Goats – climate culprits or caretakers?

The reputation of domesticated ruminators as climate culprits has became spread in later years, due to their large emissions of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4). Especially cows in meat and dairy production are considered liable for a remarkable high share of the climate changing emissions, but other ruminators such as sheeps and goats are considered polluters, even if they don’t get as much attentions as the farting cows, as their total emission of carbon dioxide equivalents are lower due to smaller size and lesser numbers.

Hawaii - the peaceful goat
Hawaii – the most peace loving goat in the world, eating her favorite lunch. Maple leaves.

How bad are goats then? They’re small and cute, smells good (well, a doe does) and never farts loudly in public. Their ability to feed from forage inaccessible to other livestock, like bushes and leaves, makes them a great tool in keeping biodiversity and stimulate growth in young trees and herbs, leading to a greater uptake of carbon dioxide from the air. But do they actually pollute more more than they clean up?

There are actually a lot of studies published on the topic methane emission from goats, mostly from an economical view, since methane emission is considered a loss in energy uptake, that indicates a suboptimal ration.

When I started digging deeper in this issue, I realized that most goats in the studies where fed a completely different diet than our goats are. While our goats grazes freely during the six warm months eating a mix of grass, leaves, bark and needles, and during the winter eats mostly hay combined with spruce and pine needles, the goats in the studies where fed a single feed, chosen for optimizing milk production or feeding costs.

I got the notion that most goats in industrialized production are not getting their natural forage, and if they do, not in a natural mix. I know what usually happens to me when I do that to myself.

This study, Murciano-Granadina Goat Performance and Methane Emission after Replacing Barley Grain with Fibrous By-Products suggests that the ordinary forage of barley grain can be substituted with high fibrous orange peel or soy been hulls, without increasing methane emission. That is a good thing from a economical view, because those by-products probably is extraordinary cheap, but it says nothing about what a natural methane emission is, since all three rations are unnatural to a goat.

Another common mistake is to consider sheep and goats the same, as in this study: Energy metabolism and methane production in llamas, sheep and goats fed high- and low-quality grass-based diets. where goats, sheep and llamas are given a low fibrous and a high fibrous grass and the difference in methane emission is recorded. Only llamas showed lesser methane emission on the high fibrous diet. My conclusion: goats, nor sheep, do not do well on llama food.

What is the source of the methane then? The complex hydrocarbons in the food needs to be broken down into less complex molecules to be possible to absorb for the animal. In a ruminators digestion, this is an extremely complex process, with enzymes, yeast and bacteria working together decomposing those structures. Goats differs from sheep and cows, since they have an extremely fast digestion, giving them the possibility to decompose the most complex hydrocarbons, lignins, found in wood and all durable structures in the world of plants. The key to achieving this is mostly certain bacterial fermentation processes in the rumen. These bacteria seems to be increasing in numbers when the goat eats a lot of roughage, but decreases when the goat eats a lot of starch and sugars. Instead a methane producing bacteria increases when shorter hydrocarbons are digested.

This study: Methane emission by goats consuming diets with different levels of condensed tannins from lespedeza suggest a very interesting view, that in fact tannins are the key to reduce methane emissions. Even if the study is performed on forage consisting of only two species, the forage is more natural to the goat than in the other studies reviewed. The results is that when the goats are fed with a high tannin forage, the methane emission drops quadratically. The adaptation time of 4-6 days to the high tannin forage is another indicator of transformation in the bacterial balance.

In the study, two kinds of forage, sorghum grass and Kobe lespedeza (a legume, like clover or peas) are compared in different rations, 0/100, 33/67, 67/33 and 100/0. Where the 100% grass diet shows no drop in methane emission after 6 days, the 100% legume diet reduced the methane emission by 50% on day 5. After 20 days, the high tannin legume diet remained at low emission rates (from 10.3 to 10.9 l/day), while the 100% grass diet emission rate was drastically increased (from 20.4 to 26.2 l/day).

