Thursday 29 September 2011

Horses and Hayracks

Great excitement in the goat shed today when David put a new hayrack in for the goats.  We are constantly trying to find new and better ways to feed the goats and our current mission is to try and make it easier for us to get hay into the racks for the milkers. 

At the moment it can be a bit of a scrum and usually involves me getting seriously trampled by a herd of excited goats.  They are able to tell the difference between a bale of hay and a bale of straw from some distance.  Straw is OK but not really worth getting up for if you are comfy.  Hay, on the other hand, is always worth a dash to the rack.  Goats do not care how many other goats or humans they trample to get to the best bit of hay and I am certain that, should I ever fall over with my bale, I would not reappear until the last stalk of hay had been eaten.

As well as small conventional type bales, we also have some seriously large round bales.  At the moment, the only way to feed these is to break them up and load the hay into the racks by hand.  Not only does this result in the scrum mentioned above but it also involves a lot of mess as the bales gradually unravel in the middle of the barn floor.  David was determined to find another way of dealing with these and so has bought a large rack which will take a whole large bale (loaded in by tractor).  The only problem is that these racks are not 'goat-proof' and so will require some modification.  So, we loaded one in to see what happened ..

Everyone seemed to like it and we were pleased to see that the girls did not all try and eat at the same time. There was not quite as much mess as we anticipated with hay falling out of the large gaps, but we will still put mesh over these to minimise the amount of hay lost.  Goats are very fussy eaters, contrary to popular opinion, and once hay has dropped on the floor and been trodden on, it will not get eaten.  The other reason for the mesh is to stop the younger and thinner goats from climbing into the rack as it gets empty.  We did see a couple of goatlings clamber in but they didn't stay in there very long as all the goats standing round the feeder nipped at their legs.  We will also try and raise the rack up off the floor so that it is at a better level for the goats who tend to eat upwards, rather than downwards like sheep or cattle.

And so to the horses ....

Aren't they just fab?!  These were some of the shires at the East Kent Ploughing Match at Sheldwich.  I always love to watch the horse-drawn ploughs and all the horses looked magnificent with their leather polished and their brasses gleaming in the sunshine.  The tractors looked great too, but I particularly like the old fashioned version on four legs!

It was a great day out and we met up with a lot of other local farmers who had also given themselves the day off work.  The weather could not have been better and everyone seemed to have a good day.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Swings & Roundabouts

An alternative title could be 'win some, lose some' ... 

The only thing that Jane and I had in common this weekend was good weather!!  She was absolutely rushed off her feet at the Eurofair whilst I was twiddling my thumbs at Brogdale.  As always, the Eurofair in Canterbury was a resounding success and Jane managed to sell tons of her own Ashmore cheese as well as bucket loads from Ellie's Dairy.  All our cheese was very well received and apparently the Shaggy's Beard and Fremlin's Kentish Log went down a storm. 

Brogdale was pretty quiet and all the traders I spoke to had a very disappointing weekend.  Certainly there were not a lot of people about.  I think it may have something to do with the fact that they charge £8 entrance fee for which, as far as I could see, you didn't get an awful lot.  The organisers need to do some serious redesign for next year if they want to encourage traders to take part.

As it was so quiet, I had time to take a picture of my stall.  Note the complete lack of customers!

But the day ended on a less serious note as I returned to Dargate to unload and met up with Jane and her daughter Kelly who was getting to grips with a reconditioned trials bike that her dad (an ex bike racer) had found for her.  Not to be outdone by the teenagers, Jane and I decided to go for a quick spin up the drive on this thing.  Neither of us have been on a bike for more years than we care to remember and there was much chuckling as we headed off with me hanging on to Jane yelling 'don't go too fast!'.  Needless to say, she ignored me and as we hurtled over the first speed bump in the road, we both became airborne.  But a good landing was made by all and we continued apace to complete the circuit of several more speed bumps and a couple of corners before coming to a rather elegant stop in front of the dairy, much to the amusement of the teenagers who couldn't believe that the two almost-50-somethings could be so entertaining!

Next cheesey event this week is the East Kent Ploughing Match at Sheldwich, near Faversham.  Jane is working on her stall there whilst David and I have given ourselves the day off to go and visit.  It is always a good event and it gives David the chance to meet up with all the other local farmers before everyone goes into hibernation for the winter!

Friday 23 September 2011

Say Cheese!

