Obsalim training: motivated farmers + small on-farm change = big returns

Dr Bruno Giboudeau has just completed his Victorian workshops (the last one was at our farm) and he headed back to France yesterday, having brought the Obsalim techniques and learning to over 50 keen participants over the past fortnight. Though most of the workshoppers were dairy farmers, we also had a vet, animal nutritionist and organic milk supply manager attend.

Since Obsalim is regional (and farm) specific, the format of the workshops involved using local farms as case studies for the training. Bruno and Lucy Quin – who worked with us to organise and manage the logistics of the workshops and assisted Bruno with the training – visited the case study farms prior, took photos and carried out some Obsalim investigations, providing the host farmers with a report before the workshop proper. During the workshop session, participants were able to learn from the case study farm directly.

Lucy has arrived at Holy Goat after a big career change and is particularly interested in the links between animal health and the quality and nutrition of produce and how Obsalim can make those connections.

“We had really engaged and interested farmers at every workshop; there were lots of questions, a really positive energy and everyone was really happy to learn and observe and interpret.”

Ron and Bev Smith, long-time farmers at Fish Creek said they benefited from Bruno’s training and learnt new things, even as dairy farmers for 50 years. “Retired” to 12 acres and two cows, (though they have a newsletter connecting 400 dairy farmers and are off to King Island next week to advise and support other farmers …).

Bev says the workshop had a good energy and they had a great time as host farmers.

“We started farming in the 1970s and then organic dairying from the 1980s, when we had 95 head on 250 acres and it was all pasture based,” says Bev. “We did introduce a keyline irrigation system for the summer months and we had a big variety of pasture species.”

“We attended last year’s workshop with Bruno at Holy Goat which was great – I saw it as another tool that we can use – but I found this year’s workshop of much more direct benefit, since the focus was on cows and in our part of the world.”

“Most participants were farmers within an hour of our farm, two were organic and one was in-conversion. I think Obsalim needs to get into the conventional stream though; that’s where the biggest benefits will be. The uptake of Obsalim will be a bit like the early days of organics; but it will happen in time.”

Ron agrees. “I really loved the workshop. I think it’s cutting edge stuff for Australian farmers. When they realise and understand it, I think our whole industry will benefit hugely.”

It’s about being animal-focussed, not farm/farmer focussed. Ron gives the example of another participant who attended the workshop who told him afterwards ‘I look at animals over the fence much differently now’.

“I’ve been milking cows for over 50 years and I’m still learning. I’ve always observed the cows and known their names, their natures and their inclinations. When our cows were on heat I could tell the animal from 150 meters away. The eyes, ears, nose, demeanour, they way they act, are all telling. You can see if something is amiss. These things we have observed all the time, but Obsalim really puts it all together for us in a meaningful way.”

“We’ve been growing many of the species that Bruno suggested – cocksfoot, timothy rye, red clover – which was affirming too,” adds Ron.

One of the key aspects of Obsalim is being able to make a direct link between the appearance and health of the animal and the quality and composition of the milk, through milk testing.

“Farmers can see straight away how efficiently their animals are converting their feed and the quality of that conversion, “ says Bruno.

Lucy agrees. “Dairy farmers get results, maybe weekly, from the processors about their herd’s milk solids and protein, in percentages, but not about the quality of that protein, which is really important in cheesemaking and for the digestion of drinking milk.”

Casein is the important protein for cheese quality and yield.

“The milk test shows the coagulation of casein, globulin and albumen. The casein correlates to cheese yield and quality. We want more casein than the other proteins for cheesemaking,” says Lucy.

Grazing management – what, when and for how long – influences the milk proteins.

“With changes to the herd ration and to the cycles of feeding, we can see greater energy efficiency and feed conversion – in Obsalim we talk about the Global Energy – so there will be more casein than globulin with better efficiency. The timing of feeding and cudding and the type of pasture have a big influence,” says Bruno.

Bruno stresses that Obsalim is not asking farmers to implement wholesale, large-scale changes to their farming operations.

