The couple was working in the mining industry all over the continent, including countries such as Angola, Congo, Ghana, Mali and the Ivory Coast, and it was a given that they would put down roots in a place where they would be surrounded by nature.
Hennie always took the opportunity to travel wherever they were stationed. “Seeing how the locals live, what they do and so on, it made it easier to decide to settle in a single place. We are not city types. I have always been a bush person. First during my career in the military and also working as an operations manager in different African countries, I was out in the bush. That is why the Lowveld was the ideal place for us to settle down,” he says.
“That and the warm weather. It was by far the better option between here and Belgium,” laughs An. She remembers taking Hennie there to meet the family in February 2006. “Not only was it cold, but there was little to no sunshine at the time and that was it, we came here and found our place.”
Her only request was that she wanted a lot of animals. “Working all over in foreign countries you cannot keep a pet and I love animals. Currently, on the farm, we have two cats, three dogs, a parrot, 25 geese and 110 dairy goats,” An boasts.
After they had acquired the land, it was only a matter of deciding what to do to keep them busy. Hennie always wanted to be a farmer and this was the ultimate opportunity to start something unique in the Lowveld. Most goat breeders and farmers are based in the Cape provinces.
The pair was fortunate to purchase 22 dairy goats from a farmer in the Aliwal North district. These were given pink tags on their ears and were identified by a letter of the alphabet – so they were dubbed R or I bok. The strange thing is that over time they actually started reacting to these names. A select few have since been christened, like Beauty, Ouma, and Daisy.
The first year was a huge learning curve for Hennie, Ann, and the goats. Farming with any animals in the Lowveld can be challenging because of the prevalence of bacterial diseases as well as those spread by ticks and flies – and the region is known for its magnitude of creepy-crawlies.
“We were fortunate to have André Beytell to help with the inoculations against heartwater, to establish a yearly vaccination schedule and advise us about when a goat does not look happy and healthy,” Hennie states.
In the first year they had the livestock, they would milk the goats themselves, under a tree. They still do the milking as this allows them to see each one from head to tail. It makes it easier to pick up problems such as wounds and ticks, and then treat them accordingly.
Their veterinary bill is probably higher than a breeder’s in Gauteng or the Cape, but this doesn’t mean that it is impossible to farm with dairy goats in this region, though, and the Le Rouxs are far from quitting.
Traditionally goats are kept for household purposes. They do well in any environment and will fare much better on poor grazing where cows cannot economically be kept. The most common dairy or milk-producing breeds are the Saanen and the Toggenburg. These breeds are of Swiss origin.
According to the SA Milch Goat Breeder’s Society, there are 28 active breeders in the country.
The trick is to control the breeding. Generally, a nanny’s heat season lasts from February to July. They become sexually mature within the first year. “We prefer to breed the females only once they are 18 months or older. The dairy goat is generally smaller than the Boer goat variety which is bred for its meat,” Hennie explains. They also keep the billy goats away from the females, especially during the rutting season.
During this time, the males become rather messy. They urinate on their hooves and even try to drink it, which in turn stains their faces bright yellow. This, of course, causes them to have an extremely pungent smell. If the females are then kept in the camp next door, the milk has an unpleasant taste.
Generally, it is best to keep the billy goats separate from the nannies due to the pungency of the males’ pheromones that could affect the taste of the milk.
Goats in general breed relatively easily. Females are known to birth twins or even triplets. Contrary to most dairy farmers, they leave the kid with its mother until it is weaned instead of bottle-feeding it with a milk replacer. Separating the youngster from its mother creates stress. The nanny usually produces more milk than what the kid needs, and it allows the Le Rouxs to still get to milk their share after the kid has had its fill.
If the mother is a good milk producer the female offspring will be too. “Regulating the mating of these mature goats in sections or groups ensures that we produce milk throughout the year.“
Interestingly, Hennie tells us that most of their clients are families with children who are allergic to cow’s milk. Goat’s milk is also good for people with digestive problems. What’s more, the milk from goats receiving medication is discarded immediately and not used or sold.
Once they had the milking under control, An started making cheese. Being from Belgium, where you find 250 varieties of cheese, she had a lot she wanted to try out.
Any cheesemaker worth his mould will tell you that making cheese in the Lowveld climate can be challenging. Most of that made in their first year was given away to friends and clients who would buy milk from them.
Many South Africans aren’t too familiar with goat’s cheese. Generally, it is seen as an exotic food and the most common kind of goat’s cheese found on the shelves, is the soft-cheese logs. These are usually rolled in spices and herbs such as ground pepper, paprika, Italian herbs or garlic. An makes the cheese logs and they are her bestsellers. She hopes to educate Lowvelders on the taste sensations of matured goat’s cheese.
“We don’t want it all to look and be the same,” ventures Hennie, as An thoughtfully unpacks the variety of fresh and mature cheeses she already has for sale. The soft logs are ideal as a spreadable cheese. “I do age them for about a week as this will still be spreadable. Some of the hand-rolled logs I leave to age for up to eight weeks.”
Cheese does not do well in high-temperature climates, thus An ages her small batches in the fridges where she can regulate the temperature.
“There is a high hill at the back and I’m trying to convince Hennie to dig me a cheese cave,” she laughs. With their combined knowledge of mining and geology, they might find more than just sand and stone.
Upon tasting the goods, fresh goat’s cheese has a citrusy, lemony flavour to it. Savouring the various soft cheeses that An lays before us, it soon becomes clear that she has the art down to perfection. The one-week matured goat cheese log has a strong, salty flavour and this medium-firm variety is ideal as a snack on fresh crackers or toast. The citrus tone is noticeable when you bring the cheese under your nose and onto the tip of your tongue.
The longer the cheese is left to age, the drier, firmer, more crumbly it becomes, and the flavour is more pronounced. The eight-week-old goat cheese log is great for grating over pizzas and pastas. Shavings of this over a fresh garden salad will give it a French taste.
A cheese dubbed “Little Goat” by An is matured over two to three weeks. Its zesty flavour is a little more distinct and it has become saltier to the taste yet is still soft and creamy. The older the cheese, the better the flavour and easier to keep in a fridge.
“I like to age ‘Little Goat’. By eight weeks it is less salty and the taste has mellowed. It has a creamier consistency too,” An explains.
At the moment they make two kinds of mould-ripened varieties. One she calls a “Touch of Blue” contains a pinch of blue mould and the other, Sadiola, tastes similar to Camembert. “I am working on creating a Gouda style and have already begun to develop a real blue cheese. But cheesemaking is trial and error. I thus get the opportunity to experiment,” she smiles.
The blue cheese we taste was matured over three months and it is rich and creamy. We recommend it to those real cheese lovers.
An’s goal is to create a range of two or three young varieties, two kinds of Gouda or Edam-style goat’s cheese and also have two or three different aged cheeses that will have more flavour and will find favour with connoisseurs. She also makes a thick creamy, Greek-style plain yogurt that is delicious with fresh fruit and a light drizzle of pure honey.
“If you can’t work at this as a team with your partner, I would say, ‘Don’t do it’. If you do, be passionate about it,” muses Hennie.
Get in touch
Contact Hennie and An le Roux at Sadiolafarm@gmail.com or 071-581-7742