Obviously, the sun is the source of all cheese, through the wonders of photosynthesis and rumination. What’s new is that our process of cheese-making now also is powered by the sun.
Solar power goes very well with goat cheese production, since the energy production coincides with the milking season. During the darkest months, december to february, there is no activity in the dairy anyway, so the losses are negligible. In the summer, the need for refrigeration follows the sun, so there’s a natural correlation between energy consumption and energy production.
The barn roof is facing east-southeast, and is hosting about 50 full sized panels, producing up to 15 000 kW.
Some people would say that the south facing roof on the living house would be the best spot for solar panels, but there are a few resaons for choosing the barn roof initially.
Facing east-southeast means higher exposure in the early morning hours when the ambient temperature is lower and the panels can work more efficiently
Peak energy consumption in the dairy is in the morning hours, when the milk is being pasturized
The barn roof has the largest area, which compensates for less optimal production
The barn roof belongs to the farm company and not to the private household, meaning a possibilty to apply for the 40% EU agricultural development subsidy, instead of the 20% Swedish subsidy for homeowners.
Looking back on 2018, we can truly say it was the year it all began..
The first kids were born on the farm, 27 of them.
We finished building our dairy, we began milking our goats and then making and selling our very own cheese.
We participated in about 10 REKO-rings, several markets and events, and had lots of visitors who came to the farm, interested in seeing our newly started goat-business.
We continued improving the farm buildings by creating a storage place for our cheese.
We had help from friends, neighbors and several awesome WWOOFers.
Sweden experienced maybe the worst summer (for farmers) ever in modern age, with a drought that lasted for over 3 months and temperatures over 30 degrees most days. We survived that!
We sold a few of our male goat kids and slaughtered 8 of them here on the farm. It was not a pleasant thing to do, we were sad to have to let them go, but take comfort in knowing the had a great life here with us.
We expanded our flock of chickens, from just a few to now having over 20 hens.
We were featured in local magazines, websites, and even got to be live on the local radio station! (see Media & press if you want to have a look or listen)
By the end of the year, we had met and even exceeded our sales goals for 2018.
All in all, it has been a year filled with joy as well as hard work. We are looking forward to 2019 and what we hope it will entail: ca 50-60 goat kids, milking around 30-35 goats, making and selling almost twice as much cheese, expanding our storage, and many other things!
For quite a while we weren’t sure if we should try and make our goat-and-cheese-farm dream come true by building a dairy on location or if we should try to rent a space in a commercial kitchen of some sort. The opportunity arose when Claire’s stepfather decided to bring a container with building materials from China for the house project he is working on, and let us have the container in return for storing the stuff in it on our farm for some time. We then decided that we should convert the 20 foot container to our very own farm dairy!
The container in place in front of one of our barns:
We poured concrete on the floor and made a drain:
Then we cut out holes for windows and doors, put up walls and a ceiling:
We poured more fine concrete as a final layer and had some “help” decorating:
Then we put up ceramic tiles on the walls, painted the ceiling:
In between there was a lot of work on things such as painting the floor with epoxi, connecting water and sewage, installing ventilation, and of course, putting a roof with a tilt on top of the container:
Finally it was time to move in all the equipment. This is Nils using our 300 l Rademaker cheese-making vat for the first time!
Claire in front of the cheese vat wearing signature hat and apron with our logo:
The whole project took us about 6 months from start to finish, while working with our day-jobs as well as taking care of the goats, etc. Did I mention we also delivered 27 goat babies..?
All in all, building our farm dairy was a really cool project which we are super proud of, and plan to put to good use as well as develop and expand during the years to come.
Since kidding season is upon us, it is time for a presentation of our new farm inhabitants!
First out to give birth was the oldest goat, Asta, who came to us as a foster mother and leader of all the kids when we bought them. She was a little grumpy in the morning and head-butted a rooster so that he flew all over the barn. Soon after, she gave a cat what he didn’t deserve. I put her in a box to calm down, but she showed no signs of beginning labour so I went to have breakfast. When I returned half an hour later, a beautiful little goat that we named Athena was delivered, and Asta was happy again.
After that, it was time for Iowa to take over the show. She went straight into labour, and I had just put her in a separate box before she delivered Glenn. A black and white buck, with a certain Klingon resemblance.
The day after, when we were expecting all the kids to arrive. Nobody showed up. The day after that however, Alabama greeted us in the morning with a brand new daughter by her side. We named her Artemis. She got her own box since Asta and Iowa could move together, and even if we had some problem getting the milk to flow, they soon seemed to enjoy life.
