Very, very few farmers will give you a thank-you for a goat.
It’s got the wrong image: smallholder poverty, foraging herds in the Middle East, biblical farming in Mediterranean countries.
While farmers have little enthusiasm, an increasing number of the public see goats in a different light — because they are producers of healthy, less fattening milk, suitable for people with allergies.
Goats are upmarket, an important factor for a profitable business.
Like so many farming enterprises, the money from goat produce has tended to collect in the middle, in the hands of processors and distributors, which is why many producers distribute their own produce.
Goat’s milk retails for at least €2.50 in Ireland, far more than the £1.50 in the UK, although production costs are unlikely to vary hugely.
Commercial goat keeping continues to be quite experimental, but there are some producers who have tackled the difficulties and thrived.
Yorkshire farmers Angus and Kathleen Wielkopolski went into goats just at the time milk quotas came in, and haven’t looked back.
When they reached 500 head there was no more room on their farm, so they bought a further 550 acres at Seaton Ross, in the Vale of York, which grew to carrying 3,000 head, and now have doubled their stocking again, with another 3,000 goats near Hull. The goat’s milk price remains stable, relative to the cow’s milk price.
Dairy goats have a future — but that doesn’t make them particularly easy animals to keep. You need a few hundred for a viable full-time business, and each goat needs looking after, and in particular needs regular hoof trimming.
Their life in a shed, largely walking on straw, is very different to the rough terrain in arid climates that they are designed for, so trimming feet three times a year is necessary. It incurs a huge amount of bending down, as the maths shows that a herd of 400 provides 4,800 feet to trim annually. That’s why Peter Jenkins, with 500 goats, decided to make life easier, and built a lift to do the job. The lift is similar to those used by some sheep exhibitors, but this is far better, because it’s much quicker.
The sheep lifts use hydraulic jacks to raise the platform, okay for one or two, but far too slow and complicated when doing goats’ feet by the hundred. Peter based his on a simple lever — push it down, and the goat is lifted.
It’s the same principle as that of a popular cattle hoof treatment crush which I featured in Farm Ideas (Vol 1-2) way back in 1992.
The platform lifts from a height of 1foot to 2 feet and 6 inches. Goats are agile and find it no problem to get onto the 1 ft high platform, and this saves a lot of energy and makes the design simpler.
The platform gives Peter easy access to all four feet, with the head held in a yoke. Peter takes six to 10 minutes to tidy up each animal, which means trimming all four feet, trimming their beards to keep the drinking water clean, and he always trims the tail (which provides an indication when the animal was last looked at). The job works out at around 200 man-hours a year, and two crushes and two people.
He puts the stand in a place where there is good light, and also has three strip lamps above, so there’s no shadow. The economics of goat keeping are very different to dairy cows. They produce 500 to 1,200 litres a year, need nearly a tonne of rough hay and half a tonne of concentrates, which can be reduced by feeding some maize silage.
They are kept in sheds for much of the year. Browsing in fields keeps them fit and healthy but they don’t graze, preferring to pull down boughs from trees and picking out the hedges.
Goats are valued at £150 to £200 and need at least two square metres of shed space.
Peter milks his with adapted cow machinery.
Kids have little value, but there’s some demand for the meat from ethnic minorities in the UK.
The peasant’s animal has some attractive attributes.
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