Tannins are found in many of the goats natural sources of roughage, such as leaves, bark, needles and branches. When the goat is allowed to forage freely in a diverse environment, the level of tannins would be significantly higher than when grassfed or grainfed.

Aren’t those tannins poisonous then? Yes, to cattle, sheep, and especially horses, a tannin fueled diet, such as lots of oak and beech leaves would be lethal. For a goat though, a much higher level of tannins seems to be acceptable. Several studies suggest that oak leaves are not only nutritious and reduces goat gasses, they also reduce nematode infections.

Amanda Karlsson in Effekten av toxiciteten hos ek för get, får och nötkreatur discusses the effects of oak leaves on goats, sheep and cattle, and concludes that oak toxication on goats are not likely, given they have the choice of eating the right amount.

J.Raju et. al. in Effect of feeding oak leaves (Quercus semecarpifolia vsQuercus leucotricophora) on nutrient utilization, growth performance and gastrointestinal nematodes of goats in temperate sub Himalayas suggests that forage with much higher tannin content than the Swedish oak are suitable for goats in the Himalayans, and protects against parasites.

Content of condensed tannins in the studies performed:

Forage CT g/kg dry matter
Kobe lespedeza 151
Quercus semecarpifolia (himalayan oak) 170
Quercus robur (Swedish oak) 78

Several studies suggest that the amount of tannins in leaves varies over the seasons and peaks in mature autumn leaves, so the figures are just to get an estimation.

Florida, feasting on hazel leaves

How bad is a goat emitting 10 liters of methane a day? At a methane density of 0.656 g/l, that means 6.56 grams/day. Converting with a carbon dioxide equivalent of 25 for methane gives 164 grams of CO2/day, which is about what a medium car emits on a 1 km ride, or what burning 0.7 dl of petrol emits, like running a chainsaw for 3-5 minutes.

So what all this sums up to, is that a goat can be made into a farting climate culprit when fed with the wrong stuff, but keeping the feed varied and close to the goats natural supply will drastically reduce methane emissions and keep the goats healthy, while minimizing losses in energy uptake.

The goats will still emit some methane, but the carbon emitted will come from the current coal cycle and can be compared to burning wood, in contrary to other methods of keeping the landscape open and diverse, as clearing with fossile fueled machines. If the goats provides you with cheese and meat as by products, that will be a bonus for you and the climate.

Fossil free clearing


Wooden food

The forests have always had a crucial role in the Swedish economy. They have given us fuel, building materials, paper and chemicals, but also a habitat for a rich wildlife, and highly valued recreational areas.

In old times,  cattle was often kept in the forest. Feeding on leaves, herbs and barch, the forest gave an addition to a scarce feedstock, but modern breeds are no longer able to both survive and give milk or meat on such frugal diet.

Goats on the other hand,  has a much more efficient digestion, and is actually the only domesticated ruminator capable of digesting wood fibres and lignine into sugars.  So when your goat heard browses the forests for brush, barch, sticks and spruce needles, and then returns to the barn in the evening to get milked, you actually conduct a refinement process where the input is cheap and abundant cellulose, and the output is exclusive and nutritious milk proteins. The production of proteins for the human diet through livestock handling is often referred to as unfriendly to the environment, with high water consumption  and much larger areas needed than for the equivalent calories from vegetables and grain. The conversion of cellulose to go at milk proteins and buckling meat does not have the same problems, since the forest mostly grows on improductive soil,  suitable for nothing else than forest. The forest does not need to be watered nor fertilized, neither does it suffer from pests and draught as easily as field crops. 

I said a hip HOPS, The hippie, the hippie, To the hip, hip HOPS, and you don’t stop, a rock it…

Hops are growing

One of the first things we did after buying the farm in 2015, was to get some root sprouts from three different kinds of hops and plant them in front of the house. They like to climb high so we used two thin birch trees to make giant props.

