Visit to Prom Country Cheese – sheep dairy

Recently I had the privillage of visiting Prom Country Cheese, a sheep dairy and farm gate cheese shop in Moyarra, South Gippsland, Victoria.

Welcome to the sheep dairy, South Gippsland.

Welcome to the sheep dairy, South Gippsland.

You know that I love sheep for their duel purpose capabilities – beautiful wool and delicious lamb. Burke and Bronwyn Brandon of Prom Country Cheese have opened my eyes to sheep dairying. Isn’t the sheep species magnificent!!

Prom Country Cheese East Friesian ewes grazing.

Prom Country Cheese East Friesian ewes grazing.

A little about the sheep dairy operation and then onto the cheese. The Brandon’s are currently milking 105 East Friesian ewes twice daily, to produce approximately 240 litres of milk per day. The East Friesian sheep breed is known for its dairying capabilities, producing 1-5 litres of milk per day and will lactate for 7-8 months (most other sheep breeds will lactate for 4-5months).

12 stand sheep stalls for milking. Ewes are fed grain in the green trough.

12 stand sheep stalls for milking. Ewes are fed grain in the green trough.

The (small) milking cups and operation bay. Ewes have 2 teats.

The (small) milking cups and operational bay. Ewes have 2 teats.

The milk vat

The milk vat.

Sheep are seasonal breeders, so lambing occurs over several months, but not all year round. The lambs are penned in aged groups and are given the absolute best. These are the next generation of milkers! Lambs are given their daily milk requirements from the dairy as well as having constant access to lucerne hay and hydroponically grown barley which is full of fresh nutrients.

The lambs in their pens for the first few weeks of life.

The lambs in their pens for the first few weeks of life.

Lambs are fed milk in the orange buckets, lucerne hay and you can see they love the hydroponically grown barley.

Lambs are fed milk in the orange buckets with teats, lucerne hay and you can see they love the hydroponically grown barley.

Now onto the cheese! Sheep milk (especially from East Friesians) is known for its high yield, even higher than that of cows and goats milk. Turning milk into cheese at optimum efficiency. Prom Country Cheese is all about quality, value-adding and innovation.

Prom Country Cheese made a wide range of cheeses on-site. The cheese factory is set up with multiple temperature-control rooms, that allows the different types of cheeses to be made, rested and developed over time (weeks to months) in ideal conditions.

'Prom Picnic' cheese

‘Prom Picnic’ sheep cheese ready to be shared.

'Prom Picnic' ready to be enjoyed. A hard cheese that is stronger in flavour that similar cow's cheese. Certainly one of my favourites!

‘Prom Picnic’ ready to be enjoyed. A hard cheese that is stronger in flavour than similar style cow’s cheese. Certainly one of my favourites!

L-R 'Foster Fetish' - classic, brine-matured; 'Waratah' - soft washed rind; 'Woolamai Mist' - soft white mould sheep cheese.

‘Foster Fetish’ – classic, brine-matured feta; ‘Waratah’ – soft washed rind sheep cheese; ‘Woolamai Mist’ – soft white mould sheep cheese.

Prom Country Cheese is opening their Farmgate Cheese Shop on 13th September 2014. Open 10am-5pm on weekends and school holidays.

275 Andersons Inlet Road, Moyarra VIC.

http://promcountrycheese.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/PromCountryCheese

Prom Country Cheese Shop

Prom Country Cheese Shop – nearly ready for opening.

Prom Country Cheese is certainly well worth the visit (and the travel) and I look forward to visiting again soon for my next hit of divine sheep cheese! Many thanks to Bronwyn and Burke for the personal tour and cheese sampling.

Melissa.

Annual Sheep Husbandry Calendar – a guide for new sheep owners

Some first-time sheep owners have recently purchased some of my Quebon Coloured Sheep lambs. One of my life goals is to support other small-scale producers and hand-crafters that want to grow their livestock enterprise and make the best use of their wool and lamb products. So I am very excited about supporting first-time sheep owners through sharing my own experiences and helping others to establish a small flock like I did 10 years ago.

I was asked to put together a list of annual sheep husbandry activities that need to occur through-out the year. I really had to think about it as in many ways it is highly flexible due to  seasonal conditions and flock structure. No two years are the same. Here is bit of a guide based on my own flock management. What do you do differently? What would you add to the list? (please leave your comments below).