Around lunchtime, North Carolina was beginning to show signs of distress, and soon her water broke. I was watching her the entire afternoon and we shared a cup of tea.
5 hours later, she finally delivered a kid, but it had it’s head twisted in a strange way, and was dead. She had been sick a week before, refused to eat and sought solitude. We suspected ketosis/pregnancy poisoning and gave her treatments that eventually started her digestion again. That was probably the moment when the twisted kid died, and her metabolism went into overdrive, providing her with all the energy the kid would have taken.
We cleaned out and went to look after the other goats. When we where about to leave the barn, we heard a strange sound. Like from a cat or a bird. We went to see Northie one more time, and there she was, with a newborn buck who we named Glenn nr 2. That was a very happy moment.
The morning after, as soon as we entered the barn, we noticed something was sticking out from Delawares private parts. It turned out to be a kids head, and nothing more. The poor thing had managed to come out head first thus having caught its front legs still inside Delawares uterus. We managed to get her in to a box and then the difficult kidding began. The kid seemed ok at first, already breathing, but it felt firmly wedged in and impossible to get out even though Delaware was pushing hard. It was not looking good, and we feared for the goats life, not to mention the kid (which in this case, comes second in priority, but still, is a sad loss if there is a chance to save it). Finally, when we pretty much had given up hope, Nils managed to pull the kid out, working as a team with Delaware, who seemed to be in a lot of pain.
It turned out to be a buck, Glenn 3, and even though he was weak at first, he gained strength and turned out to be fine. He also turned out to be the largest of the bunch (so far) with a birth weight of 4.5 kg.
A difficult kidding before breakfast, phew! After breakfast, I went out to the barn again only to find Maine with two newborn babies. Unfortunately only one of them was alive and on its feet, a buck. The other one was lying with its head in a strange angle and was not breathing and did not respond to my efforts to animate it. This is very sad of course, but there was nothing more to do then to direct attention toward the living kid and take care of its mother.
So began the twin kiddings. Soon after Maine, South Carolina went in to labour and we helped her just a little as she delivered two female goats which we named Selene (the light brown one) and Spio (the dark one).
After lunch, one of our dearest and most intelligent goats, Indiana, began telling us it was time for her to have her kids. The whole thing went very smoothly and the kids were very quick to get on their feet and find the teats. She had a super pretty grey buck, Glenn 4, and a light brown goat, Ino, and soon got to move in with Southie and her twins.
So that was a wrap for that day! 10 new kids had arrived in total and about half the goats had given birth.
Sunday morning Oregon went into labour and did a prefect job with two babies, a light brown goat – Oizys, and a dark buck, Glenn 5.
About an hour later, one of the white goats, Utah, decided it was time to take off into the woods. Since we prefer to watch over the kidding in case of complications, Nils had to lure her back inside with some grain, and after another hour or so, she gave birth to a lovely white little female goat we named Urania and a darker, grey buck – Glenn no 6.
Last one out this day was Arizona who gave life to two female goats, it went well and we named them Asteria (the dark one) and Aphrodite (the light one).
The main concentrate feedstock for the goats is whole barley grain, that we buy from a big farm up north from our farm. We get in big plastic bags of 600-800 kg, and that is far to much for our tractor to lift. We could store it in the sacks right on the ground, but that would attract all kind of vermin, like mice, birds and bugs. and wouldn’t be covenient for our barn cats to protect, as they reside on the second floor. Also, feeding it to the goats through the automated feeder that is under construction right now, will be a lot easier with a little help from gravity.
A regular revolving screw transporter is expensive and needs a lot of permanent installation space, so we were not very fond of such a solution. Vacuum, on the other side, is cheap and can be used for several purposes. At least for getting the grains up and down, and maybe aid in some vacuum cleaning too. So we bought the biggest vacuüm cleaner we could find at the nearest el cheapo shop. A 2400 W machine with decent removable filters and remote resemblance with R2D2 would probably do the job of sucking some barley 3 meters up in the air, and it sure did. The question was what to suck the grain into.
A 1000 m3 water container would be practical, since it has nice valves and is easy to move around with a hand truck or floor jack.
