of the affected part of the udder to gangrene or even death.

How Cows and Goats Differ

Now, let’s go over one of the unseen differences between goat and cow milk. Understanding starts with remembering that the udder is a gland. The mammary gland, to be exact. All glands (we have lots of them – from our armpits to our stomach) secrete their products in one of three ways. Two of these are pertinent to milk secretion – apocrine and merocrine. I am not telling you this to add more words to your Scrabble game, but instead to explain some very important differences between cow and goat milk. Glands that secrete via the apocrine system also shed parts of the cell wall lining. Goats and humans secrete milk via the apocrine approach, while cows milk is shed via the merocrine system which keeps the secretory cell intact. Kind of cool, kind of gross, don’t you think? From this you can rightly conclude that goat milk will have a “naturally” higher somatic cell count (SCC) than cow milk (when cells are counted using the same method traditionally used on cow milk).

What is a Normal, Healthy Somatic Cell Level in Goat Milk?

So if goats naturally have a higher SCC, why am I concerned about the legal limit being raised?  In my experience, which is not all encompassing of course, a SCC over 300,000 in our goats, means there is a very low-grade problem. How do I know this? Every month a person comes to our farm and collects a milk sample from each individual milking doe. This sample is then tested at a certified laboratory for many things, including SCC. If the count comes back over 300,00 then we march out to the parlor (as we already do twice daily) and do a California Mastitis Test (CMT) on that doe. The CMT will show the difference in SCC between each half of the udder (or each quarter if you are testing a cow). If they are different, then It is not normal, one side has a problem. By following this policy we have (knock-on-wood) never had an acute case of mastitis and or current herd average (from tests covering about 10 years) SCC is 104,000.

Note: SCC are usually read MINUS three zeros. So 162,000 will appear on test results as 162.  Anything below 1,000 is usually not counted and will appear as zero.

I have always wondered if perhaps Nigerian Dwarf goats, our breed, have a lower average than the big girls. We have two full sized goats, LaMancha’s. Their average SCC are 109-125,000 (higher than our total herd average). The current average of all dairy goats in the states covered by our testing association is 625,000. When looking at the 2011 summary, where the data is analyzed from several standpoints, Nigerian herds average 121,000 while standard goats average 783,000. If looked at by milk production volume, does producing about 3,000 pounds of milk or more are the highest at 939,000.  Herd size (meaning if you have only a couple of goats versus 31 or more) seems to matter as well, but not as much as milk production volume. So many factors may come into play, but I still have to wonder if this higher limit won’t have the unhelpful effect of causing some producers to ignore even more subclinical mastitis cases instead of jumping on top of the situation before it gets out of hand. Having known commercial producers who have gone from high counts to low by improving techniques and removing animals with chronic subclinical cases does make me feel that the higher limit is a mistake.

What can You Do to Monitor Your Animals and Treat High SCC’s ?

If you have goats or cows and are not on a program where their milk is regularly tested, I highly advise performing a CMT (or other SCC’ing test) EVERY MONTH. By doing this you will find little problems and be able to address them before antibiotics are needed)

So what do we do when one side of the udder has an obvious (decide through CMT) problem? First you must rule out problems with milking equipment and general health of the animal. Of course, when it is just on one side, then you have to assume an udder infection of some sort. Before you resort to antibiotic usage, you can try some organic and old fashioned remedies.  I used to do peppermint oil rubs to the udder and give the doe an oral dose (about 60 ml) of her own milk – to hopefully stimulate an antibody response. I

Garlic cloves in water to make a “tea”

have recently added a common certified organic producer’s technique of orally dosing the animal with garlic “tea”. What a miracle it has been! We soaked peeled garlic cloves in water (be sure to keep refrigerated as botulism is a risk if not) then dosed the doe with 40-60ml 3x a day and her SCC went from 722,000 and 652,000 on the next test (the CMT showed a problem on one side) to, are you ready?  One thousand. Yup. Garlic. Thank you!

