Helping out with goats: From udder to market

The first goats I met after we turned off the corrugated side road and onto the beautiful tree lined drive way, were freshly slaughtered on the back of a ute, ready to be skinned and hung, then butchered to feed the family and the army of volunteers and students who find themselves at Bookara Goat Dairy. This was our first foray into volunteering, we used the worldwide site Helpx to find farms, households, accommodation businesses etc who need you to do a few hours work a day in exchange for accommodation and food. We were heading North of Perth so when we found Bookara Goat Dairy in between Dongara and Geraldton, it sounded like a unique opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

Some of the goat herd and two impostors

Bookara is owned and operated by Mark and Cate Weston and their 3 boys, who live in a spacious converted shearing shed on the farm, they established their goat farm in 2012 from an intial herd of about 100. In our 2 week stay we shared jobs with Claire and Pauline from France, Moltja from Germany and 2 Vet Students Ash and Vinci from Murdoch University so quite a house full! We of course retreated to our Motorhome at night, but the others were accommodated in a combination of spare rooms, a caravan and a cosy tent on the veranda. Although there were possibly too many people for the jobs required, it made for a rich and fulfilling experience, especially at dinner time when the 13 of us would be seated on the long table enjoying a sumptuous meal and lively chatter with a fire blazing in the background.

There were two main jobs on the farm; milking the goats and making the fresh milk into cheese in the process room. Milking the goats involved moving the 140 odd mainly Saanen herd, and two jet black alpacas (who thought they were goats) in from a large paddock on a neighbouring farm. They were calmly herded beside the railway line and down the long driveway with the help of the working dogs; Pippa. Jojo and Ricky into the Dairy in a converted barn. The Dairy used a herring bone set up able to milk 12 goats at a time while they munched on their lucerne , and only took about 5 minutes to extract the milk once the 2 cups were placed on. I had experienced cows being milked in herring bone sheds in my childhood, which as I recall was fraught with danger from bodily fluids raining down on you when you were in the pit, however goats seem much more cleaner and usually calmer beasts to deal with. Once the whole herd has been milked, there was the clean up of the yard and Dairy, then the goats (and 2 alpacas) are returned to the paddock, to feed and spend their time looking for weak spots in the fence so they can break out of their large lush green paddock and play chicken with a passing train. Unlike cows, the goats were only milked once a day, usually after breakfast and would take around 3 hours to complete, at which time lunch would be looming.

Leigh in action at milking time

The process room involved a lot of cleaning, all equipment and containers had to be thoroughly scrubbed with detergent before being rinsed and put in a bath of sterilising solution before being used or placed back into the coolroom. Cheese-making involved pouring the fresh milk (usually on the day of milking) into a large vat and with a sprinkle of rennet and calcium, heat, time and maybe some salt and vinegar, a lot of care and love. this milk would turn into some glorious cheeses. Bookara specialised in goats curd, Persian and pressed feta, Haloumi, ricotta, drinking yoghurt and fresh milk. Most of the time is spent packing the cheese into tubs and labelling etc. They sell their wears at 4 Farmers Markets in Perth each weekend, and direct to a number of cafes and Restaurants in WA as well as the Geraldton Farmers Market up the road each Sunday. We had the privilege of being cheese sellers on a wet cold quiet Sunday, but because of the quality of the product it still sold well, with many regulars returning each week to buy the cheese. It was a wonderful experience to be involved in the whole process from udder to market and something we would not have dreamed of doing if it wasn’t for Helpx.

Steamed up making Riccotta, and using the finished product to make pancakes

There is all manner of odd jobs and chores to do around the house and farm too; Leigh and I shared the jobs with Leigh usually heading out in the morning whilst I Entertained Emily, often getting Lunch and Dinner ready, and then we would swap in the afternoon and I would do some farm work. Being in the rural community, neighbours help each other out, so Mark subcontracted some of house to work on a neighbouring sheep and cattle farm to help with tailing and vaccinating lambs which was a great experience.

For us our biggest delight was seeing Emily adapt to farm life, she really thrived in this environment; she loved playing with the 3 boys when they came home from school, as well as interacting with all the adults in her own adorable way, she became the centre of attention, and she doesn’t shy away from attention! We have been lucky so far; as a 2 year old Emily will give most foods a go, this included Bookara’s range and she developed a real love for their natural probiotic rich yogurt, demanding Ogurt every morning! Emily loves animals and there are 4 dogs at Bookara which she adored and quickly learnt their names, as well as 2 cats; Panda and Scratchy which lived up to her name but that didn’t deter Emily either. Then there were all the goats, Emily would usually make an appearance at milking time in her unicorn boots, feed the goats by hand, and be in the ute when herding them back to their paddock, yelling commands to Jojo and Pippa from the back seat. To cap it all off she witnessed some chickens hatching out of their eggs in an incubator; never a dull moment on the farm.

Emily and Pipa

We couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into Helpxing, and are grateful for the Weston family’s generous hospitality and accommodating our situation, we never were quite sure that we were contributing enough between us, but we got stuck in and hopefully helped in some way. This will be the first of many volunteering positions, and if we end up heading back down the WA coast we will be sure to pop into Bookara to help out again.

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