Superior goats and award-winning cheeses
Farmer's Weekly|April 16, 2021
Rina Belcher runs Belnori Boutique Cheesery, a Saanen goat-breeding and cheesemaking operation near Bapsfontein in Gauteng. Pieter Dempsey spoke to her about raising her animals and creating a diverse range of products, including soft and hard cheeses, a number of which have garnered prestigious awards.

Rina Belcher and her husband Norman bought their smallholding in Bapsfontein, east of Johannesburg, in 2003, with the idea of running a small agribusiness on it. While considering their options, they read an article in Farmer’s Weekly about a couple in the Western Cape who ran an artisanal cheesery. Inspired by the idea, they attended a cheesemaking course, bought a Saanen ram and four ewes, and began producing cheese in small quantities and selling it at a local craft market. Thus began Belnori Boutique Cheesery.

At this stage, Belcher was still employed in the corporate world and had to do most of the cheesemaking after hours. Despite this constraint, the couple’s hard work and attention to detail soon paid off, and they won two second-place prizes for their goat’s milk in 2004, the first of numerous awards.

Belcher retired about six years later, enabling her to focus fully on cheesemaking. By that stage, their flock had grown to 65, and today stands at 150 ewes and eight rams.

Belnori’s awards tally has grown no less impressively, and currently totals 68 SA Champion Cheeses (including the 2019 Dairy Product of the Year) and 24 medals at the World Cheese Awards.

The couple supply their products to restaurants, hotels, lodges and cheese shops across the country. They also expanded recently into agritourism, and now run their own cheese shop as well as a small coffee shop on the farm.

GOAT PRODUCTION

All the milk for Belnori cheeses is supplied on farm. Belcher is in charge of the cheesery, while Norman runs the flock as an intensive operation.

The animals receive a specially formulated feed tailored to their production stage: lactating feed during milking, maintenance feed during dry periods, and creep feed for the kids.

Belcher explains that the protein content of the feed needs to be between 18% and 20%, and they supplement the feed with Eragrostis to provide roughage in the diet.

“Goats don’t do well on other types of roughage such as teff, as it doesn’t agree with their rumens,” she says.

Belnori’s goats receive standard vaccinations annually and are treated for illness as required. They are also given vitamins.

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