NICHE MARKETS are nothing new to Dorset farmer Tim Frost. After selling the extremely successful Childhay Manor icecream business, supplied by his dairy herd at Childhay Manor, Blackdown, he rolled over the capital gains into an equally unusual venture – goat farming. And he has made such a success of it that he now plans to expand by more than 20% over the next two years.

Mr Frost had no experience of goats when he made the decision to farm them, but research into the markets for their milk convinced him that it would be more profitable than expanding his 300-cow dairy cow herd.

He rented an extra 52ha (130 acres) and some cattle buildings at Forde Grange – part of the Forde Abbey Estate near Chard – and set about building up a 1000-strong herd. “The big problem was getting youngstock.” He had to travel the country and buy in small lots, starting out with 320 kids and some top Sanaan billies to breed with.

Mr Frost also took on some land on Salisbury Plain, where his son Will produces 400 organic sows.

Nine years later Mr Frost has reached his target of 1000 nanny goats plus 300 replacements and billies at Forde Grange. He now plans to introduce milk recording and improve his breeding strategy to boost yields. He has already lifted annual yields from 700 litres/head to 970 litres, and aims to increase that to 1200 litres over the next two years.

WORST 25%

“Our intention now is not to breed from the worst 25% of the herd. We”re also trying to get a fairly level supply of milk all year round.” The goats normally kid between January and June, but Mr Frost has started to use artificial lights and Regulin hormone to stimulate their season earlier and achieve October/November kidding.

Each nanny is scanned to see if she is in kid, gestates for 150 days, and has an average productivity of 1.8 kids a year. Male kids are difficult to sell, so must be put down at birth, and the females are weaned at two to three days old. They are all dehorned and vaccinated, with annual vet bills totalling about 7/head.

Mr Frost converted some cattle sheds and purpose built others to house the goats, which are bedded on straw over lime at a stocking rate of one to 1.4-1.6sq m (15-17 sq ft). “You couldn”t turn them out – they”d be all over Dorset.”

He produces his own grass and maize silage and feeds the goats a total mixed ration, which is spread robotically in central feeding aisles.

The goats are milked twice a day in a purpose-built 36-bay rotary parlour. They are not fed in the parlour and all attend milking, with even the billies enjoying a ride. “They are very sociable and inquisitive animals – they just want to please you,” says Mr Frost. “I prefer them to cows.”

Mr Frost sells the milk to Newquay-based dairy Cornish Country Larder, and receives 38-40p/litre for every-other-day collection, depending on milk solid content.

About 40% of the milk is sold to Tesco in liquid form, 20% is made into the soft cheese Gevrik and the remainder into hard cheeses like Village Green and goat”s cheddar. Demand for both the liquid milk – often bought by people allergic to cows” milk – and the cheese is growing rapidly.

Although the enterprise took about six years to make a profit, it is now paying off. Mr Frost”s landlord Mark Roper is also interested in working together to expand the venture. “But if we do that we”ll have to put in a new parlour so we”ll wait and see.”