Some animals have chronic infections that even garlic cannot clear up. A milk sample should be sent to a certified lab for culture and if appropriate antibiotic therapy can be used. There are some dairy animals now, though, carrying the antibiotic resistant form of Staph aureus (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) these animals should, unfortunately, be culled – removed permanently (not simply passed to another herd!)

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So no matter how you feel about the new SCC limit, I hope you will take your animal’s welfare and the quality of your milk so seriously that you will set your own standards. Try to not accept less than the best – no matter what the regulations say!

FCA Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, and the forthcoming book Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.

Using 3M Quick Swabs to Build a Food Safety Program for the Farmstead Creamery

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Environmental testing of food contact surfaces and other surfaces that workers might easily touch and then cross contaminate a product can help you quickly find gaps in your food safety program. If you read an earlier post I did on the subject, then you may remember that here at our tiny farmstead creamery, we do an APC on the milk used for each batch of cheese. This spring we made some changes in our general procedures that lead to increased bacteria counts in our milk. By using swab testing, we were able to pinpoint where the problem was originating- before the bacteria levels became too high.

We had made several changes on the dairy farm side of processing. First, we greatly shortened the time in which the milk goes from the body temperature of the animal to refrigeration temperatures. Second, we changed some of the cleaning products to more environmentally friendly variations. When I say “environmentally friendly” in this case I mean products that break down quickly into less harsh compound or elements and are therefore easier on a septic system - ours is an oversized domestic system that handles the waste water from our home, dairy, and creamery. Due to the heavy use of cleaning and sanitizing products, our septic tank was functioning at less than optimum and costing us quite a bit in maintenance.

Since rapid chilling of milk is one of the best ways to limit bacterial growth, our problem of rising bacteria counts meant that either the equipment was not being cleaned adequately, or that bacteria was being introduced - in large numbers - at another step in the process. I mentioned we are a very small farm, so it was quite easy to gather the entire team (myself, our daughter, and one intern) and go over the possibilities. After I completed a milking and what I felt was a thorough cleaning and sanitization of the equipment, I swabbed the inside of one of the sections that collects milk from the animal (called a “claw”).  After plating and incubating the results showed many cfu’s, there should have been almost zero. (See the photo later)

Swab Testing: What You’ll Need

  • Incubator- We use the small, inexpensive version sold by Nelson Jameson (about 90.00)
  • 3M Petrifilm plates- Aerobic Plate Count and Coliform Count (70-80 cents each)
  • Plate spreader (comes with Petrifilm plates)
  • 3M Quick Swabs (about 1.40 each)
  • Sharpie or other marker
  • Once you have gathered your supplies, you can begin taking samples. It is a good idea to test far more surfaces in the beginning of a testing program than you may need to do on follow up tests – this will help establish a baseline of awareness. Once enough tests confirm that cleaning protocols (SSOP’s – sanitization standard operating procedures) are effective, you may be able to decrease the number of surfaces tested as well as the frequency.

Steps for Successful Swab Testing

  • Using a sharpie or marker, write the source of the sample and date taken on the Quick Swab container.
  • When you are ready to swab the surface, bend the neck of the liquid filled end of the Quick Swab so that the nutrient broth contained in the bulb flows into the end that contains the swab. Squeeze the bulb so that all of the solution is drained.
  • Twist apart and remove the swab from the tube. Hold the tube so that the broth solution remains inside once the swab is removed.
  • Rub the end of the swab, holding it at a slight angle so that the sides make some contact with the surface, on the desired area to be sampled. Rub the swab three times over an area of roughly 3-4 square inches.
  • Return the swab to the broth and close the tube.
  • Shake the tube for about 10 seconds to mix the sample into the broth.
  • Remove the swab from the tube, squeezing it inside the neck of the tube to remove as much of the solution from the absorbent material as possible.
  • Peel back the film on the sample plate (APC or other) and carefully pour the solution onto the center of the plate. It tends to run out very quickly and is tricky to do properly (as you might notice from the photo of the “claw” sample later in this article).
  • Use the plate spreader to gently press the sample into the plate. Use the flat side for coliform plates and the recessed side for APC plates.
  • Allow the plate to sit for about 1 minute so that the liquid sample will gel with the plate.
  • Incubate as directed for the type of sample being run. (For APC it is 90F for 48 hours, for coliform plates incubate at 90F for 12 hours).

