Dairy goat sideline that just grows and grows…
Dairy goats were going to be a diversification
for Essex farmer George Dawson.
But events conspired to make them
his main enterprise. Tessa Gates
found a success story in the making
AN ADVERT in farmers weekly two years ago set George Dawson on the road to goat farming. He knew very little about the animals when he bought the Rozbert Goat Dairy and transferred the herd and its yogurt making business to Kings Farm, Pebmarsh, Essex.
The 324ha (800-acre) arable farm with its 10,000t grain store belongs to his parents Richard and Catharine, and they were looking for a diversification. "They felt arable incomes were getting tight and the storage market was drying up and we wanted another string to our bow," explains George.
The goat business had its attractions for George – no subsidies and no quotas equals no government interference and this is something farming may have to adjust to in the future, he feels. But barely before the goats had been bedded down, the farm plans had to be revised.
"The day after we bought the goats my Dad fell off a ladder and was unable to drive for five months. The dairy business had a round of established outlets for the natural and bio-yogurts in London and I found myself trying to do it all," he recalls.
* Early deliveries
George had to set off for London at 4am to deliver the yogurts, return to milk the goats, make the yogurts, clean the dairy, see to the animals and everything else before finally falling into bed around midnight. After three weeks he sold the delivery business to a wholesaler. "I couldnt cope with it all without father."
Then his father decided to retire and let out much of the farm. "We will be down to 130 acres by the end of the year," says George. Fortunately his 130 milking goats and 50 young stock are permanently housed so do not need acres of pasture. "They are very bad at grazing, they browse and pull things out by the roots. They are also very intelligent and they jump."
They certainly do and the odd escapologist was running round on the wrong side of the fence in their nice new barn when Farmlife visited the farm. George has had a steep learning curve to follow but is now a committed goat enthusiast. The goats kid throughout the year in batches of about 30. "We kid them as rarely as possible, about every 18 months as there is no market for the kids."
"I did not think the animal lectures I had at college would ever be needed on this farm but now I am having to learn about breeding as I want to cross the British Saanens – which are good yielders, with British Alpines which are not such high yielders but give high protein/high solids milk," explains George. He has also learnt how to make cheese this year.
* Health wholesaler
"When we bought the business we just made natural and bio yogurts that had been sold into London for years. We have added a health store wholesaler and sales in that quarter are increasing week on week.
Last Christmas I decided to find more products and started to develop fruit yogurts and cheese and have been selling these since February. Goats cheese is very much a niche market and we make a full cream cheese that is mild and creamy. It retails for £1.86 a 125g pot and is selling very quickly. In the last few months I have started delivering the whole range to 18 local shops and orders through these and the wholesalers are doubling every few weeks.
"Soon we will start producing a lightly pressed cheese sold in a wooden box and this will be made to order."
The goats are fed on a GMO-free diet of BOCM cake. "The price of our products went up when we switched to it 18 months ago but sales went up too," says George, who now employs a milker and a part time dairy worker.
He has found marketing "a nightmare" but nevertheless seems to be making a good job of it, helped by the regional food group Tastes of Anglia and some well designed posters and brochures for retailers to display. The business has recently gone into profit.
"I think I would make more money if I just bought in the milk but I prefer the hands-on approach," says George. "The main thing is that I want to stay in farming. At present I rent land from my father on very favourable terms but, hopefully, I will eventually be able to buy my father out."
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Heres looking at you, kid: Inquisitive young stock (above).
George Dawson (right) with his dairy goats which average 2.5 litres/milk a day.