Unfortunately, it had very poor integrity, and went down like a lead zeppelin when attached to the vacuum. We filled it anyway, but in a quite exhaustive manner that meant filling up the vacuum cleaner barrel, 75 l at a time, and empty it manually down the container top whole. This is probably still the fastest way to get the grain upstairs since each 75 l run takes about 3:30 minutes, but with one dude downstairs manning the pipe, and one upstairs emptying the vacuum cleaner, it’s quite labour intensive speaking in man hours.
Anyway, the farm always provides, and we found an old rusty 1200l oil cistern in the junk mines that seemed like a better choice. After cleaning out some, rust, dead birds, and sealing a hole with a glove, we suddenly had the allegedly largest vacuum cleaner in the neighbourhood.
The pipe to the right in the picture leads down to the goat milking parlor, and the next challenge is to get the barley down again. Preferrably automagically.
Now, loading the barley is a one dude show, although the suction power is a little weaker than when using just the 75 l barrel.
Manning the pipe is really just about making sure it doesn’t get too much barley and becomes clogged. That could probably be avoided by inserting a small airhose into the pipe, or developing some nice automation stuff with a solenoid valve and a barometric pressure sensor in the hose, but we ran out of barley on the ground before the need for that was imminent. We’ll be getting a new bag next week, so we’ll see if that’s the next improvment.
We havn’t posted for a while – the thing is, that when you have a lot of projects going on, there is little time left for bloggning..!
Our main priority now is to find a decent cheese vat. We are rebuildning a part of the barn in order to make a milking facility for the goats, but it is time to get things going when it comes to the actual cheese making. To be continued… Until then, here are some photos of when we attended a course with the french expert Michel Lepage, hosted by Eldrimner.
Half-way through our first grass to barn hay harvest we are beginning to have a picture of what the process is all about, and what tools, techniques and machines that can be used or should be avoided. We started of with no knowledge or machinery but the internet and a tractor, but we figured that would be a good start since we at least were better off than the farmers working the lands manually just 70 years ago.
The grass was growing and looked mature, but how could we know when the best time for the first harvest would be? We could keep an eye out for when neighbour farms started to cut, but since all other farms in the area are producing fermented hay for cows or horses, they would have an entirely different approach since they’re less dependant on drying times and the straw length for producing small bales.
We found that most of the information is found online at http://vallprognos.se/ where test samples from farms from all over the country are displayed, and a prognosis of the hay quality at the day of harvest is provided. As the goats likes heavier hay, with a higher cellulose content, than cows and horses, we decided that we could wait longer than the recommended harvesting date, and went for a week before midsummer when the weather forecast looked promising for drying hay on the field for a whole week.
We realized that we needed three machines, a cutter, a tedder and a baler. We found an old sickle cutter left on the farm that looked like it could be used, and we actually managed to cut the small field (½ hectar) before we gave up on it. The construction was very weak, so when a twig or a thich chunk of hay would hit the sickel, the wooden connecting rod broke, and after manufacturing several new rods from an oak plank, we started looking for another solution.
Since we soon would be baling the hay, we were looking for a baler, and one of our neighbours had one that he hadn’t used for 10 years or more. When I was picking it up I asked him if he knew anyone salling their harvester? He didn’t, put he told me there’s one laying on his junkyard up for grabs. It had certainly been there for 20 years, but after scaring away the surrounding wildlife, I managed to drag it home, greased it up, made a new connecting rod, and had it working in less than an hour. International harvester should have some credits for reliability.
When both fields where cut, we wanted to get the hay dry as soon as possible. The son of the previous owners gave us an old belt tedder that did the work perfectly. When ran on high gear (1040 RPM) from the power outlet, it spreads the hay in a thin layer all over the field wich dries surprisingly fast on a sunny day. After turning it once, we ran it on low gear (540 RPM) to let it produce strings for the baler to pick up.
After five days of drying on the field, the hay was ready to be baled and stacked up in the barn. Since the baler hadn’t been used for several years, it needed a litte care, and I needed to learn to thread it. Luckily, I found a manual for the Welger 450 baler on a forum https://www.maskinisten.net/ and another of the previous owners sons had some experience in threading the machine. We got it working pretty quick, even if it only binds on one side for the moment. But thats enough.
Since the baler runs really slow, we realised that the more work we put inte making straight thick strings with the tedder, the faster it gets done. The tedder can be run at least five times faster than the baler, so one extra turnin of the strings is really worth it.