April:

  • Crutch sheep
  • Drench.
  • Joining (late April) – gestation 5 months

September:

  • Shearing early Sept.
  • Vaccinate  ewes with Glanvac6.
  • Drench.
  • Lambing late September (increase ewe’s feed)

November (early):

  • Glanvac6 and Gudair vaccinate lambs.
  • Lamb marking (tails docked and castration)

December:

  • Glanvac6 booster vaccination lambs 4-6 weeks after initial vaccination
  • Ear tag lambs.
  • Summer drench (barbers pole, liver fluke and tape worms) all sheep.
  • Wean lambs

Once off activities:

  • OJD Gudair vaccination – whole flock initially and then new sheep (if not already vaccinated).
  • Lice treatment – for the introduction of new sheep and when lice infestation occurs. Best if treatment and shearing co-inside.
  • Hoof trimming as required (important in wetter climates)
  • Ear Tag: All sheep must have an NLIS PIC tag in their ear before being transported off the property (being sold, being grazed on a different property, going to a sheep show). Replace tags if lost.

Key issues to watch for:

Internal parasites (worms):

Initial physical indicators:

  • Scours and/or worms seen in manure eg tape worm
  • Barbers Pole worms causes bottle-jaw (swelling of the jaw) and anaemia – if on the white of the eye you can’t see the blood vessels this is an indicator of anaemia.
  • Any deaths in the flock not otherwise explained.

Resources: http://www.wormboss.com.au (information about worms, testing and drenches). If you suspect your sheep to have worms, worm test and/or drench them immediately.

Fly-strike:

  • What is fly-strike? Flys lay their eggs in moist and protected areas of the sheep (usually on the hind-quarters/ breech where urine and faeces have stained the wool). When the Maggots hatch they feed off the sheep’s flesh resulting in death of the sheep if not treated quickly (a few days up to a week).
  • Sheep at high risk: sheep in long wool particularly over a humid summer, untreated scours, lambs not tail-docked correctly.
  • Prevention: Fly strike is easily avoided by following good animal husbandry practices in a timely manner, such as lamb marking, crutching and/or shearing for summer.
  • Resources: http://www.flyboss.com.au (information on susceptibility, how to reduce the risk through management and how to treat fly strike outbreaks)
  • Products: Extinosad wound spray (comes in an aerosol can) – useful to treat the one off sheep with fly strike. Click is another good product used by larger scale farmers as a preventative and treatment of fly strike.

Dog attacks: be it the neighbour’s dogs or wild dogs, dog attacks have a devastating effect on your sheep. Call your local vet, Local Land Services biosecurity officer or Council ranger for assistance in dealing with injured sheep and the dogs responsible.

Going away for a couple of weeks?: ensure all your animal husbandry is up to date and you have arranged for someone to check on them weekly.

Sheep books:

A good text on sheep ownership is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep” by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius. CSIRO and many bookshops stock it.

Any questions let me know. Melissa.

 

No limitations – 10 years diabetic

This year has marked my 10-year anniversary of having Type 1 diabetes (I celebrated with pizza and a McFluffy by the way!) The milestone has me thinking about how medical technologies have improved my life and some of highs and lows (literally) of living with insulin-dependent diabetes.

When I was diagnosed (age 17), like for many others, it was said that a ‘cure’ is ten years away (I think it’s a rolling ten years!). While we don’t have a ‘cure’ yet, research funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and bio-tech companies such as Medtronic has come a very long way! I’ve been watching intensely the past 10 years. Research has been geared towards both biological and technological solutions to insulin production and delivery. In this blog I will share with you how technology has improved my prospect of living with Type 1 diabetes.

2003-2006 (age 18-21) my diabetes management looked at bit like this: 4 injections a day; needing to eat every 3hrs to prevent hypos; finger-prick tests 4-6 days per day; hand-recording blood sugar levels, grams of carbohydrates eaten & insulin dose in a diabetes management booklet. This recording was critical for on-going monitoring of trends in blood sugars and therefore insulin dose requirements. I had to get myself a ‘handbag’ for the first time to carry all this stuff around with me every where, including a ‘mini snack-bar’ for when I hypoed. (This bag was affectionately named “The Bag of Evil”). I was the ‘perfect’ diabetic during this time, with my HbA1c (average blood glucose level) being in optimum range (<7). This level of intensity caused me to suffer from ‘diabetes burnout’ AKA depression (which isn’t an uncommon side-effect of Type 1 diabetes). I was fearful of long-term complications. Diabetes was controlling my life.