Coliform Plates- How are they Different, When and How to Use

When you open a pack of coliform count Petrifilm plates you will immediately notice two things that are different from the APC plates. First, they are red instead of white. Next, the plate is thicker and has a circular “well” that helps contain the sample of fluid, while the APC plates are flat. When you use the plastic plate spreader on a fluid sample on the APC plates, you use the side of the spreader that has a recessed area. When spreading a sample on a coliform plate, use the flat side of the spreader. Coliform plates are a little bit more expensive then the APC plates, at about 75-80 cents each. Coliform plates that differentiate between total coliforms and e. coli are even more costly at about 1.50 each. You can also purchase “rapid” count plates that will give you results in just a few hours.

So why should you choose to run a coliform sample over an APC sample? In general it is best to focus on coliforms when testing surfaces, especially those that might come in contact with raw or finished product. While other bacteria will always be present in a cheesemaking facility, coliforms are from fecal sources and should not be expected or tolerated on surfaces inside the processing area. If a total coliform count reveals no coliforms, then purchasing and using the more expensive e.coli specific plates is not strictly needed. (These policies should be determined by each facility in consultation with a food safety specialist, however. This article is based solely on our experiences here at our own farm)

A coliform plate is read differently than an APC plate. When you look at the incubated Petrifilm coliform plate, you may see multiple small, red dots, just like you do on the APC plate (although they are more difficult to see thanks to the red background color of the plate – which is intentional). Coliform cfu’s will also have a red dot, but it will be surrounded by a little ring of air – a gas pocket produced by the bacteria. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) the samples I took for this article did not grow any coliforms. Perhaps I should have swabbed the milking parlor floor drain, which would no doubt have created quite a high count plate for you to see!

Lessons in Swabbing

Here at Pholia Farm, swab testing has helped us determine the frequency of cleaning door handles, light switches, and other hand contact surfaces as well as the efficiency of our cleaning protocols for the cheese vat, milk cans, and milking equipment. Thanks to this quick and easy test we were able to pinpoint the gap in our process – in this case inadequate cleaning products – and make immediate changes. In our case, we returned to our former CIP detergent and will be attempting to offset the damage to our septic system flora by regularly treating the system with beneficial bacteria treatments. Of course, the long term lesson is that there will always be something to try to improve and compromises made – whether that is in the use of chemicals that are not as “green” as we would like or in costs and time spent trouble shooting problems. Being a small cheesemaker also means being alert and adaptable, there is nothing boring about this career!

Notes:

It is important to remind you that you may not provide testing or plate counts to others unless you are a certified professional working in a certified facility. When first developing a testing frequency protocol, it is advisable to include certified lab testing and consultation with a food safety professional.

Resources:

Supplies: www.nelsonjameson.com

Instructions: www.msu.edu/course/fsc/441/3mapc.html https://www.msu.edu/course/fsc/441/3mc&ec.html,  and http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Microbiology/FoodSafety/industries/one/

FCA Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor, and the forthcoming book Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.

Making Yogurt to Feed Kids and Calves

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Yogurt  not only provides valuable probiotic bacteria to the young ruminant, but it is easy to digest and can remain at room temperature in free choice bucket feeders without fear of growing unwanted pathogens. Making yogurt for kids and calves is a simple and inexpensive process. At Pholia Farm, we feed pasteurized goat milk and goat milk yogurt blended to a feedable consistency and served in free choice bucket feeders. We make the yogurt in the same manner as one would for personal consumption, but with a little less attention to details such as stray goat hairs and incubation temperature.  Here is how we do it:

  • Heat milk to 180F
  • Cool to 130F
  • Stir in about 1-3 TB per gallon of yogurt from the previous batch or store purchased plain yogurt or use 1/2 tsp of powdered yogurt culture (purchased from a culture supply company such as Dairy Connection)
  • Place pot in an ice chest to hold temperature- add 125 F water for better temperature control. Even easier, you can simply leave the pot to sit on the counter if the room is fairly warm. The resulting yogurt won’t be quite as thick, but it will work for kids.
  • After 12 hours the yogurt should be set.
  • Store in refrigerator.
  • Don’t forget to retain a bit to start your next batch!
  • There you have it, bon appetit to your young animals!
FCA Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.