IMG_20160821_095002 (1)

The first year they did not yield that much, and unfortunately one of the plants did not survive the winter. But the two that did made lots of little cones this year! We used a nifty little dryer to dry them (the dryer was of course DIY automated – maybe there will be more about that in a seperate blog-post…)


Finally we them packaged them into conspicuos-looking zip-loc baggies and they are now being stored in the freezer until it is time to brew some awesome beer with our very own hops!


Defcon #24 and small scale farming

What did this years version of the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas have to tell about small scale farming? Nothing directly, being that kind of  happening where the participants and speakers seem to thrive in cellars and abandoned mines, rather than the open air. Indirectly, a lot.

The theme this year was Human vs Machines, and of course, the internet of things was among the most frequent topics. It’s always amusing to watch hackers exploit old gadgets that their manufacturers given a prolonged product cycle by connecting them to the internet, and pranking the neighbours by exposing their porn surfing habits through a vulnerable online toaster mostly raise the question: why did that guy buy a connected toaster?

So why should the small scale farmer be concerned about IoT security (except for the earlier mentioned reason)? The first link in the food supply chain is about to get more complex, as the demand for both locally produced and refined food grows. The specialized farmers that sells crop, meat or milk to industrialized facilities will have a hard time competing with producers that controls the complete value chain, from hay to cheese and steak, and understand to add ethical, esthetical and cultural value to their products.

There are two ways for the small scale farmer to accomplish a substancial increase in value, either by focusing on cultural and estethical factors, and become artisans, or by focusing on efficiency and interamplifying (is that a word?) processes. It’s with the interamplifying processes the internet of things makes its entrance. Automation, surveillance and statistics might not add the cultural value of a handmade cheese from Grannies recipe, but it ensures high food quality, and uniform products even in small batches, and that will allow you to make a larger variety of products, without being an master artisan in every field.

So the sensors and relays that will help you make the best food on the market, will they work for you, or for anyone that comes by digitally? Their information can be a great asset, as they provide the customer with unique data about their meal, but if you expose the controls, you also expose the possibility to replicate or sabotage your products. That’s the downside of shifting knowledge from human to machine.

In the great battle between man and machine, the machines are definitely winning. Knowledge is power, and we keep rely on the knowledge we stuff into machines, while we stress our brains back to the stoneage in our efforts to keep up with them. It’s when we taste the delicious cheese that where made with their help and without our efforts, that we realize who the real winner is. Just keep your networks segmented.

Mölkky step-by-step

The finnish game Mölkky is fun to play, but Nils said ”No way we are buying a bunch of numbered sticks. We’ll make our own!”

Step 1 – get wood. 

Step 2 – cut it into 12 pieces, plus an extra piece for throwing. 

Step 3 – cut the tips off of the 12 pieces, diagonally.

Step 4 – number the pieces and set up the game!

Step 6 – set it up again..!

Final step – playtime 😄

DIY yoghurt maker

Even if we only milk one of our goats for the moment (and she is a low producer that give approximately half of her milk to a very hungry kid when they are together in the pasture), the milk bottles is filling up the fridge faster than we can consume it. We’ve already quit buying milk for drinking, coffee and cooking, so the next product to make ourselves will be yoghurt.

The process is rather simple, take some milk, pasteurize it if you don’t trust your hygiene, add bacterias and keep the temperature at the optimal level for as long as it takes for the bacterias to consume all accessible lactose and lower the pH to uncomfortable levels.

You can do this in your oven, but the temperature control will be crude, which results in runny and uneven yoghurt. There are yoghurt machines, not that expensive, that controls the temperature very well, but they don’t know when to turn themselves off, so you still have to watch it, or set the timer out of your best guesses.

Since my Diy wireless pH-sensor gives me the two variables I need to control the process (temperature and pH), I figured that I only needed a heat source.  Then I found something even better at a second hand store; a portable 12V peltier cooler/heater from Waeco, made in the early 90’s, featuring such elegant solutions as switching between heat and cold by turning the electricity cord, thus switching polarity.