After baling, we took out the old wagon and loaded up the bales. 3 loads from the small field, and 6 from the big field resulted in about 400 bales, averageing at 8 kilos. 3.5 tonnes of hay is now stacked up in the barn, meaning that we’ve covered half of our goats needs this winter. We’re expecting a little less from the second harvest, but if the fall is warm, we can take a third harvest in late october, that hopefully will be enough for the whole winter.
What to do better?
A few weeks after the first harvest I came across this very helpful article from Iowa State University (the Americans have some real fine approaches towards small scale farming) . I wish I had found it a little earlier. Our chocie of cutter seems to be valid, even if it’s slow, we wouldn’t gain much in speeding up the cutting part of the process on our small lands. Maybe 2-3 hours/harvest. If we’re getting a knewer cutter, we would most likely get a new sickle cutter, but maybe on that moves in both directions, and is less likeky to collect wet hay and completely eliminates the need for jumping of and cleaning the sickle bar now and then.
The belt tedder is a simple and powerful construction, we’ll stick with that one.
If we’re getting a new baler some day, the mini round baler mentioned in the article would be an intreresting choice. The Welger 450 baler sure is heavy, and the density of the bales could be higher, but given that mini round balers not are very common in scandinavia, we’ll most likely stick to square balers from economical reasons.
We have never calculated on getting rich by moving to a farm. Maybe less poor, since buying a much smaller house in the Stockholm area would have cost us five times more. Still, to create actual economical value from a farm, you need some farming activities going that converts ecological and cultural capital into economical. We have chosen goats. Not only because we love goats, but they are also the perfect species for our stony, hilly and bushy farm. As the only domesticated ruminator that can break down cellulose, they are thriving from all shrubs and bushes that most farmers consider a problem. They are also low in expenses, since they’re not too out-bred to suffer from diseases that affects cows and pigs and calls for overuse of antibiotics.
The investment itself is a zero sum. If we bought an adult goat and took it directly to the butcher, we would get meat for about 8 euros, and that’s what we are paying for minced cow meat in stores. But that is all economical risk there is. If we don’t want the goat, we eat it. As long as the animals are in production and bred, they keep producing buckling for meat and new milking goats each year, not to mention about 600-700 liters of milk. If we only would sell the milk for let’s say, 30 cents/liter, that would give us 200 euros/year, but here is a possibility to convert cultural capital to economical presenting itself. By using our knowledge and making cheese, the value increases significantly. Calculating on a cheese yield of 20%, 650 liter of milk can be turned into 130 kg of cheese. Depending on wich kind of cheese, the price may vary, but counting low, we could probably sell it for 15 euro/kg. thats 2000 euros/year. Per goat.That’s not bad. And we got 21 of those. Then we have costs for feeding them, but 6 months of the year, they are browsing freely, not costing a cent, the cold 6 months are we feeding them hay and dried bushes from our own lands, but if we had to buy all hay for a winter season, that would sum up to about 30 euro/animal.
Working time is another factor that is hard to estimate. When we learned to make cheese, we estimated 6 hours/batch, wich would be 12 hours/week with two batches a week. This would be a reason to scale up, or collaborating with nearby farms. And now another cultural conversion opportunity appears. What if some process steps can be easily automated and monitored? What if I can expand my sensor network to control and record the process so I get reliable results without needing to put my nose over the kettle all the time? That’s potential.Talking potential. Quality dessert cheese are sold for much more than 15E/kg. 60-70E/kg directly to customer isn’t impossible. But that would need to involve a quite advanced storage facility… Mmm, tasty conversion.
Potential for conversions
Ecological to economical: Plants to milk and meat.
Cultural to economical: Milk to cheese
Cultural to economical: Programming skills to reduce labour time.
The cultural perspective
The capital form with the highest potential to be developed on a farm ought to be the cultural. Back before the industrial era, a variety of skills where required for maintaining several lines of production. During the industrial age, a specialized skillset was encouraged, but much due to the high conversion costs (labour taxes, insurances and administration), the option to hire specialized high skilled labour is not availible to the small scale agricultural entreprenour. Instead, as knowledge is becoming more and more accessible, developing the personal skillset has become the main value building activity on the modern farm. The old socialistic utopia where workers spend their lives specializing on their profession, supported by professionals in their other needs, seems quite outdated contemporary work life. For people of today, that idea even represents a dull and meaningless existence ledaing to exhaustion and psycholigical breakdown, taken the almost impossible choice of deciding specialty in early school years. Today, at least in the nordic countries, education is accessible when needed. In its institutionalized forms in universities and study circles, as well as less formalized forms online, just a search away. This is a time when people who embraces their full potential are starting to look for lines of occupation where all their areas of expertise are possible to convert into economical and social capital, or possible to let grow into more cultural capital. The small, flexible, affordable and sustainable farm has such endless opportunities in providing cultural growth and capital conversions, that we are likely to see an urban brain drain when mulitskilled individuals needs a place to realize their potential.