“The main thing is for farmers to have confidence in their observations and the confidence to make changes. We advise making small scale changes and observing. It is not about making large changes to the farm management or buying in concentrates. It is about committing to the system and using what you already have – your seasons, soils, pastures – in a more efficient way.”

“In France, 70% of farm house cheese makers use Obsalim. Of those half would use it on a daily basis and the other half would know about it and use it less regularly. But they are all able to manage their pastures in a more economic way. We see an increase in the cheese quality and a decrease in vet expenses on these farms.” says Bruno.

Now the workshops are over, Bruno and Lucy aim to keep farmers connected and motivated to continue to use Obsalim on a regular basis, as well as to develop further training opportunities.

“I would like to come back and run a more complete course that goes to a deeper level, as well as the more basic sessions,” says Bruno. “It is a new approach for Australia. After the course people will go back to their usual routine, so it is important that the Obsalim becomes part of that routine; that the observing becomes second nature.”

“We are looking to build the momentum and consolidate participants use of Obsalim,” says Lucy. “After the workshops we now have a nucleus of engaged and interested farmers. We want to find the best way to keep the conversations going and to keep them practising the techniques. It could be an Obsalim helpline for farmers, or on-line support and updates.”

And Bev and Ron are off to King Island next week, where they’ll meet other dairyfarmers and talk about the Obsalim workshop held on their place. Who knows, perhaps King Island will be the next stop next year for Bruno?

Dr Bruno Gibidou revisits Australia to run a weries of Obsalim workshops around Victoria

For more information:

Stop, Look and Listen. Ruminate.

Obsalim. If you follow our blog, and us, you will know we are big fans of this method of animal husbandry and its French instigator Dr Bruno Giboudeau. We have been fortunate to have Bruno visit the farm several times to teach us and other dairy farmers about the benefits of Obsalim and how it can translate from the French, to the Australian context. Our goats have definitely benefited.

If you’ve missed hearing from vet Bruno previously, then you have another chance this October when he comes to Australia to speak at the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) AGM. NASAA was formed in 1986 to support the education of industry and consumers on Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable agricultural practices. It’s fully owned subsidiary NASAA Certified Organic (NCO) carries out certification of organic farms in Australia and internationally, including ours.

Their AGM this year will incorporate field visits to local organic farms, including a visit to Holy Goat, where you can also see how we have put Obsalim into practice.

And you can delve deeper into the theory and practice of applying Obsalim to your own farm, because we have brought Bruno out from France to run three ruminant nutrition workshops in regional Victoria. The workshops will be applicable to sheep, goat and cow dairy enterprises and involve a 2-day workshop and a 1-day farm visit to see how to apply the tools in a hands-on setting. The training is designed to be straightforward and hands-on and will give farmers the tools and confidence to monitor and make the changes that will result in improved herd health and the farm bottom line. Northern Victoria (24 – 26 October), Fish Creek in Gippsland (30 – 31 October) and Sutton Grange (2-3 November) are the locations.

You can download the flyer here to find out more about the workshops and book here. Make sure you book early to ensure your place.

To find out more about Obsalim in practice at Holy Goat, see this earlier post. And this one.

Our farm is in central Victoria, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take learning and inspiration from overseas and afar, and especially from France, the font of goats cheese. Other organic farmers think the same.

This year’s NASAA AGM will feature another international agriculturalist alongside Bruno Giboudeau; Rei Yoon will introduce Jadam Organic Farming – a system rooted in the traditions of Asia (Korean Natural Farming) and bolstered by modern science. Closer-to-home speakers will be Terry Hehir, the inaugural Chair of Organic Dairy Farmers of Australia Co-operative, soil ecologist Dr Christine Jones, soil scientist and microbiologist Dr Ash Martin, and Chris Alenson who has spent more than 35 years teaching and consulting in organic/sustainable agriculture. There will also be a tribute to the late Rod May who was a stalwart of the organics industry (and to NASAA in particular).

Held in the Macedon Ranges on 26th and 27th October, “Into Organics” should be an event worth taking time out from the farm or business for. It’s a chance to catch up and connect with other organic growers and, importantly, to stop, ruminate and reflect upon your own place into organics. You can also find out how focussed observation and attention can improve the health of your herd, and of your farm.