This makes the perfect completely automatic yoghurt maker, since it both keeps the heat at an even level, and when the right pH is achieved, cools the yoghurt down to fridge temperature. Just throw in some milk and culture in a jar (or a teapot) and leave.

The controller is very simple. Since the only functionality needed that the waeco box didn’t handle, was the ability to turn on and off and switch polarity remotely, I connected a L298b motor driver and a NRF24L radio to an Arduino nano. The L298b module is normally used to turn DC motors forward and backward, but that could be applied to the peltier element in the box to make it hot or cold as well. Unfortunately, the L298b was only capable of 4 amps in throughput, and the waeco transformer supplied more even though it was specified for 4, resulting in a very hot chip. The solution was to use 2 L298b in parallell. Power cables as well as signal cables to the arduino.


The chips were still hot, but with a cooling fan from a PC chassi, they are now cold and very cool. I connected the fan to the input side to let it consume some power and make it easier for the L298b. That means that the fan is always on, which might be unnecessary.

The Arduino code for the controller is also really simple. I used the mysensors.org sample code for relay and made two adjustments: increasing the numbers om relays to at least 3 (I actually enabled 6, as there might be need for using the second channel on the L298b in the future, but for this functionality, you only need 3) and enabling pwm on the pins that controls on/off. I haven’t used pwm for anything yet, but that will allow me to control the current from the L298b output (speed, heat etc.).

The logic is placed in the home automation system I have running on a Raspberry pi. It is currently Fhem, but any system with support for the Mysensors library will work. Fhem is a quite complex system with lot of forum material in german, but if you are comfortable with both German and Perl, there is no more powerful home automation system in my opinion.

The controller presents itself in Fhem when the gateway is in inclusion mode, and this is the fhem.cfg code that is generated (with som additions):


attr MYSENSOR_10 IODev gateway
attr MYSENSOR_10 alias Youghurt maker
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch1 1 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch2 2 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch3 3 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch4 4 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch5 5 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mapReading_switch6 6 switch
attr MYSENSOR_10 mode repeater
attr MYSENSOR_10 room Dashboard,Mysensors
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch1 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch2 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch3 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch4 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch5 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 setReading_switch6 on,off
attr MYSENSOR_10 version 2.0.0

We can se that all 6 relays shows up, but I have only found use for three.

The logic doesn’t show up by itself so here I had to do som actual brainwork.

I found some excellent thruth tables here and got the following pin/switch setup:

Switch1/ENA: Main power 1=on, 0=off



Positive direction / heat: switch1 = 1, switch2 = 1, switch3 = 0

Negative direction / cold: switch1  = 1, switch2 = 0, switch3 = 1

Power off: switch1 = 0


The yogurt culture I am using prefers a temperature of 43 C and I will let it work until it has reached a pH of 4.20. I’ve hardcoded those levels in my config file for now, but an improvement will be to create a device that changes these values.

I want the machine to:

  • Rise and hold the temperature on 43 C.
  • Do that until pH has dropped to 4.20
  • Then cool it down as much as possible

That is achieved with the following code in fhem.cfg:

define phNotify notify MYSENSOR_118:temperature.* {if (ReadingsVal("MYSENSOR_118", "temperature", 0) > 43 ) { fhem("set MYSENSOR_10 switch1 off") } elsif(ReadingsVal("MYSENSOR_118", "temperature1", 0) > 4.25) {fhem("set MYSENSOR_10 switch1 on;; set MYSENSOR_10 switch2 on;; set MYSENSOR_10 switch3 off")} elsif(ReadingsVal("MYSENSOR_118", "temperature1", 0) < 4.25) {fhem("set MYSENSOR_10 switch1 on;; set MYSENSOR_10 switch2 off;; set MYSENSOR_10 switch3 on")}}

Worth mentioning is that the pH-sensor is called MYSENSOR_118 and its temperature sensor reports as temperature, while its pH-sensor reports as temperature1.

