Obsalim Takes the Cake

Every week we prepare a cake for our staff meeting. But this cake isn’t for morning tea – it’s a poo cake. This poo cake, together with a milk curd test and specific herd observations, forms the basis of our Obsalim practice and is helping us to produce consistently high quality cheese every day, every year, regardless of the season.

If you are a regular reader of our blogs you will know that we love Obsalim! (See this earlier blog post, and this one, for a start.)

We’ve been working with Obsalim for five years now, but it has only been in the last six months that we have been applying the method in a consistent, analytical way – carrying out standard operating procedures, observing, recording, then discussing the results and deciding on a definite action.

Obsalim helps us manage herd health and cheese quality. It gives us instant feedback. This is really empowering for managing our enterprise as we can directly see the impacts of our management actions in the milk, and in the cheese. As Isis said, “I didn’t quite believe it before. Now I do!”.

Since we’ve been employing Obsalim in this systematic way, everyone on our farm has become engaged with it; Paula our office manager, our quality control and dispatchers Julie and Annie – everyone involved in the farm business is learning about these techniques and what is happening in our herd, then discussing what this means for the cheese. We can also rely on the results, regardless of who at Holy Goat is doing the testing.

How do we do it? Using three tests:

  • The Obsalim Cards
  • The Poo Cake Test
  • The Micro-curd Test

The Obsalim Cards – we consider the whole herd, not just individual animals, and at least 60% of animals need to be showing a certain sign (eg. hair/pH – see the card below) to use that card. You also need to have at least three cards to get a result. There’s more info on using the cards here. If we can’t get three cards, we just consider their current grazing (what is the quality and quantity of pasture they are eating?) and their hay (is it short or long fibered, how nutritious?) over the past week. We look at the pH zone on the goats flank, and their eyes.

The pHG area – a critical observational point

The Poo Cake Test – the goats’ manure tells us a lot about their health and digestion. A stable rumen means the goats are digesting every bit of feed and extracting maximum nutrients from it. Which is borne out in their milk.

We are always scanning the poo inside and outside of the sheds, but on Mondays we collect it from a defined area in the holding yards. We take one cup and then wash the poo under running water until the water runs clear, press the ‘poo’ – now more undigested vegetable matter and fibre than poo – into a potato ricer and turn it out onto a piece of absorbent towel. We measure the height of the cake. A smaller cake means more fibre has been digested, a larger cake means less digestion.

Finally we break open the cake and look for any undigested grain and at the fibre size – are the fibres big or small? Ideally there will be no grain visible and only small fibres.

The poo cake after washing and pressing; almost all (small) fibre

The Micro-Curd Test – this is a really quick and easy test to look at the strength of the curd, which reflects Calcium and Phosphorus levels in the milk, plus protein. We can use raw and/or pasteurised milk.

We put decreasing amounts of milk in five test tubes and add decreasing dilutions of rennet, from 100% then 70%, 50% and finally 30%. We look at the size and shape of the curd that forms. Ideally it should be about 4mm thick and should have a slight twist.

If the curd is dead straight, Calcium levels are too high and Phosphorus too low. If the curd is very kinked, Phosphorus is too high. It is easier to increase Calcium levels – we simply add limestone (Calcium carbonate, CaCO3) to the feed. Adjusting Phosphorus is a bit trickier. The adjustments are tiny, for example we might only add 1/4 cup of limestone to the feed and then wait a fortnight to see what happens. It means we can also fine tune our need to add Calcium Chlorine (CaCl) post-pasteurisation.

If a curd forms at the lowest rennet dilution (30%) that means protein levels are good. The micro-curd test allows us to keep our cheese quality consistent all through the year. It is of great benefit to the cheesemaker.

The micro-curd test – look at shape and thickness at each dilution

What Next?

Then we look at the results across the three tests and decide on an action. Often the action is to take no action!

The weekly testing and recording allow us to build a picture of the herd health and milk quality through the year and to see the impact of changes to diet or herd health. For some conditions/cards it will take a fortnight or more to see the results of a management intervention. Other changes are instant.

Here’s an example:

The micro -curd was strong and consistent, showed a good Calcium Phosphorus balance, but the poo cake and Obsalim cards showed a lack of long fibres.

Our conclusions?

Increase the rumination time by taking the goats off the pasture and away from the short green oaten hay, with more time for rumination and digestion:

  • Give the herd longer fibres – we fed out black wattle branches (high in tannins) for two days.
  • Reduce ‘gutsing’ on hay by putting herd in the rumination paddock earlier in the day,
    allowing the herd to ruminate for longer to ensure total digestion.

And the result? We will find out next Monday! Though we have noticed the goats are holding their heads higher and generally coats are in better nick.

Dairy farmers everywhere can be overwhelmed by the quantity of data, information, testing and records that their farm produces and collects. Some of that record keeping is required by agencies and authorities, for food safety, quality control and organic certification. Some is essential for animal health and breeding purposes. But some – perhaps much more – serves little purpose beyond its collection.

In the wide world of dairy data, we see Obsalim – and our three-step weekly test – as critical to our herd and our cheesemaking.

And maybe someone will bring another sort of cake for Monday morning tea?!


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