The Most Important Room in the Dairy

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

When I designed our small, farmstead dairy and creamery in 2005, I unknowingly left out what is perhaps the most important and useful room – the Baby Milk Kitchen.  After working through a handful of chaotic kidding seasons, struggling to maneuver around whoever was milking, cluttering up the milk house with bucket feeders, etc.,  I realized that a space to fill and wash bottles; pasteurize and store milk for babies; and keep medications and records should be present in every efficient dairy.

Pholia Farm’s Kid Milk Kitchen

When providing floor plan reviews and consultations since this realization, I recommend adding a space with refrigeration, sink, shelving, and even a range or heat source for warming milk.  It should be located near the baby rearing area and not share any facilities with rooms where milk for human consumption (or cheesemaking) is being processed. It doesn’t have to be fancy or large, but should be efficient.

For some time I thought a baby milk kitchen was out of reach for our facility, after all, we had no room to expand or convert a space, or so I thought. Last fall while making cheese I was looking out the window to the two sided, covered back porch where we had two chest freezers, one for frozen, pasteurized milk for kids and one for personal food; a refrigerator for yogurt and milk for kids; a barbecue gas grill; and a lot of stuff that comprised a general look of clutter. Suddenly, this multi-use porch started looking a lot like our future open-air kid milk kitchen.

Over the winter we framed in one of the walls, leaving a large glassless window that looks out to our cabin and the mountains. Along this wall I built a 11 foot painted plywood counter into which we set a deep sink (purchased at a Habitat for Humanity store for 15.00) that runs to a trench. Under the sink I added a draining shelf using a scrap piece of metal fence panel.  Vern ran the plumbing out the wall from the adjoining boiler room and the porch already had an outlet for power and an overhead light.  We moved the two chest freezers to one wall, the grill to the unframed, screened wall, and the refrigerator to the back wall of the boiler room.  We pasteurize our kid milk by using an inexpensive turkey fryer as a hot water bath, so we made a place for it as well.  We had a little trouble with the liquid, natural dishsoap freezing solid during the first month of kidding, but other than that, this room- we now call the KMK for kid milk kitchen- has made our spring birthing season almost, and I emphasis almost, heavenly.

Foot traffic in the milk house is now limited to whoever is milking, so it stays much cleaner. The clutter of milk buckets and lamb bars and baby bottles is gone. There is no concern about medications being near the milk. And no one has to struggle to carry filled bucket feeders out through the milk house door, dripping milk as they slosh their way through the milking parlor.

Our KMK is rudimentary and rustic, but it does the job. We’ll plan on improving it during the down season, but it will get us through this spring.  The only problem with the room is that it is a distance from the baby pens. Now, as I stand at the sink washing buckets and bottles, I find mysekf  gazing out to the open space behind the barn (well it is not that open, but

crammed with Amelia’s rabbit house, recycling bins, and stacks of buckets, barrels, and fencing that we just might need someday) and wondering about a new kid barn…

Building a Creamery Flow Chart

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Okay guys, here is a flow chart with some of the plethora of steps you might encounter when building a licensed cheesemaking facility. Some the steps are highlighted in pink- these you may only encounter as options or mandatory steps in California. The green steps should all be decisions made early in the process, even if the permitting step occurs later. Let me know if you have any input on this chart, I am tweaking it for my EcoFarms Presentation in Pacific Grove February 3rd.

Creamery Flow Chart - Gianaclis Caldwell

FCA Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.