So this is the result. The red line is temperature, starting at fridge temperature at 6C and rising steadily to 43C where it plans out. Meanwhile the green bars representing the pH goes from 6.5 to 4.4 (at the time of the screenshot).

Obviously, the Waeco box isn’t made for heating, rather than keeping a temperature. The slow rise of about 8-9 degrees/hour making it 5 hour until optimal temperature is reached, is not acceptable. Heating the milk before putting it in the box is one easy solution, another is to never cool it down and let it go directly from the udder to the box.


Is it true what they say about goat milk?

When you search the internet for information about goat milk, it’s easy to think that you’ve discovered a miracle food, that the rest of the stupid western world either know very little about, or has been taught by religiously induced habits and commercial efforts from ”big dairy” to despise.

It’s also tempting to copy all these tributes to goat milk straight off, and tell all your friends to start drinking goat milk in order to cure some diseases, or at least lower the risk of catching them.  I almost started doing that, when I realized that I had no clue if it really was true, so I decided to go to the sources. The trick is, when it comes to stories about functional food and other miracle products, nobody is citing any sources. Eventually a study is referred to, but there seems to always be discrepancies between the field of study, and the point of the article. Otherwise, anecdotal evidence is popular, people who drink goat milk report that they reap great benefits like not having cancer or completely stopped passing gas.

What the field of goat milk research actually seems to boil down to, are some deductions that can be made from studies of the health effects of cow milk. We know what is bad in cow milk, and if goat milk doesn’t contain those components, we can assume that goat milk is better at least. Right?

Beta-casein and the correlation between cow milk consumption and severe diseases

The milk protein beta-casein, that is a key component in cheese, exist in two genetical variants, A1 and A2. The A1 variant seems to bee a relatively modern morph that accidentally has come to follow the trait of high milking ability in cow breeds like Holstein and Red cattle, and thus the dominant variant in industrialized milk and dairy products.

According to several studies, there is a correlation between high A1 consumption (like in Sweden and Finland), and diseases like diabetes (I), autism, schizophrenia, ischaemic heart disease and bowel inflammatory problems.



What about goat milk?


The grass is greener on the other side

When you own goats you soon discover that they are a quite difficult bunch to keep inside the fence, no matter how delicious and goat-friendly the pasture inside may seem.

That is why we are spending a lot of time putting up and re-inforcing fences!

Raoul ”helping out” as usual!

Renovating the Japanese room

The room we now call the Japanese room is the first we’ve taken on renovating. It’s supposed to be used as a small guestroom, but the japanese influence kind of invented itself. When we found a wallpaper we really liked in Warszawa, we decided to continue on the asian track, and bought dark oak floortiles that would be a nice match.

The original interior was quite old and bore marks from the intrepid design choices of the 70s, as well as many years of service as a teenager’s room.

The first time we saw the room, in january 2015


We started by tearing everything down. Ceiling, wallpapers, floormat.

Our friends Filip and Yasmina came by to help us with the destruction. After a beerwalk.


Wallpaper removal


The most exhaustive moment was the restoration of the horisontal bolts we found above the ceiling. Some bolts had a really rough finish. A few axe markings can be beautiful, but splinters and miscoloured spots had to be planed away.

The exposed planks that were to became the new ceiling was extremely hard to saturate with paint. It took several hours of stroking and splashing before we decided to cover the bolts and use the spray painter instead. Defenitely a good choice, and a lesson learned before we continue with the remaining rooms.

The bolts were oiled with brown tinted chinese wood oil.

The walls, wich we had to extend 15 cm to cover the space previously hidden between the bolts, got a layer of construction wallpaper to even out the seams. After that, the floortiles could be installed.