The field trip to our farm will be on Thursday 26th October, with The Organic Mushroom Farm at Diggers Rest and Harcourt’s Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens also on the itinerary. The AGM featuring keynote speakers including Bruno, will be held on Friday 27th at the Macedon Ranges Hotel.

Nothing backward about these producers

The only thing backward about the winners of the delicious. Produce Awards is the video that highlights their produce as it travels from the plate, back to the land, or sea, or dairy, or …

You can take a look here at the goats ‘backing up’ as well as some great overhead shots of our farm in all it’s late winter, green, glory. A very nice perspective!

This year delicious. filmed promotional footage in Victoria, including on our farm, highlighting the Victorian winners from the awards ceremony that was held on August 7 in Melbourne.

The Awards give Australia’s smaller producers an opportunity to get their product in front of influential people and be showcased to the public, says Lucy Allon, delicious. Produce Awards Project Manager, based in Sydney.

“Smaller producers may not have the time, budget or skills to do their own marketing and the Awards help them to tell their story. I was first involved in running the Awards in 2010 when there were just a few hundred nominations. Nominations soon grew to 3000 plus, at which point the nomination process changed to be chef driven,” says Lucy.

“The Awards have evolved to showcase products that chefs are using on their menus and importantly to tell the story, the hard work and the quality behind that produce. We couldn’t have successful chefs and an exceptional industry without the producers.”

This year marks the 12th year of the Produce Awards and Holy Goat have gained accolades in some form every year.

“Holy Goat have shown they have an undying commitment to the best faming practices, year in, year out. Carla and Ann-Marie focus so much on what happens on the farm and embrace what the farm produces. This translates to amazing quality on the plate.” Lucy says.

“It takes time, focus, season, hard work and passion to produce an award winning product and this is why Holy Goat have featured every year.”

This past Award was a Gold Medal for our newest cheese, Nectar Cow/Goat. Nectar is a brine washed, semi-hard cheese made from 75% cow and 25% goats’ milk. We think this unique cheese brings the best of both breeds – and herds – to the table. Our goats and the fifth generation Mannes family dairy shorthorn cows make a perfect match, or at least cheese. The rich cow’s milk imparts a soft texture, whilst the goat’s milk adds nutty complex flavours.

We started making Nectar to offer a wider variety of cheeses over the winter months when the volume of goat milk is lower.

Link to our earlier blog about making Nectar here.

The Mannes have been certified organic with NASAA since 1993. In 1854, their great great grandfather, Franz Mannes, aged 23 (on the advice of Bendigo’s first Catholic priest) set up a farm, rather than try his luck on the goldfields. The Mannes have been selling milk to Bendigo since the 1920’s. We have an important connection with the brothers, especially Bernie who has been a great mentor. Farming organically for 24 years, he has helped us source feed and provided support in times of drought.

The family are pleased and proud we make this beautiful cheese from their milk. When he found out about winning the Gold Medal for Nectar, Bernie Mannes said “well, you’re the alchemists, we just supply the milk”.

But making exceptional cheese requires exceptional milk and the Mannes provide it. Every Monday we drive the 20 minutes to Strathfieldsaye, on Bendigo’s outskirts, in time for evening milking. We collect their milk for a Nectar make on Tuesday morning. Four months later, there’s nectar for your plate.

But back to the Awards.

Besides the accolades, we really value the opportunities that being a part of Produce Awards like delicious. give to our farm. We get to meet other high achieving, passionate and engaged producers from across the agriculture sectors. There’s a lot we can learn from other industries, beyond dairying. It’s also excellent feedback on the taste and quality of our product, because it is the chefs using our produce that are nominating us.

Awards remind us to reflect and acknowledge the results of our farm’s continued progression – not always evident when you are working away in the freezing cold dawn of a central Victorian winter.

Here’s the broader promotional video.

But it’s worth watching Paul Righetti reverse feeding the chooks and Lance Whiffen back landing the mussels, just to see how really skilful our local producers are!