The De-Horning Dilemma

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

A few weeks ago I was bumming around on Amazon.com, reading a few of the reviews that readers can post after reading (hopefully thoroughly) someone’s book.  The particular author in whose reviews I was snooping around is a favorite of mine. His book on life with goats is particularly poetic and at the same time realistic and accurate. It is a classic. One of the reviewers wrote of the author’s “barbaric and cruel” treatment of his goats, as he had dis-budded (removed the horn buds of the young kids before actual horns could grow) and fed the babies on a bottle instead of letting the mother raise them. She, as a way of presenting her credentials, cited her own experience with goats.

Do Goats and Cows Really Need to be Disbudded?

For many non-farmers or hobbyists with a strong urban background, the de-horning (or more likely “dis-budding”) of goats and cows that would otherwise grow horns (some animals are born without horns – “polled”) might seem inhumane and even, as the reviewer above said, barbaric. At some level they have a point, but for most domestic livestock, horns are more liability than asset. Now, of course there are some folks out there who would argue that animals should never be kept in captivity and therefore there is no situation when dehorning or disbudding should be performed. If these folks are living on this planet without having any impact to the land, its animals, and the other humans, then I applaud them and admit their superiority. Of course they can’t be doing that and ever read this, so I guess they’ll never know of my admiration.

For goats in the wild, or more primitive domestic settings, horns serve several purposes: First as a means of defense against predators, second as a way to radiate excess body heat when temperatures are high, and lastly as a way to reach that really-itchy-spot between their shoulder blades. For most domesticated goats, though, horns present several life threatening and quality of life issues: The most concerning issue is that horns lead to becoming entrapped in fencing- it is easy to stick one’s head through the fence when horns are present, but all but impossible to extract. When trapped in a fence several horrible things can happen to the animal including becoming a meal for a large predator or having the horn broken off at the base and bleeding, even to death. In the best outcome, the animal must simply be rescued from the fence. But while trapped, they are stressed from being vulnerable and easy targets for other, more dominant herdmates to torment and physically abuse. Then next, only slightly less important issue that horned animals pose is accidental and intentional injury to other goats and to their human handlers. While this can be avoided to a great degree, all of us, who have had goats for any length of time, have a story of being nearly blinded by a goat accidentally hitting our faces with a horn. Some more obstinate goats (What? Goats can be stubborn?) even learn to use their horns as a way to avoid being worked with. Bucks (intact male goats) are especially notorious for this type of behavior.

For the breeder of registered dairy goats, horns limit the animal’s future in another  fashion. In order to enter the ring of a goat show (where prizes can be won that will help the breeder find superior homes for other members of the goat herd and where the breeder can learn more about improving their animals through choosing better genetic traits) dairy goats may not have horns. If animals are not disbudded within a few weeks of birth, then removing horns can be a risky prospect. While many people have no intention of showing their goats, the next owner (and every animal, no matter how loved, is a heartbeat away from a new owner) may not only want to show the goat, but may also have fencing and housing where goats can be harmed.

All that being said, I know several people who quite successfully keep their goats horned. They use electric fencing or large, open range and manage smaller herds. They often use the goats as pack animals, and then the asset of having horns to help lose body heat outweighs the hazards. They also discriminately choose animals with gentle dispositions. So it is possible!

Disbudding in the Most Humane Manner

For those of us who believe that a hornless animal has the best hope for a humane and happy future, the dilemma becomes how to remove the horn growth in the kindest fashion possible. In order to choose the least traumatic method, the goat’s psyche and natural instincts need to be considered. You cannot view it from the standpoint of a predator- any species that naturally eats other animals (that’s us) .Predator and prey animals deal with pain and fear in different fashions.  If you happen to be aware of the writing and teaching of Temple Grandin (whose groundbreaking work studying animal responses as compared to her own autism has led to great changes in how meat animals are managed, especially during slaughter), then you might have already contemplated the fact that for a prey animal fear can be more traumatic than pain. (When compared to predators such as humans, dogs, and cats). Remember all animals feel pain, but the response to pain- in actions, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. is less than a similar pain situation for a human. The opposite is true for fear. When a prey animal is put in a situation of danger- being threatened by a dog, a human yelling and striking at the animal, or being chased, their response- heat rate, blood pressure, etc.- is greater than you would typically see for a human or other predator animal in the same situation.

