In SA’S Hind­marsh Val­ley, farmer Denise Riches pas­sion­ately loves her life and dairy goats.

FEW PLACES ARE as idyl­lic for a week­end than among the pic­turesque hills of the Hind­marsh Val­ley, just 10 min­utes from Port Elliot on the south­ern Fleurieu Penin­sula. The re­gion has, af­ter all, long been the favoured play­ground of Adelaide folk. So thought Denise Riches, too, back in 2000, when she and her part­ner, James Keir­nan, flew their light air­craft over a 40-hectare area, think­ing it would be just the spot to chill out from their busy city lives. “We were look­ing for the ‘myth­i­cal’ four-hectare hol­i­day block and had looked all over South Aus­tralia by fly­ing over and look­ing at the to­pog­ra­phy,” Denise says. “We saw this beau­ti­fully laid-out block with lots of trees.” To­day, they op­er­ate the award-win­ning Hind­marsh Val­ley Dairy, run­ning 1200 dairy goats, milk­ing up to 350 of them and mak­ing cheese seven days a week, on the land that has since grown to to­tal 80 hectares. Denise works seven days with the goats, while James works off the farm in a “nor­mal” job and helps on the week­ends. A mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing, Denise is orig­i­nally from New Zealand. She was on a cor­po­rate sec­ond­ment in Adelaide in the mid-90s when she met James, an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer with a back­ground in the RAAF. Both Denise and James are recre­ational pi­lots, and when they first saw the Hind­marsh Val­ley block from the air, it seemed like their promised land. When they dis­cov­ered they could buy 40 hectares for the same price as four, “it be­came a ques­tion of what to do with all that land? So we got a few al­pacas, and then bought some an­gora goats for weed con­trol. We started with 30 and then got se­ri­ously into mo­hair pro­duc­tion. At one time, we were pro­duc­ing 30 per cent of the state’s mo­hair with 1000 goats… So we bought an ad­di­tional 40 hectares.” Then some­one hap­pened to give Denise some dairy goat kids. “I was al­ready play­ing around with cheese­mak­ing at home, and by the end of the year was pro­duc­ing some­thing ed­i­ble.” Denise had been trav­el­ling back and forth from Adelaide, but even­tu­ally, the cou­ple moved to the Hind­marsh Val­ley and she went full time into dairy­ing. They started building their herd and now breed a mix of Saa­nen, Toggen­burg and Bri­tish Alpines “to get vigour”. Denise has Swiss her­itage and has fam­ily in Switzer­land who are in­volved in cheese­mak­ing. Nev­er­the­less, goat farm­ing and cheese-mak­ing has been a huge learn­ing process. “There have been lots of chal­lenges: de­vel­op­ing recipes spe­cific to us; and that, while milk is sea­sonal, the ex­pec­ta­tion of the mar­ket is that milk is year-round, so we’ve been stag­ger­ing the herd. And then there are the sea­sons when we’re not able to cut hay,” she says. To­day, they hand-make a range of Euro­pean-style cheeses and dairy prod­ucts, from yo­ghurt, haloumi, feta, ke­fir, chevre and curds, to bot­tled milk, and are the only farm-based cheese­maker cur­rently li­censed for raw-milk cheese pro­duc­tion — a Swiss-style Emme — and bot­tled raw milk. “We make the cheese while the milk is still warm be­cause goat milk is very frag­ile; if you keep it for an ex­tended pe­riod or put it through pumps, it gets a gamey flavour,” Denise ex­plains. “We la­dle it into the vats by hand to get the clean­est flavours.” They also make a small range of cow prod­ucts with milk from a nearby dairy, in­clud­ing quark, creme frâiche and cul­tured but­ter. The farm and dairy are run sus­tain­ably and on or­ganic prin­ci­ples: “We don’t like nasty chem­i­cals. The idea of hav­ing goats in the first place was to do gen­tle weed con­trol, and we’re also aware that our mar­ket with goat milk is a health mar­ket. Our phi­los­o­phy fits with that.” Denise loves work­ing with the goats. “They are very in­ter­ac­tive and friendly, and re­late well to peo­ple,” she says. “They come to you in the pad­dock. I al­ways have favourites, and one is a girl called Boo who was born blind, but was raised with two lambs who are her ‘eyes’. Boo is an amaz­ing an­i­mal who comes in for milk­ing when I call her.” She also re­fuses to de­horn the goats; a prac­tice she be­lieves is cruel and de­prives the an­i­mals of a form of de­fence. “We have foxes and oc­ca­sion­ally wild dogs and wedge-tailed ea­gles that are quite happy to have goat for lunch.” When el­derly goats re­tire from the milk­ing shed, they live out their days in the “granny” pad­dock. “Some of my girls are 14 years old; send­ing them to the abat­toir isn’t ac­cept­able, so they stay here un­til they pass away.” James might have sold his plane long ago to pay for fenc­ing, but the cou­ple have no re­grets about mov­ing to the Hind­marsh Val­ley. “The Fleurieu is beau­ti­ful,” Denise says, though she ad­mits there’s lit­tle time af­ter milk­ing, mak­ing cheese and run­ning the farm to get out and about. How­ever, she does man­age to squeeze a bit of beauty ther­apy in. For the goats, that is. “I’m trim­ming about 40 or 50 of the girls’ nails to­day, and they en­joy it - as long as there's a bribe at­tached!"

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