MILKING COWS just wasn’t paying for dairy farmers Philip and Carla Battarbee.

The 60ha (147-acre) tenanted farm at Goosnargh, Lancs, had no quota of its own and leasing it at 9-10p/litre was squeezing margins too far.

Mrs Battarbee had suggested getting some goats to act as “strimmers” along the farm’s 200-metre drive, and the couple soon realised the goats could do so much more.

The couple had just begun to explore diversifying into milking goats to provide the farm with much-needed extra income, when they suffered a major blow.

Some of the dairy cows’ ration had become contaminated with urea at the factory, leading to poisoning and the loss of 54 head from their herd.

The feed company accepted liability and the matter was settled, but this difficult time stretched farm cash flows even further.

This meant it was even more important to get the goats’ milk enterprise off the ground.

“We saw an advertisement and initially bought 140 goats at 2-3 days old.

These we bucket-fed and reared until they were ready for the billy at 19 months old.”

But even the arrival of the goats brought its own share of bad luck.

“The trailer axle broke on the first trip back.”

By March 2004 the goat enterprise started to generate returns.

“We had problems with our early deliveries to a local milk buyer, but had begun to market our goats’ cheese successfully at farmers’ markets across the north-west,” says Philip.

The couple’s local NatWest agricultural manager advised on business planning and the best use of available funds.

“He can see the farm’s diversified enterprise is part of its future,” says Philip.

The next goal was to establish the cheesemaking on-farm.

This required total investment of 42,000, and NatWest was able to help the couple secure a 35% grant from Lancashire Rural Futures.

The dairy is on track to start production at the end of Sept 2005, initially handling about 150 litres a day with the remainder sold to liquid milk processor Carron Lodge.

Philip and Carla have continued to research their product, aiming for accolades at Cheshire’s Nantwich Cheese Show.

“We visited a farmer from the Sarno valley in Italy, and sought advice from other goats’ cheese makers.

Our farming future lies in concentrating on a smaller, higher-value market for our goats’ cheese.”

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