So how can you use this knowledge to ease the suffering of goats and calves during the procedure of disbudding?

First, let’s review the most common method of disbudding. The quickest, most effective way to disbude involves the use of a hot iron with a circular shaped tip. The iron is heated to approximately 700° F or hotter. If the iron is not hot enough, then it might be held to the head too long and over-heat the skull,  causing damage to the young animal’s brain. It will also not effectively kill the cells that will produce horn growth. So burning-hot-iron-applied-to-animal’s-head. Doesn’t sound too nice, does it? In addition to recalling the knowledge of how an animal handles pain, you must remind yourself that the goat and cow’s skull is designed to take quite a beating (literally) when the animals play and fight by butting each other (goats do this more than cows). When the iron is applied at the right temperature, the procedure is over in a matter of seconds. Recovery time (as measured by vital signs- heart rate and blood pressure) is extremely rapid.

A common electric disbudding iron

The procedure can be made even less traumatic through a few simple choices that address the fear factor of being held down as well as any residual pain that the animal will feel (even if they don’t show the effects of pain the same as you and I would).  To help reduce anxiety and fear, the following things should be addressed:

  1. Is the animal afraid of you and fearful of being handled?
  2. Can you provide a low stress environment where the procedure is to be done? For example, the area should be near their usual housing, free of other fears such as dogs, loud noises, etc.
  3. Are you competent in performing the procedure? Quick, confident action will provide the shortest exposure to pain and fear.
  4. Can the animal be restrained in the least traumatic, most comfortable fashion?
  5. Can the animal be returned to a low stress, comforting situation? For example, if the kid or calf can return to a pen with its litter or pen mates or mother or be given a bottle of milk, then anxiety will be reduced. Be aware that it is not uncommon for mothers to temporarily or permanently reject a recently disbudded baby due to the scent change. If the mother rejects the baby, then stress will be increased.

Using Pain Medication, Sedation, and other Pain Reduction Methods

Here at Pholia Farm we sedate (put to sleep) the kids during the procedure. We use a medication that is legal for the veterinarian to prescribe to the producers they feel are accomplished in accurately dosing strong medications as well as monitoring the vital signs of the animal. If I was only disbudding, I might not choose to do this, but we also tattoo the kids at the same time. Tattooing seems to be equally or more painful to the young kid, so for us it makes sense to provide the least fear and pain possible.   Many breeders choose not to sedate as when the kid awakes, they are disoriented and seem quite anxious. In that case, it makes sense, given what I talked about earlier, that it is likely that the groggy state caused by the medication might be more traumatic for the animal than the brief moment of strong pain. Fortunately, we figured out a simple remedy for this. After the procedure is finished we place the kid in a small pen with other “sleeping” kids and cover it to keep the space dark. The kids wake feeling safe and quiet- making almost no sounds and recovering fully without any apparent signs of stress. If you are interested in using sedation, you will need to first become competent in other areas of herd management and then develop a plan with your veterinarian.

Analgesics (pain killers) can be given to young animals about 30 minutes before the procedure to help minimize the after effects of the burning. Again, you should consult your veterinarian to decide upon the medication and dosage.

A cool, antiseptic (kills bacteria) spray should be applied immediately after the procedure is completed (as each bud is finished burning, spray that area). This will help cool the animals head.  Some people also use an icepack to apply to the head of the animal.

Again, distracting the baby with a bottle of milk or nursing on their mother, will help shift them away from any fear or anxiety that had been being experienced.

Public Perceptions

However you decide to approach the horn issue, you owe it to your animals and the survivability of small farms to both educate the public and deal with the issue in the most civilized, humane approach possible. Beware of treating the concerns of others with a cavalier attitude- nothing good will come of such an approach. Even with the right attitude, keep in mind that many people are greatly distanced from any of the less savory realities that most farmers deal with without a second thought. People cannot be exposed too suddenly to things that they might not understand or be able to put into context. Even watching a live birth, without any complications, can be too traumatic for some people. So be alert, be aware, be knowledgeable, and be kind!

FCA Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.