In 2006 I was set up with my first insulin pump. This insulin pump changed the way I was to live with diabetes forever. I had some freedom from diabetes. I had freedom with food – I was able to choose when I wanted to eat (as the pump provides base-line insulin instead of injection peaks and troughs) and I could choose how much carbohydrate I had at each meal/snack (as the pump allows insulin to be more accurately dosed based on carbs eaten). The pump also stored data so I could relax a bit with recording every time I ate and took bolus insulin. I became a bionic woman! (well that’s what my friends call me). In the beginning of using the insulin pump it was very intense with all the training and getting my insulin settings right. After “Pumpie” and I got to know each other I started to relax with it and took on the attitude that I’m going to do what I like in life and diabetes will just have to tag along.

Studies, travel, work, sheep farming (yes I’m a country girl) became my focus and I became a bit too relaxed with my diabetes. My diabetes management became very reactive eg. If my blood sugar is high (hyper) I take a correction bolus (insulin), if I’m low (hypo) I eat. Intense monitoring became more sporadic (so once every 3-6 months (sometimes 12-18 months) I would record all my diabetes management data for a couple of weeks into an electronic spread-sheet and send this to my Diabetes Educator and/or Endocrinologist for review. I can’t say that this later attitude led to optimum HbA1c results (sitting around 8-9% which is a little high and could be improved) but I no longer suffer from diabetes burnout and I’m happy. I’m thinking I’m finding the balance (much easier said than achieved!) I’m grateful to my diabetes team over the years for knowing when to give me space and when to push.

This year (2013) I have become very excited about the recent advancements in diabetes management technology. I’ve been watching this space for a couple of years and I knew that I wanted to be part of it. It’s even on my life vision board. Diabetes management for me is about to take on a new level, which will again make life a bit easier. Let me introduce you to Real Time Continuous Blood Glucose Monitoring. Yes that’s right “real time” – Gen Ys love real-time! Here’s how it works:

20131013-142716.jpg

The sensor (left side in photo) reads the current glucose level in the tissue/fluid just below the skin. The attached transmitter wirelessly sends the reading taken every 5 minutes to the pump, where it can be seen on the pump screen. (Insulin pump and insulin delivery site on the right).

20131013-143057.jpg

By being able to see my trending glucose levels through-out the day allows me to understand patterns and respond to trending glucose levels quicker, compared to only a few finger prick tests through-out the day. How sexy is that!!

Now here is where the scientist in me is really doing cart-wheels! At the end of six day life of the sensor, the week’s worth of data can be downloaded and a comprehensive report (15 pages) is produced, detailing daily trends and glucose level response to meals, insulin, exercise etc. The best part is that I don’t have to manually collect and analysis this information – it does it all itself. Score!

20131013-143222.jpg

I couldn’t believe the difference exercise made to my glucose levels actually – with similar insulin and carb intake, my glucose levels are much better on physical days in the paddock compared to office bound days. So yeah I need to exercise during the week to reduce the need for more insulin (doh). Seeing the stark difference between paddock and office days on these graphs was a light bulb moment that I didn’t fully appreciated before.

Improvements:

· The accuracy of sensor could be improved, removing the need to calibrate the sensor with fingertip glucose testing four times a day.

· Having the sensor listed on the NDSS to reduce cost and increase up-take. Currently it costs $75 for 6 days. (I wear it once every 4-6weeks at the moment).

· Carelink software needs to become compatible with newer OS (Windows and Mac)

What’s next:

· Setting up my new Contour Link blood glucose monitor that also wirelessly talks to the insulin pump.

· Artificial pancreas – bring on the day when this technology takes on its own brain and delivers insulin & glycogen without me asking it to.

