Another traditional dairy breed of the Swiss mountains, the Saanen (pronounced SAW-nen) takes its name from its native Saane Valley located in the canton of Bern. It was in this region that the Saanen was bred to produce milk in abundance on the summer mountain pastures of Switzerland. However, it is interesting to note that the Swiss did not select exclusively for production or for hardiness—they also bred for the hallmark white coat. Read More
The Oberhasli of Switzerland has long been known for three things—its distinctive color pattern, its milk production, and its antiquity. This latter trait, in fact, has largely obscured its history. By the time it was first registered in Switzerland, it was already an old breed. Read More
The Nubian goat is typically thought of as an African breed. In reality, it traces back to late 1800s England. As the British Empire expanded to new regions, ships brought back native bucks from many environments. Many of these bucks were large, hardy animals that promised to improve British dairy goats. In particular, bucks from Egypt, Arabia, and India were favored. Read More
Goats of dwarfish proportions were once widespread across much of Africa, their historic home being a large swath stretching from the Atlantic coast inland as far as modern Sudan and almost spanning from 20°N to 20°S latitude. These miniature goats varied by region, some being stocky, cobby little animals and others proportioned like true dairy goats. Read More
As its name suggests, the LaMancha does have ancestors from Spain, but it was developed entirely in the United States. Its story begins with the arrival of the conquistadors. The conquistadors and the missionaries who accompanied them always brought along livestock for food. Goats were usually among the herds and flocks, thanks to their versatility; they could provide both milk and meat on long journeys or at isolated missions. Read More
The French Alpine originated thousands of years ago as the direct descendant of the Pashang of Persia, one of the earliest goats to be domesticated. The Pashang traveled to the Alps with the original settlers of this rugged region, and here it adapted to new conditions.
For millennia the goats of the Alps developed as a landrace, the harsh, unforgiving environment having the first choice and final say in what goats would produce the next generation. To survive in the Alps, a goat had to thrive under wild swings of temperature and had to be able to find sparse vegetation on the dry, rocky inclines—and then use it efficiently. Above all, it had to have a sure footing and well-developed sense of balance. This is not to say that human selection did not play a role. On the contrary, goatherds depended on their animals for their own living, so they selected for milk production. It is believed that they may have bred for favorite colors, as well. Ultimately, however, neither characteristic could come at the expense of survival traits.
It was not until the 1900s that the goats of the Alpines began to develop into a breed in the usual sense of the term. Early in the century, the Alpine found its way into many French dairy herds, and thus entered a new phase of development under the guidance of man. Size, uniformity, and milk production were emphasized at this time.
The French Alpine first came to the United States in late 1922, when Dr. Charles P. Delangle imported a herd. With the assistance of his friend Joseph Crepin, France’s top expert on goat husbandry in that day, Delangle picked 19 does and three bucks from the herds coming down from the Alps for the winter. These were shipped to his home in California.
Unfortunately, they were not destined to remain in Delangle’s care for long. Delangle was constantly in disputes with other goatkeepers, culminating in his expulsion from the American Milk Goat Record Association in 1923. Disgusted and in poor health, Delangle dispersed his entire herd. While a misfortune for him, this event was probably a great boon to the breed, as it began the spread of the French Alpine across the country.
Today, the French Alpine is considered an important commercial dairy breed around the world. It is also quite popular across the United States, especially in a crossbred form, known as the American Alpine.
The French Alpine is bred exclusively for dairy purposes. Although it can be kept for homestead milk production, it has been selected for high yields, making it suited for a commercial enterprise.
Excess males are typically raised for meat, but if castrated they can be trained as pack animals.
The French Alpine is both docile and strong-willed, a mixture that often delights its owners. It is friendly and affectionate, making it very rewarding to work with. However, it is also a challenge—the French Alpine has a keen mind and an insatiable curiosity, making it hard to contain. It is not suited to tight confinement, as it will quickly grow bored.
This breed is known for its complex social behavior. While it forms strong bonds with other herd members, it is also aggressive and competitive. Pecking order squabbles are frequent.
Keeping French Alpine goats healthy requires some care and consideration, but is not an insurmountable difficulty. The first thing to note is the breed’s high nutrient requirements. The French Alpine is a high-octane milk producer, which means that it will require ample feed to avoid losing body condition. A diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates is recommended.