Just a quick note today as it's now almost midnight and I've just got home after a very long cheesey day.  After doing the usual goatie bits and bobs this morning, it was straight up to the cheese plant where I spent the day making the next batch of Shaggy's Beard.  It will be turned and salted tomorrow and again on Saturday before being laid out onto racks and put into the maturing room for a few weeks while it ripens and goes furry.  Here's a picture of me looking lovely in my wellies and rubber apron:

This is what the cheese looks like tonight as it settles into the moulds:

And this is what it will turn into in a couple of weeks time:

Finished making cheese and it was back home and straight into the goat shed where David had already started milking.  Feed everyone and tuck them in for the night.  Then more cheese!  I had a large delivery to take over to Jane at Cheesemakers of Canterbury tonight ready for all the markets and events this weekend.  Jane and I priced up and labelled boxes full of Ellie's, Shaggy's and Fremlin's ready for one of the biggest events of the year - the 3-day Eurofair in Canterbury.  Jane's walk-in fridge is piled full of cheese ready for the Eurofair, Whitstable and Cliftonville Markets and the Beer & Cider Festival at Brogdale (that's me doing that one!).  It's going to be a busy cheesey weekend - let's hope the weather is kind to us as all the events are outdoors, apart from Whitstable Market.

And so to bed ...

Tuesday 20 September 2011

It's a hard life being Marmite

So there I was, up at the crack of dawn as usual to do the goats, leaving Marmite fast asleep on the bed.  Having done all the milking and sorted out the goats, I came back home to get stuck into my paperwork and where was Marmite?  Still fast asleep on the bed.  Now 6 hours later and she is ..... guess where? Yep, got it in one.  Fast asleep on the bed.  If I had set up a time lapse camera, you would have seen exactly the same picture for the last few hours.

Note the very slightly opened eyes ... just to check what I was doing and if it was worth getting up for.  Obviously it wasn't!

The goats are not venturing out much today as it's pretty windy and threatening rain.  The only ones brave enough to stick their noses out are the ones who are coming into season and who are suddenly developing an interest in the boys outside.  This morning we had Daphne and Florence wagging their tails and fluttering their eyelashes at the chaps.  All the boys seemed suitably impressed, especially Max and Norville who started snorting and blowing raspberries at them over the fence.  I am keeping a close eye out for Columbia, Moyra, Roz and Twiggy who we did not manage to get in kid last year for various reasons.  As soon as they even think about wagging their tails, they will be sent off with a boy round the back of the bike sheds!!

Had a moment to myself last night and took a look at the Weston A Price Foundation website to see if there was anything new and interesting up there.  The WAPF is a charitable organisation dedicated to education and research into optimum nutrition.  They are HUGE fans of unpasteurised dairy products and I was invited to sell our milk at their last two London conferences which were an outstanding success.  As a raw milk producer, I am always on the lookout for data and articles relating to the subject and WAPF came up trumps with a couple of new ones yesterday.  For those of you who are interested in that kind of stuff, check out their raw milk campaign website at

Sunday 18 September 2011

Flora does it again!

Well, there you go.  It would seem that Flora Goat has indeed undergone some kind of personality change ... midway through milking again last night and this morning she appeared at the gate.  Stood her ground amongst a pile of young upstarts jostling for position and then sauntered up the ramp to be first in the milking line again.  Well done Flora!

Wye Market was a little quieter than usual on Saturday morning, possibly due to the weather as the heavens opened several times throughout the morning, leaving many customers soaking wet.  But a decent morning's trading was had by myself and Jane (Cheesemakers of Canterbury)  and, as usual, I returned home with armfuls of delicious cakes (Penny's Sweets), pizza (Enzo's Bakery) and organic free range eggs (Woodpecker Farm).  My customer was delighted with her goat meat and is looking forward to doing lots of interesting dishes with it.  At some point in the future, I would love to compile an Ellie's Dairy Recipe Book and publish all the recipes from our milk, cheese and meat customers. 

This was Jane and myself at Wye Market last winter.  Note the large padded coats and silly hat!  Essential for winter markets.

Highlight of the market was Helen from Faversham Soaps bringing over my sample bars of goat's milk soap.  Our previous soapmaker has moved to Yorkshire and so I was delighted to discover Helen when she joined Wye Market recently.  She has made the first test batch of soaps and I have to say that they look and smell absolutely fabulous!  We have 3 types, all of which use our milk as a base - Spiced, Lavender and Honey & Oat.  The Honey and Oat uses local honey from Sevington near Ashford and I am hoping to use lavender buds and oil from the fabulous lavender farm at Castle Farm at Shoreham near Sevenoaks.  Helen has given some bars out to her soap testing panel and I passed a couple of bars on to customers yesterday for them to try.  There's going to be a lot of washing going on this week!!

Friday 16 September 2011

Busy, busy,busy

I was out and about delivering milk and cheese for most of the day.  Friday is my main delivery day - I start with a few local drops, then go to Faversham and then up to South London to Franklins Farm Shop in East Dulwich.  Fantastic restaurant and farm shop that specialises in produce from the Home Counties.  I also deliver cheese from Winterdale Cheesemakers and Cheesemakers of Canterbury to them, the most fabulous cherries and asparagus (when in season) from Syndale Farm at Newnham and, hopefully soon, some lovely bits and pieces from Romney Marsh Wools.  It can be a fairly lengthy journey if the traffic is slow, so if I have the van loaded with all sorts of Kent produce it makes it all worth while!