All ‘Bout Bloomies- Secrets of Making White Mold Ripened Beauties

Monday, September 19th, 2011

When you talk about French cheeses most of us immediately think of Brie and Camembert. These two surface ripened cheeses are easy to love and are, arguably, the most imitated cheeses in the world. They seem to represent sophistication of palate and are therefore the gateway cheese to a whole new world of taste.  Camembert and Brie, however, are just the edge-of-the-wedge (that’s my cheesy metaphor for tip of the iceberg). There are an almost uncountable number of surface ripened cheeses- and yes, most of them are French!

In order to make delectable bloomy rind cheeses you must either get lucky or you need to understand the special needs of a cheese that has the most complex ripening pattern of any made. To begin gaining this understanding, lets take a simplified look at the lifecycle of your typical, everyday bloomy rinded cheese and then I’ll talk about just what is going on that ensures the results you want. And then, the always pertinent, common problems.

The Bloomy Lifecycle- Simplified

  1. Curd is produced either through a lactic (acid) production over a day or two, or through a quick-set, rennet coagulation.  This curd is not cooked or heated. Usually it is made with aroma producing and acidifying mesophillic cultures and the addition of white molds- penicillium camemberti (same thing as p. candidium) and often geotrichum candidium. Sometimes yeasts are added too.
  2. Molding is done when the correct pH is attained and is either by pre-draining of the curd in a bag for a couple of hours and then ladling (this is really helpful when making pyramid shaped cheeses and logs such as Pouligny Saint Pierre and Saint Maure), ladling thin slices of curd into the forms, or ladling rennet curds into large forms (such as the big guys they use to make Brie).
  3. Draining occurs without pressing and over 12-24 hours. Pyramids are not turned, but most other shapes are.
  4. Salting occurs after the forms are unmolded.
  5. Drying occurs over a 1-2 day period. Room temperature is usually about 62F and the humidity 80-85%. Turning takes place a couple of times during drying.
  6. Ripening is done at 50-55 F and 95 % humidity until a good coverage of white molds exist. Turning takes place daily during this time.
  7. Holding occurs if the cheese needs more ripening. The desired temperature is lower, about 38 F, to slow mold growth and allow for softening of the paste. Often the cheeses are wrapped to prevent drying out and to keep the mold from growing more. But if the humidity can be maintained at 95 F, then the mold can be patted down instead. If not wrapped, the cheeses should be turned.
  8. Eating occurs when you want it too! Some bloomies are best firm, others soft. Start trying them young and decide for yourself.

Understanding the Special Needs of Bloomy Rinds

1.  When the curd is put in the molds the pH of lactic curd is quite low, about 4.5.  Because rennet curd has a lot of whey at molding, it goes into the forms at about 6.4 and will continue to drop in pH during draining to reach the goal of about 4.7.

Digging Deeper:  Low pH means that the cheese has a low buffering capacity due to the loss of calcium in the whey. (Low buffering means the pH is easy to change which is critical to the development of texture later). Low pH (high acid) also means that plenty of lactate will be present (you’ll see why that matters in a sec!)

2.  The right amount of salt (usually 1-2% of the weight of the drained curd) is critical to limit undesired molds and encourage the more salt tolerant white molds. It is also important for flavor.

3. The surface of the cheeses must be dried after salting. Most molds don’t like a really wet environment (they like humidity, which is different than actual moisture you can see), but undesirable molds like mucor (aka cats fur) does like it wetter.

4. The white molds and yeasts eat the lactic acid and lactate, and start to grow on the surface (the molds need oxygen, so a good air exchange in the ripening area is critical).

Digging Deeper: The rate at which lactate is moved from the core to the surface depends on the permeability of the curd. Some things that effect permeability are:      Humidity- If the right amount of moisture must be presents. Fat content- High fat will impede permeability.

5. The surface microflora produce ammonia which is high in pH (basic) and it starts to increase the pH of the cheese.

Digging Deeper: Ammonia diffuses toward the core of the cheese over it’s ripening if the curd is permeable.