Care is also required when breeding French Alpines. Does are technically able to conceive as early as four months of age. However, they are not finished growing by this time, so the additional strain of pregnancy and caring for kids can break down their health. Does of this breed will have much longer, healthier, more productive lives if they are not bred for the first time until their second fall.
Also, be careful with the choice of a buck for your doe. All French Alpines in America trace back to Delangle’s herd of 22, making inbreeding a constant concern with this breed. Keep tabs on the inbreeding coefficients produced by any proposed mating, and always keep track of pedigrees. This is time-consuming work, but is necessary for the genetic health of the breed.
Finally, note that French Alpines simply are not suited to wet climates. When kept in damp areas, they are prone to internal parasites, foot rot, and respiratory ailments. Those in humid regions should consider a different breed.
- Adaptability to all but wet climates.
- Early maturity.
- Well-built udders.
- Long lactations, lasting up to two years.
- Excellent milk production, the highest annual average of any goat breed.
- Personality unsuited for confinement.
- Ability as an escape artist.
- Unsuitability for wet climates.
- High feed requirements.
- Challenge of avoiding inbreeding.
So what are the components of milk? There are three main categories:
- Other solids.
When a cow’s rumen digests fiber, it produces fatty acids. Some of these fatty acids are processed in the udder and released in the milk, accounting for about half of the fat naturally found in milk. The other half of the fat enters the milk from the bloodstream, often coming from the cow’s liver or backfat, or directly from fats absorbed in the diet.
Because fiber is important to producing milk fat, cows generally have higher levels of fat in their milk when fed diets high in natural forages of good quality. Cows are sometimes fed low-fiber, high-energy diets to increase total milk production. Needless to say, this extra production comes at the expense of the fat component.
Fat content is generally expressed as a percentage. This is important because a high-producing cow like a Holstein may yield more pounds of fat per lactation than a Jersey. However, a gallon of Holstein milk contains a higher percentage of water than a gallon of Jersey milk does. Total milk yield and percentage of components are usually inversely related.
Protein makes its way into milk thanks to the action of rumen microbes that start the process of breaking proteins down into amino acids. Mammary glands later reconstruct the amino acids back into proteins with the aid of glucose. Also, small amounts of albumin and immunoglobulin proteins enter milk directly through the bloodstream.
It is interesting to note that the chemical makeup of the protein component can vary from cow to cow. Casein is the main type of protein found in cow’s milk, but it can come in two forms, known as A1 and A2. The latter type is considered easier for humans to digest.
A deficiency of dietary protein will indeed reduce the amount of protein in a cow’s milk. However, once the cow’s protein needs are met, feeding additional protein will not further increase amount of protein in the milk. Beyond this point, protein content is strongly influenced by genetics.
Like fat, the protein content of a cow’s milk is expressed as a percentage.
Many times, when milk components are under discussion, fat and protein are the main solids of interest. However, there are many other solids that make milk:
- Lactose: A type of sugar; the carbohydrate component of milk.
- Minerals: Including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
- Vitamins: Particularly vitamins A and B complex.
Why Components Matter
- Components indicate cow health. A healthy, well-fed cow with minimal stress will have plenty of fat, protein, and other nutrients to spare for her milk. On the other hand, a cow suffering from mastitis or from rumen acidosis will show a considerable drop in fat and protein components.
- Components are important for human nutrition. Two glasses of milk from two different cows are vastly different. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed for high total milk production is mostly water. A glass of milk from a cow bred and fed with an eye to components contains more of the proteins, vitamins, and minerals necessary for good health. Even the fats are beneficial to humans, as they are important for building cells.
- Components offer value-added opportunities. Fat and protein are necessary to the manufacture of butter, cream, and cheese, among other dairy products.
- Components give rich flavor and texture to dairy products. Milk fat and other solids are what make ice cream creamy. In fact, one of the factors that separates gourmet ice cream from just plain old ice cream is a higher percentage of fat.
While many small farmers still love to hand-milk their cows, commercial dairying usually employs the milking machine.