Did I lay the tiles, or did the tiles lay me?


Application of the final wallpaper made the whole difference.

A futon style sofa, rice lamp, and a remodeled coffee table with the remaining wallpaper under the glass, adds to the asian impression.

Good thing: the old ceiling lists could be reused as floor lists without any changes.

Bad thing: there will be a real hassle to cut out the new ceiling lists with all the joints and angles. A consecuence of solving any mismatching with the wallpaper edges with the comment: the list will cover it…

Anyway, if not finished to perfection, the room is inhabitable, and a few guests as well as ourselves, can verify that the sleep is formidable.

Diy wireless pH-meter

In cheese-making, the key to a tasty, and reproducable, cheese, is keeping track of the  exact pH and the temperature in the active culture. You can do this with manual tools, such as a kitchen thermometer and pH-strips, but the measurements will be crude, and depend on your constant presence. That leading to inconsistencies between batches,  and difficulties in tracking errors in the process.

Michel Lepage is cutting the curd. Photo taken at the craft cheese-making course we took at Eldrimner in 2014.
A digital pH-meter is expensive. You can find some from €100, but you wont get built-in temperature correction for less than €250, and wireless goes beyond €350. For continous readings and  the possibility to recalibrate your sensor yourself, instead of sending it to the manufacturer,  add a lot more… I havn’t yet found a device capable of tweeting its readings 😉

My diy pH-sensor is not exactly cheap either. It ticks in at about €150 in material costs. I’ve seen people look pensive when they see the casing, and subconsiously push it closer to the recycling, so a slightly pricier casing than the pet bottle might be an investment. Otherwise, the bill of materials looks like:


  • Atlas pH meter kit $149 (EZO version)
  • Arduino mini pro 3.3v $1.90
  • NRF24L01 radio $1
  • DS18B20 waterproof temp sensor $1.63
  • Battery holder $3
  • 2xAA batteries
  • Cables

With todays exchange rates, it translates to around €150.
If you’re setting up a new sensor network, you need a radio gateway and a computer to run the controller software on too

  • Arduino nano $6
  • NRF24L01 radio $1
  • Cables
  • Old computer or raspberry pi $25-$50

      You can order everything from ebay or aliexpress through the Mysensors store, but the items listed there may not always be availible in singel packages. Anyway, you will need more of those radios.

      Shipping is usually free from China (who is paying that?), but the pH-kit comes from the US, so add a few euros for shipping and customs.


      • Measures pH-level in fluids and semi-solid compounds.
      • Calculates the correct pH from the latest temperature reading.
      • Measures temperature
      • 30 seconds between samples.
      • Continous measuring, just leave the probe in the milk and watch the readings.
      • Wireless transfer of data to the raspberry pi based controller unit
      • Presents the readings as a datastream or in nice graphs in a web interface. Use your phone or tablet to monitor the process from anywhere.



          • FTDI USB programmer, to program the arduino  mini pro and perform calibration. If you use arduino nano instead, you can skip this, but the nano is more expensive and power consuming.
          • Soldering iron, lead, soldering paste.
          • Computer with arduino ide or codebender running.
          • Pliers, knives, screwdrivers and that kind of stuff.


          • Basic soldering. The only soldering done in my prototype is on the on/off switch. For a sturdy and reliable device to use in a kitchen environment, I recommend soldering the connections rather than using Dupont cables.
          • Basic programming. You can clone my code from codebender and hope it will work out of the box, but since things changed quickly on the internets of things, you will probably need to change some code to adapt to new version etc. So some understanding of coding will be helpful.
          • Arduino/MCU experiences. I wouldn’t recommend to make this your first microcontroller or Mysensors project. Start out with a simple blinking light and then a temperature sensor to make sure you get the IDE and Mysensors API.
          • Raspberry pi/Linux experiences. You could use a Windows computer as controller and user interface server, but if you’re up to arduino hacking, you might as well use an embedded device right away.