On the way home I deliver to several places near Dartford, Borough Green and Wrotham then a quick visit to the local butcher to collect one of my little chaps ready to take to Wye Market with me tomorrow for a customer order.  The other had already been collected and was on his way to the Goods Shed Butcher in Canterbury.  Two more booked in for slaughter on Monday morning.  It's the sad part of life at the dairy but a necessary one.

When I got back to the farm, all the goats were out in the field munching on grass and lazing about in the sunshine.  Managed to get through milking fairly quickly tonight despite some bad behaviour from several ladies.  The goats seem to like the new parlour much better than the old one - David thinks it is because they come in as a larger group.  We have certainly seen a change in behaviour from some of them, particularly Flora (the fat lazy one that I have mentioned before).  Flora always used to be the last goat to come in for milking in the old parlour.  She would never ever stand on the left hand side and, even if she came in on her own, would insist on standing on the right hand side of the parlour.  It would take ages to get her up the ramp and into position - you cannot rush a Flora Goat.  Imagine my surprise this evening when the call went up half way through milking - 'Flora alert'!!  Flora was at the gate, butting other goats out of the way, eager to come in for milking.  Not only did she push to the front and race up the ramp, but she also came in first!  A milking milestone!!  We'll see what happens tomorrow. 

It's great to see comments from a few new faces joining the blog and I think everyone would like to see some more piccies of young goats ... so, I make no excuses ... here are a few of our babies for you:

It's a boy

Well, young Gracie Moo got down to business early this morning and produced a beautiful bull calf.  Mum and baby doing fine.  Piccie not very good quality I'm afraid as I she wouldn't let me get too close to him.  Will try and get a better one over the next couple of days.  So, that's the calves sorted for this year - 2 males and 2 females.  Nice balance.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Lady in Waiting

As well as the goats, we also have a small herd of pedigree Sussex cows, affectionately known as 'David's pet cows' or 'The Gracie Moos'. We have just one heifer left to calve and it looks like she may be thinking about doing something fairly soon.  This is her doing a lot of standing about and thinking ealier this morning.
Here are the 3 other calves - born within the last 4 weeks.  Cute, but not quite as cute as wee goaties (just my humble opinion).  The larger one to the right of the picture is last year's calf.  
So. Wednesday involved a lot of driving as I headed off to High Weald Dairy in Sussex with a large delivery of frozen goat's milk for them. They are our main wholesaler and send our milk all over the country. It's always interesting to find out where it ends up and I have had
phone calls from shops in Exeter, Devon and Bristol as well as a text message from a friend on holiday in Cornwall who was amazed to see it in the freezer of a small village shop where she was staying! 
Usually the journey to High Weald takes about an hour but yesterday the M26 and the M25 were absolutely dreadful and I decided to take the very scenic route to get there.  A little longer than usual but a beautiful drive down through Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Hartfield (past the Winnie the Pooh shop) and through the Ashdown Forest. Glorious sunny day.  Absolutely gorgeous.

Delivered over 400 litres of milk to Cheesemakers of Canterbury this morning in Dargate, near Faversham.  They take our milk once a week to turn into their award winnning Kelly's Canterbury Goat (hard cheese) and Gruff (semi-hard cheese).  Thursday and Friday are busy days for both them and us as we have to get all our orders sorted out ready for
delivery.  We work very closely with Jane Bowyer and her team and we share deliveries in order to save both of us driving round the county to the same places.  Seems to work pretty well! 

Goats were all out in the field when I left the farm earlier - enjoying some late summer sun.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Another busy day

Came home from milking and sorting the goats out this morning to find that my lovely cat Marmite had left 2 presents for me - one small dead shrew on the kitchen floor and another upstairs on the bathroom floor.Both without a mark on them but, sadly, very deceased

Marmite in her control centre, planning her next expedition. What a hunter!

Had a great afternoon visiting Sue and David Clinker in Whitstable to talk about this new blog and revamping our website so that they both match. David, is our webmaster and does a great job of compiling and editing the website for us. So, we'll doing a bit of a website rebuild over the next few weeks with some extra bits and pieces for you to look at. in case you haven't found us yet.

Sue, is an extremely talented portrait artist (check out her website at and she was the lady responsible for doing the original pencil drawing of Ellie that we use for our logo.
Sue has a great blog of her own at and I have a feeling that she will end up being my blogging helpdesk!