Potential for conversions
Cultural to economical: Skills in computer science boosts efficiency of the small farm through data analysis and automation.
Cultural to economical: A global presence catches experiences from successful actors world-wide, not just from the home market. The best suited methods for farming your lands may be developed in Japan, not Germany.
Cultural to social: By providing the community with a necessity like food, the relationships between the farmer and her customers are often reported as joyful.
Cultural to economical: By learning to perform a diversity of task, the costs for hired expertise can be lowered. Either by doing it yourself while enjoying the cultural growth itself, or by trading services outside the market. It may be the nightmare of a socialistic government to watch an untaxed gray market of people helping each other or doing stuff themselves, but since time and skills are harder to control than products and money, the advantages of keeping transactions within the cultural form of capital are obvious. Even if no real conversion is made from cultural to economical by eliminating the conversion costs, the saving is to be taken in the economical form.
Cultural to economical and social: The costs for workplace related illness is rising in Scandinavia, and many employers are struggling with high number of physical as well as mental illness among their employees. In the best cases, the costs are taken as high turnover, when people are able to change job easily on an overheated labour market, and the sick person gets a chance to feel better in a new workplace. In the worst cases, the costs are taken as sick salary and sick leave, and the sick person is trapped in an unsatisfying situation without a possibility to get any change. Even if the sick person has a safety net in Sweden, the trend that people are getting sicker and needs to be provided for, means higher costs for someone, and that reflects either on the taxpayers or the salary levels. Work on a small farm can be hard, but in the long term, the variation in physical exercise, as well as the intellectual challenges in making successful conversions creates a highly adjustable working environment. To be able to adjust your workplace to whatever unique conditions you may seek, is a rarely seen benefit on a regular workplace.
The social perspective
When we first moved to a farm, far out on the countryside, increasing isolation was one of our worries. With no social connections to the area were moving to, except for a handful of friends within a 250 km radius, and all colleagues spread out over the country on remote connections, we expected to be lonlier than in Stockholm. Another aspect we thouht about was isolation from society, since we would se a smaller part of the world, not take part in other peoples everyday struggles citylife and worklife, and quite much create our own parrallell universe.
It turned out to become the opposite. The guest rooms has been frequently occupied, by friends and family, as well as colleagues coming to work from the farm instead of the office. Friends with children always take the detour to our farm when they’re on the road, since missing visiting Claire and Nils’s goats never would be forgotten. Colleagues expresses a sentiment of vacation, even though we may work long days. Maybe due to the mandatory tasting sessions of homebrewed beer.
Moving to the countryside and taking an active role in caring for animals and the environment also means a lot for people, so finding new friends and aquaintancies that share our interests hasn’t been an issue. Actively participating in activites for development of cultural capital, sush as courses at the local makerspaceBlekinge uppfinnareverkstad and visits at farms in the vincinity has been a great way to meet both technically and agriculturally skilled peoples, sharing our passions.
Participation in international networks such as World WIde Opportunities on Organic Farms and several magazines coming to our farm to write about our story has also kept us in contact with the world outside, showing us that there’re people out there incredibly interrested in what we are doing.
Social to cultural: Knowing skilled and passionate people that can advice us when things get ungoogleable is worth a lot. Doing interesting stuff on the farm attracts people with skills and passion, and even if they can’t solve a problem directly, they usually have someone in their extended network that knows about stuff.
Social to economical: Investing in social capital when you have a product to sell is an investment also from the economical perspective. By encouraging visits, from old friends as well as from becoming, we establish knowledge about our products. Especiallty, what no marketing activities can do, showing the complete trustable production chain where the origin and production methods of the food can be traced back to a happily smiling goat. More about the importance of trust and the teoretical foundation of our marketing strategy in this article by sociologist Mark Granovetter: The Strength of Weak Ties.
Social to cultural and economical: Beeing a host farm for the WWOF network gives us contact with volunteers helping us with practical tasks, as well as sharing knowledge about things that we never would come to think of ourselves.