Monday, March 16, 2015

GOATS: Dairy meets the demand for gourmet Goat's Milk Cheese

Margaret Vinicombe with the Kytren dairy goats

If you have sailed on a Cunard cruise liner or flown Qantas out of Australia, it is likely that you have been served Kytren French-style goat's milk cheese. Margaret and Ken Vinicombe started making gourmet cheese on their Morangup property in 1996 and soon received numerous prestigious awards.
The Vinicombes believe their gourmet produce has helped to change the old attitude toward goats especially amongst the younger generation. “Gourmet cheese is a growing market with more people turning towards goat products,” Margaret said.

For six years prior to starting their own goat business both Ken and Margaret worked for another goat dairy and could see the huge potential in the industry and also see where improvements could be made. Even in the early days, demand outweighed supply.

Ken Vinicome and dairy does
With this in mind, the couple bought a complete dairy herd consisting of 40 milking does and two bucks and Ken built a dairy on their 10.5ha (25 acre) hills property. Apart from the sheds, dairy and cool room, he constructed special feeders for grain and hay. Originally the goats were  Saanen and Saanen-crosses with a few Toggenburgs, British Alpines and Anglo Nubians but because the Toggenburgs tended to overeat with ad lib feeding, the Saanens became the established breed.

A good udder and teats essential in a good milking goat.
With natural mating and breeding programs the herd increased and today, after 19 years in business, the flock consists of 180 milking does, 30 dry does and 40 kids.
In the purpose built dairy, with nine milking bails, the nannies produce from 5-6 litres per day. Ken culls heavily for low milk production unless the doe is in its first lactation. From the onset he used the New Zealand's Tru Test milk meter and still monitors production four or 5 times a year. By this method, he is able to chart total herd performance also individual goat production quantities.

Margaret - the lady who smiles when she says "cheese"
From each 10 litre bucket of milk Margaret makes 14 round cheeses each weighing about 140 grams. Each day about 25-30 kg of cheese is produced. The award-winning, French-style farmhouse cheeses are marketed under the label Kytren - Pure Goat's Milk Cheese.  Made with 100% goat's milk with very little else added apart from salt, oil and herbs in some of the varieties. The dairy makes seven types including soft-curd and white-mould cheeses which are firmer, and a small medallion cheese which is put into oil and coated with pepper and garlic.
Cheeses are made in two sizes and four flavours including plain, herb, pepper and ash-coated. "Ash when used as a preservative gives a cheese a nutty flavour."
Originally most of the Kytren cheeses were freshly wrapped, however, vacuum packing has extended the shelf-life of each cheese to seven weeks.

Gourmet goat's milk cheese
Apart from cheese, today the farm also produces milk and drinking yoghurt. This relatively new dairy product is a creamy healthy drink packed with nutrients. Kytren produces one of the few dinking yoghurts made from goat's milk.
The Vinicombes believe in aggressively promoting their product and, with a background as a marketing manager, Ken knows that this is essential. “We strongly encourage sampling,” said Margaret. “Whatever quantity our distributors ask for we are happy to provide.  Let people taste before they buy,” she said.

Kytren dairy flock (1998)
The goats are fed on pellets and hay and have access to seasonal grass in the paddocks. They also have access to ground salt, mineral lick blocks and dolomite. Ken has not encountered many problems in the flock and attributes that to good feed and hygiene. His husbandry includes 3 in 1 vaccine, Cobalt and Selenium pellets, lice treatment and a twice yearly drench. "Our overheads include feed and minimal vet bills. We don't call the vet unless it is compulsory,” said Ken.

Margaret with two of the dairy's does (1998).
An early Embryo Transfer program yielded a poor result, however, an Artificial Insemination program was more successful. Hormone controlled mating has been used this year to ensure a flush of kids are dropped together and resulting in a flush of milk. The does kid naturally in the paddocks and doe kids are retained to increase stock numbers. The goats normally drop their kids in August and September and are kept in milk for 18 months or two years.
Following every milking, the goats' teats are submerged in an antibacterial solution which kills germs and adds lanolin to prevent chaffing. Despite the twice daily milking, Ken has not  encountered problems with udders or mastitis. He prefers to use a teat dip rather than an antibacterial mist spray which some dairy farmers recommend. “As you only spray from one side you can miss the orifice.” 

A pair of milking goats (not Kytren)

Running the farm and dairy is a seven day a week job. Milking takes about one hour morning and afternoon with half an hour for preparation and cleaning up afterwards. Freshly packed cheeses are delivered to local producers twice a week and interstate orders are delivered to Perth airport every Sunday and Wednesday.
"Attitudes are changing," said Margaret. Today, with the growing popularity of cooking programs on TV and a more healthy-eating mentality, interest in gourmet products including goat cheese is expanding. "Because the fat content is a lot less than in regular cow cheese, people who want to eat cheese and increase their calcium intake prefer the goat product. People who are lactose intolerant can eat goat's cheese without adverse effects,” she said.

Saanen goat (not Kytren)
The Vinicombes attribute their success to aggressive marketing, attention to herd health and hygiene, and a commitment to succeeding in the goat industry. 
Margaret admits that dairying is a demanding business with twice a day milking, seven days a week plus the time devoted to cheese making and to the animals, but after 23 years in the business she is proud of the Kytren Goat Dairy and the cheeses she produces.

The Kytren Goat Dairy is located 55 km east of Perth in Western Australia.
I first visited the farm and interviewed Margaret Vinicombe in 1998. My original article was published in The Goat Farmer magazine at that time. My thanks to Margaret for an update.

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