More than gut instinct

We have been managing our farm at Sutton Grange for over 17 years now. Before that we’d spent many years developing our apprenticeships with dairy goats, both in Australia and overseas. We are still learning.

It’s very exciting to see things anew and to see new things, even after this stint. The recent visit from Dr Bruno Giboudeau is a case in point. He’s a French vet who has spent 20 years observing farm animals, dairy in particular, with the sole focus on the fact that they are ruminants. Simply put, ruminants have rumens. Rumens rule the animal and they also have specific needs. Put even more simply, if the rumen is out of whack, then the animal, and most likely the whole herd, will be too.

Bruno approaches things from a herd perspective. We know our animals individually (for example, see this earlier post). But it is another thing to watch the herd, as a whole organism, and try to work out what is going on. Goats are herd animals. And it’s another language. Like learning French, or Spanish, or Cantonese, or Goat, when you’ve never even been there.

Hence Obsalim and Bruno’s visit. He ran two workshops last month, one at our farm and another in northern NSW. In France, many small cheesemakers, organic and biodynamic farmers, use it. We had 27 farmers visit from all over Australia – sheep, cow and goat focused. We all learnt to look at our animals in a different way.

Thanks to Alison Lansley for the photos of our local workshop and her great support. You will get a sense of the level of attention, from both people and goats in these images.

It’s all about the ruminant. Most importantly, we must give them time to ruminate (it’s what they’re made for) whether that fits our farm schedule or not. In fact the farm should revolve around the goat’s (or cow’s, or sheep’s) needs, not ours. And if not, we need to be ever aware and observant of our intervention, and make compensation, especially where food is concerned.

For ruminants, rumination (cudding) is like a second feed. The first feed is when they ingest it. The second is when they ruminate and the bulk of their saliva (alkaline) goes into buffering the rumen (acid) to allow nutrients to be extracted and absorbed, thanks to the microbes that live in their guts. The rumen is where things are digested properly, nutrients extracted, then milk (and cheese) eventually made. It takes time. We need to allow our animals to take the time for it to be made. To keep the bacteria happy. There’s a bit of a cycle in goats and sheep and cows (and humans, though we don’t have that many stomachs) during the day and night. We need to be aware and accommodate this.

Nutritional – and then health – problems can arise from not paying heed to the rumen.

Goats give you so many signals that all is not right (or is right) with their rumen function. We ‘just’ need to pay attention. All are rewarded if we do. There’s a bit more info on the Obsalim theory and process here (link to more detailed page on our website) and far more, if you wish to delve deeper.

Our learnings? Leave our goats quiet at rumination time (9-11am and 2-4pm); give them hay first thing at 6am (before any concentrates) and also rougher hay; watch our goats as a herd, as well as unique individuals; and watch our goats with a more directed focus, through the Obsalim cards; be consistent about our herd’s feeding patterns and content. And, well, there’s lots more, but that’s a start.

Your herd may be different. Want to know more about Obsalim? Find out here.

Obsalim cards - workshop and info at Holy Goat Farm Sutton Grange July 2016. An example for the holy goat herd ... how to learn the language
Obsalim cards – workshop and info at Holy Goat Farm Sutton Grange July 2016.
How to learn the goat’s language