I sincerely thank:

· My Diabetes Educators Anne Marks and Kristine Wright

· The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Medtronic-diabetes and Reality Check

· The “Type 3” diabetics in my life – family and friends who don’t have diabetes themselves but live the life of one through me.

Hand feeding livestock

Deciding whether to hand feed livestock or not is a big decision no matter how many animals you have. The reason why it is such a big decision is because hand feeding costs a lot of money and time. As many areas are getting drier, it certainly is time to start putting your drought plan into place.

Questions such as:

  • How any animals can I now carry on my farm given recent rainfall and pasture growth?
  • What agistment options are viable?
  • How much am I willing to spend on hand feeding my livestock?

need to be asked. 

These same questions can also be asked when you are thinking of setting up a livestock enterprise or when you want to expand your herd/flock numbers. 

It is important that you know how far you are willing to go in terms of your investment of time and money, well before the situation becomes critical and stock-prices have fallen due to a flooded market. For some farmers hand-feeding is no longer an option given previous experiences – instead adjusting their stock numbers to match the amount of pasture they have available to them. The money made from sales is then used to purchase new stock when feed (pasture) is available. 

What makes all of the above so difficult is the emotional connection we have to our animals and wanting to do the best thing by them. We also have goals for our livestock enterprise to make genetic progress and to build-up stock numbers – selling animals can be seen as a back-step given all the energy you have already put in.

The point is to have plan in place that respond to climatic and market events: What actions would you take in your best case scenario, your worst scenario and in between. Time, money and natural resources all need to be considered.

My tips for supplement feeding livestock

  • The diet must be balanced with energy, protein and roughage
  • Roughage (such as pasture, hay or chaff) must be a high percentage of diet. (For example my show-sheep and lactating sheep feed on pasture, and grain is mixed 50% grain and 50% chaff on a volume basis 3 times per week.) 
  • Quality hay can be cheaper option providing quality feed when pastures are low
  • Keep volumes consistent. How much do you want each animal to have per feed multiplied by the number of animals
  • Introduce any change in diet gradually ie. Start with a high roughage content. If scouring treat and feed roughage
  • Keep feeding areas clean eg. clean troughs or feed in different areas to prevent disease
  • Mineral blocks are relatively cheap and the easiest way to ensure stock are getting any missing nutrients 100% of the time. Mineral drenches can also be used
  • Access to water 100% of the time

Feeding

As the storm clouds roll in

I’m not one to give weather updates nor qualified to talk on climate variability, but I thought the past 12 months of weather extremities deserved a mention, and its impact on farmers and their livestock.

The South West Slopes region of NSW (my home), a traditional sheep grazing area experienced flooding in March 2012, snow in August 2012 and catastrophic fire danger in January 2013. I know a lot other areas across Australia experienced similar extremities in weather, and in many cases much worse off.

The recent catastrophic fire danger across NSW rightly had everyone on edge. There were many large fires within this region, notably the Geegullalong Road, Boorowa fire in December 2012, the Jugiong to Yass fire in mid January 2013 and the Watershed Boorowa fire in late January 2013. It is a credit to the RFS and volunteers that due to their quick actions and tireless efforts no lives or homes were lost.

Geegullalong Road, Boorowa, December 2012

Geegullalong Road, Boorowa, December 2012

When I received the call to say that the Watershed fire was heading in my sheep paddock’s direction, I was very quick to get the trailer on, and as I was driving the 40km I thinking about where I would move them to. The rams were moved to my backyard. I was also very fortunate to have access to a friend’s block where the ewes and lambs were re-located to. At the time it was physically and emotionally intense – for not knowing if the fire would change direction or if the fire would pick up speed. Fortunately for me the fire didn’t come as far as my sheep paddock. The day certainly was a learning experience and a bigger than ever incentive to complete my Bush FireFighter training.

Fires Near Me app, January 2013

Fires Near Me app, January 2013

In March 2012 Young recorded 184mm of rain within 7 days. This is equal to a third of their average annual rainfall – all within a week. The area was declared a natural disaster where affected farmers could seek financial support to repair the damage to infrastructure (fences and internal roads). The medium-term result of this high rainfall event was an increase in the biomass of vegetation, providing valuable feed for livestock before going into winter.

