Touchwood Goat Dairy
NO KIDDING: Touchwood Dairy Farm owners David and Sonia Thomasson treat their dairy goat herd like family. IMAGE: Supplied
WHEN it comes to creating top quality goat milk products, Touchwood Dairy Farm owners David and Sonia Thomasson aren't kidding around.
The couple have run dairy goats for the past 20 years, moving into full time dairying four years ago at their 13 hectares (33 acres) Strathblane property - home to Tasmania's first LaMancha dairy goat herd.
"Farming has always been our love and dairy goats are a unique niche in that area.
They are more like our pets rather than livestock," Sonia said, adding the couple are very involved in the daily life of their herd.
Running a licensed dairy and working closely with the local council, the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority and Australian Industrial Chemical Introduction Scheme - the pair are proud to produce a line of delicious goat milk products from scratch, including gelato and skin care products.
Located in the far south of the state, Touchwood has recorded little rain over the summer with Sonia and David witnessing the land slowly change to reflect the poor season.
"We feel very lucky to live in a high rainfall area but we are even feeling the dry conditions down here."
Focusing on ethical, earth-kind farming practices, the pair use permaculture and no-till management on their pasture, with the goats selectively grazing native grasses and native scrub on a rotational basis to allow for regeneration.
Meeting the nutritional needs of the herd, Sonia and David also ensure the goats have access to a suitable diet and feed their high-producing milkers a small ration of specially formulated dairy feed from TAS Stockfeeds.
"They have a high mineral diet so need herbage and bushes rather than just grass to keep them healthy. The right diet will help with their parasite burdens as well.
"Pasture hay is important in their diet during most of the year in our area because our pastures are so diverse, hay buffers the goats rumen so dietary scours don't become a problem."
"Our farm is a huge biodiversity area and we manage our goats to weed out invasive species which supports the habitat," Sonia said, adding they are focused on gradually increasing the soils carbon retention by top-dressing with composted barn manure.
"This is an ongoing process and, gradually, we are achieving a resilient native grassland which will hopefully survive drought, flood and bushfire disasters in the future."
The Touchwood herd is treated by Sonia and David as an extension of their family. "Mothers raise their own kids, [are] never stressed by overproduction and get to retire on the farm," Sonia said.
"Because we become very attached to each doe, we wouldn't have it any other way. Our aim is not to make the most money from our farm but to make the best living with our farm. "Dairy has had a hard time with image [but] ethical, clean dairy is possible and it is a big part of the future."
The majority of the Touchwood milking herd is comprised of LaMancha dairy goats, with hopes to improve genetic lines and increase herd numbers through kid retention.
Importing purebred does from a NSW breeder three years ago, Sonia and David say they have found LaMancha goats to be high producing, highly intelligent animals with a docile personality and are "beautifully suitable to our cold wet winters in the far south".
"We are eagerly awaiting on an additional buck from NSW from new bloodlines in the USA." Having now finished their joining program, which runs from March to April, Sonia and David must now patiently await the arrival of the next drop of kids, with does due at the end of August and September.
"Most years we also plan a late summer drop which evens out our milk supply."
Originally making small batch, cold processed goat milk soaps and lotions, the Touchwood range has expanded recently to include Cajeta (a luxurious goat milk caramel), along with an egg and gluten free gelato.
"Cajeta and gelato are the perfect introduction for people who are a little hesitant to try goat milk products as they are so mild and instantly acceptable to everyday Tasmanians."
Using all of their own milk in the products allows for a later start to the day with milking beginning at around 8am, followed by bottle feeding the kids. The milking does then take the herd out to graze, while Sonia and David make their products in a nearby commercial kitchen.
"Our products are quite different to many goat dairy products on the market, they are very mild in flavour and change with the seasons," Sonia said. "Making small batch products from that very mornings milking, treating our milk gently and keeping things as fresh as possible give people a real taste of how exceptional goat dairy can be."
Sonia said Touchwood does currently average 3L/day, though some produce much more depending on the season. "After breeding in autumn, they start to lessen their loads which is why we split our breeding into an early and late drop to even out our supply. Luckily our product demand naturally increases in summer alongside our milk supply."
Special preparations are made on Saturdays when milking must begin at 4am in order for the pair to arrive in time to set up at the local markets.
"We like to meet the public personally, that's why Salamanca Market is so important. We can meet customers personally and they can see who we are and what we do."
Along with market days, Sonia and David also proudly open their farm gate every Sunday for visitors to meet their herd and see what's involved in an ethical farming business, first-hand.
Looking to the future, the pair are excited to establish an on-farm kitchen and cheesery. "We are putting in the hard yards to develop our micro-cheesery to surpass industry standards and look forward to being able to produce our mild flavoured goat cheeses on farm as well.
"There is a big gap in the market for goat dairy in Australia - especially Tasmanian, ethically produced dairy."
*First published April 2022 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.