The goats are starting to feel the change in the season as the slightly lower temperatures and shorter days affect their hormone levels. Over the past couple of days the girls have started showing a lot more interest in the boys and the boys in turn have started strutting their stuff for the ladies. It's that time of year ... here we go again!

At the moment boys and girls are separate but, once we have decided on matings for the year, we will pen up the males with their specially selected groups of ladies and leave them to do what comes naturally!

Here's Max getting himself into shape for the season ahead:

Monday 12 September 2011

Raindrops aren't falling on my goats

The goats are all pretty happy today but as the weather is a bit wet and very windy, they will not venture out into the field very much. Wind does not bother them much but they absolutely HATE rain. Even a tiny spot sends everyone snorting and racing back in to the barn. You can simply just NOT get your ears wet.
Even in good weather, many of the older (and lazier) goats spend a lot of their day eating hay indoors and lying around.

Flora is one such goat (very lazy but not particularly old at 7 years) and, after milking, she will always try to get the best spot right underneath one of the large hayracks. Not only is this an exceedingly comfy and cosy place to lie, but it also enables her to eat from the hayrack whilst lying down. Minimal effort required and her waistline is testament to the amount of effort expended!  You can get some idea of her sylph-like figure from this picture, although it doesn't really do her justice! (that's Thelma trying to muscle in on the photo, by the way).

Sunday 11 September 2011

Time well spent

Goat kids really are the most delightful and enchanting little creatures and you can spend many hours in the barn talking to them and watching their antics. No time spent with the goats is ever wasted as it is very important that you know all your animals well and that they are used to being handled by humans. This ensures that they are always calm and friendly if you should need to do any routine tasks, such as foot-trimming, and it also means that young milkers coming through the milking parlour for the first time are much less stressed as they trust their humans. 

We make sure we find the time to spend with the male kids who we will rear as stud animals because they will grow into huge and very powerful boys. Male goats are exceptionally strong and the largest male at Ellie’s Dairy, Navajo, stands well over 7ft tall on his hind legs. And he’s not even fully grown yet! Very important that he is friendly and used to being handled.

This is the man himself, enjoying a quiet moment:

Saturday 10 September 2011

Kids will be kids

The young kids also spend a lot of their time eating and relaxing but, as soon as one of their humans enters the goatshed, they are up and about in case they might miss something. Every so often, they have a mad half hour when, for no apparent reason, they all start running and jumping about. Two British Alpine kids (black and white) are especially comical – they are brother and sister. One will jump on top of the metal feeder that is in their pen and turn round and round on the spot whilst the other, at ground level, races round and round the feeder. Every so often they will change direction or swap places. Needless to say, this is all accompanied by much bleating and all the other kids joining in the fun.

Thought it was about time for a cute wee goatie picture ....

Another day in our life...

It’s late morning and I'm making Ellie’s cheese today. Lovingly tended over the next 2 days, it will then be packed and labelled ready for sale later in the week. 

David is battling the elements out in his tractor doing hedgecutting. It’s a busy season for him at this time of year as he is in constant demand by many of the local farmers. Once the crops are harvested, he has only a very short time to get into the field and do all the hedges before the tractors come back in to cultivate the land and sow the seed ready for next year. On more than one occasion, he has been followed round the field by an impatient plough!

Evening milking will start around 6pm. The new parlour is now in action which saves us many hours each day – milking 12 goats at a time rather than 2 is much better!

Here's Betty and Wilma in the old parlour:

And this was the first trial run in the new parlour.  It has stalling for 12 goats but we were only brave enough to bring 8 in for the first time! 

The goats have done really well in getting used to the new parlour but, goats being goats, are now finding new and interesting ways to be naughty when they get bored.  And of course, with 6 times as many goats being milked at a time, there is 6 times more scope for bad behaviour!  I'm sure you don't get as much trouble milking cows or sheep or camels ...

Friday 9 September 2011

What have I done??

Hi, Debbie here. 

I was always firmly of the opinion that ‘blogging’ is for people with far too much time on their hands. And as for ‘tweeting’ .. well, don’t even get me started on that one! And yet, here I am, starting our own Ellie’s Dairy blog. Have I gone completely mad? Are there suddenly more than 24 hours in a day? Have I not got enough to do already?!

Well, as an IT teccie in a previous life (in the days when I had a ‘proper’ job!), I can appreciate the application of useful technology and, as we are constantly asked questions about the goats by our customers, I thought that it was about time we embraced the modern age and started our own blog. 

We don't allow farm visits for many reasons but goats are real characters and this is a great way of allowing everyone ‘remote access’ to our goatshed - and the opportunity to learn a little about the animals and life at Ellie’s Dairy. I aim to keep you up to date with goatie happenings as well as providing a news service for current markets and special events

And, of course, we welcome all your questions and comments. A blog is a two-way thing, so get posting!