Boorowa River, April 2012

Boorowa River, April 2012

August 2012 was a very cold month, seeing a reduction in pasture growth (as normal). Yass NSW experienced temperatures as low as -4.8 degrees with an average maximum temperature of 14.4 degrees. Sheep grazier alerts became common, as detailed in my previous post, including the impacts on livestock. Click here.

A cold day in Boorowa, September 2012

A cold day in Boorowa, September 2012

For farmers, a key goal is to manage stocking rates to match the ever changing carrying capacities of the seasons, with the focus of producing a consistent and quality product to the consumer, and managing stock and pastures in a way that maximises ground cover.

As the storm clouds roll in, I hope for rain across south west NSW.

A fast moving storm, February 2013

A fast moving storm, February 2013

Useful links:

Fires Near Me NSW – app available for smart phones and tablets

NSW Rural Fire Service – http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/

BlazeAid Volunteers: working alongside farmers to rebuild fences after fires and floods – http://blazeaid.com.au/

NSW Rural Assistance Authority: Natural Disaster Relief Scheme – http://www.raa.nsw.gov.au/assistance/natural-disaster-relief

What does a “Warning to Sheep Graziers” mean?

The month of August has seen a number of warnings to sheep graziers within many areas of NSW and Victoria. Weather conditions such as these are a high risk for losses of lambs and sheep.  

Sheep that are at the highest risk include:

  • Freshly shorn sheep
  • Young lambs
  • Ewes in the third trimester of pregnancy
  • Sheep light in condition (body fat)

What can you do to help protect your sheep when sheep grazier alerts are announced?

  • Move sheep into the most protected paddocks – trees and tall grasses or into a shed
  • Ensure ewes have access to good feed and ensure that they continue to graze (at high risk of pregnancy toxaemia)
  • Your best protection against cold weather is ensuring sheep maintain a healthy body condition score (fat cover) of 3+ during winter.

Where to find these warnings? The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) puts out weather warning updates several times a day. These can be found at: http://www.bom.gov.au/nsw/warnings/index.shtml  These warnings are also announced on local radio stations.

An example:

Warning to Sheep Graziers for the Australian Capital Territory, Southern Tablelands, Central Tablelands, Snowy Mountains and South West Slopes forecast districts

Issued at 3:19 am EST on Thursday 23 August 2012.

Sheep Graziers are warned that rain areas and strong northwesterly winds turning colder westerly are expected during Thursday. Areas likely to be affected include the Australian Capital Territory, Southern Tablelands, South West Slopes, Snowy Mountains and Central Tablelands forecast districts. There is a high risk of losses of lambs and sheep exposed to these conditions.

The next warning will be issued by 11:00 am EST Thursday.

Given the opportunity…

In a highly urbanised country we are seeing more and more people ( of all ages) from the city buying land in country areas. Why? Many are looking for a country retreat, others are looking at starting a small farm, and some want to buy land to restore it back to its native state. I’m fortunate to meet people like this every week and I am inspired by their stories.

My concern is that small-scale landowners and absentee landowners are not being supported by their neighbors or by industry. It is these new landowners and hobby farmers that are often blamed for many rural land issues such as the spread of weeds, harboring pest animals and not taking the correct measures when it comes to livestock health.

Too many times I have heard industry professionals say that it is too much effect for too little gain to work with small-scale landowners. “The land area is not worth worrying about. Better focus our effects on the bigger properties. Bigger bang for our buck”.

So too often there is the situation where few want to assist small-scale landowners to adopt best practices and yet they are the first to blame them for rural land issues. I would argue that small-scale landowner do in fact as a collective own an increasingly large portion of land and in most cases are highly intelligent and well meaning people. No matter what the size of the property the same practices need to happen eg. weed and pest control and animal husbandry practices.

So what do we need to do for a win / win?
*Treat all landowners with the same level of respect no matter the size of their properties.
*Extension Officers and Advisors to encourage ALL landowners to follow best practice and provide support as needed.
*Talk with your neighbors about what is happening on your own farm.
*Farm suppliers to sell products in 1L, 5L and 20L packs.
*Get a copy of a Rural Landowner Handbook for your area.

In a time when so many consumers are disconnected from where their food comes from, couldn’t those fortunate to already live and work in country areas embrace new comers, share their land ownership practices and support their neighbors?