The modern milking machine looks complex, but the principle on which it operates is actually quite simple. The machine pulls a vacuum on the teats of the cow, causing the milk to flow.
Here’s how it works:
- The cow’s teats are attached to the teat cups. Each teat cup contains a rubber or silicone liner inside a plastic or stainless-steel shell. The liners are the only parts of the machine that touch the cow. They form a seal between the teat and the short milk tube, used to transport the milk. All of the liners are worked by a pulsator valve, which in turn is connected to a vacuum pump. The area between the liner and the shell is the pulsation chamber.
- The pulsator pulls a vacuum on the pulsation chamber, causing the liner to open up.
- A constant vacuum is maintained on the short milk tube. As the liner opens due to the equalization of the vacuum pressure between the short milk tube and the pulsation chamber, the teat is exposed to the vacuum of the short milk tube, causing milk to flow.
- The pulsator then releases the vacuum and exposes the liner to air again. Because now the air pressure in the pulsation chamber is greater than that in the short milk tube, the liner collapses and tightens on the teat in a massaging motion. This maintains proper blood circulation in the teat.
- The pulsator operates at a rate of about 60 cycles per minute.
- The short milk tubes attached to the teat cups meet at the part of the machine known as the claw. Milk from all four teats mixes at this point.
- The vacuum in the long milk tube pulls the milk in a column through the line.
- As the milk flows through the long milk tube, it enters a receiving jar. Any trapped air pockets in the milk column are released at this point. Milk from other cows attached to other milking units is mixed in.
- As the receiving jar fills up, a pump kicks on and pushes the milk into the bulk tank, where it is refrigerated.
- When the cow’s udder empties, the milking machine automatically shuts off. Various types of meters are used to detect the decrease in milk flow.
- The teat cups automatically detach from the cow.
- The cow’s teats are dipped in iodine to reduce the risk of infection caused by contaminated milk flowing back into the teats when the pulsator lets air into the teat cup.
- The machine is cleaned to prepare it for another use.
Smaller operators might use a variation on this system in which the milk flows into a clean can or bucket instead of a receiving jar. In this system, the pulsator generally sits on top of the bucket. When the milking process is completed, the apparatus is removed from the bucket, leaving a container of farm-fresh milk.
How the Milking System Works
Includes plenty of photos and a useful diagram.
So what is an ideal brix level? Most plants show markedly improved vitality and pest resistance when their brix levels hit 12 degrees on a refractometer, although with care many can go far higher than that.
Increasing Brix in Produce and Pasture
Proponents of high-brix farming and gardening agree that soil microbe health is directly correlated with high brix levels in produce and pasture. Therefore, while chemical fertilizers can provide brief boosts in brix, they cannot maintain high levels over long periods of time unless special high-sugar hybrid plants are used. Organic fertilizers made to be applied directly to the leaves of the plant can also give a temporary increase in brix. In the long run, however, growers of heirloom and non-hybrid plants, whether they be food or forage species, must focus on feeding the soil.
Maintaining a balance of nutrients in the soil is an important step toward keeping microbes healthy and happy. If you are struggling with low brix levels, start with a soil analysis. Measuring NPK is not enough. It is important to know the levels of trace minerals, as well, because these are key to microbe health. Depleted minerals must be replaced.
Once the soil is brought back into balance, there are many options for keeping it that way. One of the most amazing soil and plant foods out there, according to refractometers across the nation, is raw milk. Pastures fed with raw milk can have a brix reading over 20 degrees! Grazing practices that allow for nutrient distribution and pasture recovery time tend to affect brix positively, as well.
Using Brix in Milk and Honey
Sometimes a quick fix is important when feeding milk to calves. If the brix levels fall too low (below 22% solids for colostrum or below 10% solids for whole milk), the calves will not thrive and mortality rates will increase. In this case, milk replacer or milk extender must be added to the milk. In the long run, managing the health of the dairy herd is important. Eliminating mastitis infections can make a big difference in milk quality.
Honey that contains a high proportion of moisture to sugar tends to ferment. Therefore, it should not be harvested until it measures 82 to 83 degrees brix (17% to 18% moisture on a honey refractometer). If for some reason the honey must be harvested before this point, the honey frames can be dried artificially with fans.