6. As the pH rises, the milk proteins attract more water and soften. (another reason for the high humidity!)

Digging Deeper: The farther proteins move from their isoelectric point (at which they have no charge) the more they attract water (become hydrophilic). As they bind water, they soften and become more creamy (at above 6.0 pH).  This softening of the milk proteins is called resolubilisation.

7. The breakdown of proteins and fats by molds and yeasts will help with the softening of the texture, but it is no longer believed to be the main reason for the texture change.

There, piece of cake, right? You totally get it? No, just keep making cheeses and return to this information, it will fall into place one day, I promise! (Hey, it did for me)Here are some common problems encountered when making bloomies. Most of the solutions are simply the opposite of the problem, but that’s true with most things in life…

Common Problems and Solutions

Not enough white mold growth: Surface of cheese is too moist, not enough oxygen (or too much carbon dioxide in air, too much geotrichum growth.

Solutions: Next time, dry the cheeses better; ensure airflow: spray on additional p. candidium (camemberti).

Too Firm Texture: pH not low enough at draining. Fat content too high. Too low of humidity. Too low oxygen.

Solutions: Track pH during make, lower fat content, monitor humidity, increase air exchange.

Too Runny: Presence of too much geotrichum or other highly proteolytic microorganism (especially when runniness is at the surface only), too low pH (less than 4.5) during draining, too high ripening temperature.

Solutions: Don’t add geotrichum, heat treat or pasteurize milk to remove wild strains, monitor pH better, lower ripening temperature once mold growth is established.

Toad Skin:  Too much geotricum, too high ripening temperature.

Solutions: Be sure to add about 100x less geotrichum than penicillium, lower ripening temperature and make sure salt levels are exact (g. candidium doesn’t like salt).

Mucor (Cat-Hair) growth: Too much moisture, too high pH.

Solutions: Choose mucor resistant penicillium strain, monitor pH at draining, ensure that drying phase is at 60-64 F and 80-85 % relative humidity.

Bitterness: Breakdown of proteins to bitter peptides by p. camemberti or other enzymes such as from rennet.

Solutions: Encourage things that promote even ripening so that the white mold doesn’t breakdown the outer portion of the cheese too quickly. Use geotrichum to balance the proteolysis of penicillium. Use the right amount of culture and the right variety (with less proteolytic activity.

Even though these cheeses might seem too persnickety to be able to work with, there is still room for error in the process with a happy outcome. (Much like many relationships…) Just give it a try, document your process, and if you like the resulting cheese, there you go!  Do remember, that because the pH goes up in these cheeses (from the safe, pathogen-unfriendly level of 4.7) that they can easily grow some nasty bacteria. This is why our ever-concerned FDA worries about soft-ripened cheeses. And you should too! Become educated about food safety and know if the milk you are working with is bacteriologically safe. Or pasteurize it.

Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor.

A Farm is Not a Peaceful Place

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

There are times when our life is peaceful. But they are rare. Everyone wants something, or has something to share. The goats want to go for their walk or a hen has just laid an egg. The guardian dog sees a deer or the wild turkey has heard an echo. Our daughter has a question, our intern has a question, someone on the phone has a question, or a stack of emails are yelling in my head with their unanswered questions.

If you get up early enough in the morning, it might be peaceful. You can listen to the sounds of the night and see the silhouette of the mountains in the east. But as soon as you open the barn doors, the animals are aware of your presence and their expectations become your priority.

There are moments when everyone is satisfied, and you can hear yourself think. But it doesn’t last. Even at night, the noise, the fears, the possible suffering- that you are responsible for preventing- creeps in and startles you awake. It might be a dream now, but it could be a reality at any moment.

So many things, so many people, need you. You can’t complain about your boss, you are them. You feel responsible for the life that you have- by association- dragged your loved ones down into.

Everyone thinks you are living “the life”. They philosophize and compare. They don’t understand. They have jobs they can walk away from. They have weekends. They might even have health care and retirement plans. Our retirement plan is to be able to stop before regret dominates.

The farm is noisy, the farm is demanding, the farm is our life, our life is not our own. We love the farm, we hate the farm. We are the farm.