Kids are key to goatmeat plans
Too often alternative
livestock production has
been a false dawn, with
many new enterprises failing
shorlty after they start.
This special, edited by
James Garner, looks at
goatmeat and cheese
production, alpacas and
deer. First Jeremy Hunt
finds out how goatmeat
might have a future
THERE is excellent potential for co-ordinated goatmeat marketing in the UK and some goat milk producers would even give away their new-born male kids to supply a formally organised scheme, West Country herd owner Alan Mowlem believes.
Mr Mowlem, who milks 550 goats near Bridgwater, Somerset, says: "There is a great opportunity for marketing goatmeat based on surplus males produced from large herds. Milk production is the goat keepers priority and although we finish a few male kids from our herd we dispose of the rest.
"Because the UK goat meat market is underdeveloped and the margins are relatively small, the logistics and cost of collecting goat kids from farms is the main problem," he says.
Mr Mowlem is a member of Goat Farmers UK. The organisation is primarily concerned with milk production from members herds which are spread from the south-west of England to Oxon. "These are large, well managed herds with some milking up to 1000 goats. We could be looking at up to 8000 surplus male kids a year produced from Goat Farmers UK alone.
"With these numbers available it would be fairly simple to set-up a central rearing unit if someone was determined enough to secure a market for the meat. It works in France and there is no reason why it shouldnt work here," he says.
Like many other dairy goat producers the disposal of unwanted male kids is an added cost to goat milk production.
Mr Mowlems herd is predominantly Saanen milkers which incorporate Alpine, Toggenburg and Anglo Nubian breeding. Boer bucks, renowned for their conformation, have been used and male progeny finished.
"Male kids are easy to rear and have potential for rapid growth rate. They can perform as well as intensively finished lambs and reach a marketable weight of 35-40kg within four to five months." Mr Mowlems rearing system is based on keeping groups of 10-15 castrated male kids in straw pens for the first two or three weeks. They are offered ad-lib milk, either warm or cold, made from calf replacer and start to take a little dry feed from about a fortnight old. Hay is offered is small amounts.
Intensive lamb pellets are available up to weaning at six to eight weeks. But kids perform equally well on either lamb or calf pellets as Mr Mowlems work on dairy goats at the National Institute of Research into Dairying showed.
From eight weeks the diet is switched to the same 20% protein dairy concentrate fed to milking goats. A coarse ration is not recommended as kids can be selective in their feed intake.
The finishing diet is fed ad-lib until kids are taking 0.5kg a head a day to achieve a feed conversion rate of 4:1, gaining about 100g a day. Open barn-type accommodation is adequate.
"We have been selling some male kids to a specialist meat outlet and getting £1.60/kg for 15kg carcasses. That was leaving us a margin of £6-£10," says Mr Mowlem, who won the 1997 Royal Show goat carcass championship.
"One of the other problems is the glut of male kids in spring. But to spread the supply of goat milk evenly throughout the year more producers are kidding all year round. This should serve to even out goatmeat availability should the market develop."
Mr Mowlem believes changing tastes and more adventurous eating is breaking down the resistance to goatmeat.
"Consumers are getting over the threshold of trying it. Goatmeat is lean and flavoursome but it must be made more widely available to consumers on a regular basis to grow the market."
Demand is there, but continuity of supply essential
DORSET producer Tim Frost believes there are two distinct markets for goatmeat, one based on milk-only kids, reared to six weeks, and the conventional market finishing goats up to six months old.
Mr Frost runs Childhay Farming, near Beaminster. As well as two dairy units, an organic outdoor sow herd and finishing 9000 pigs a year, he has set-up a goat milking herd of 800 Saanens.
"There is potential to rear and market goatmeat and I know from personal experience that there is a considerable amount of cull goatmeat imported into the UK for the ethnic food market.
"We have given it a good go, but have decided to sell our male kids on to another finisher."
Mr Frost had been selling 10 finished male kids a week via an agent to an Italian restaurant in London, and more recently he has been supplying a wholesaler in south Somerset with a similar number.
"The market could be developed, it is a case of setting up a marketing strategy. There does appear to be a demand for goatmeat, but continuity of supply is essential."
His rearing system is based on warm ad-lib milk offered through a machine, one teat for 10 kids. Pens are well strawed: "Kids seem to eat a lot of straw so we keep them well bedded." The all-milk rearing system produces marketable kids at about six weeks old giving a 7-8kg carcass.
"They were making around £20 a head but the killing costs were £8, leaving a little profit after taking account of milk powder cost."
Older kids taken to six months old in groups of 15 are weaned on to an 18% ad-lib pellet, containing a coccidiostat, plus hay and haylage. They produce a 24kg carcass worth about £55 a head at £2.30/kg, leaving a margin of about £10.
"The Boer cross kids produce the best carcass goats and give a good loin, which is where the meat is wanted," says Mr Frost. *
More milk than from cows and some quality cheese
By James Garner
KG for kg, your average goat produces more milk than your average cow.
It is, therefore, surprising that more farmers are not producing goat milk and cheese.
Goat milk can be turned into excellent quality cheese. Otley College in Suffolk has won several awards for its hand-made goat cheese, but, according to lecturer Derek Jones, small-scale production means that it is difficult to distribute and market cheese from these units.
"We have to import 60% of goat cheese to meet British demand. The last official registered number of goats was only 110,000," he says.
Mr Jones started the unit at Otley in 1987 and although it is still small, with 40 milkers, it pays for itself, but is not commercially viable at this size.
When the college won the European food awards goat cheese of the year in 1997 it was inundated with demand which it could not meet. But marketing the product properly remains the key.
"Producers generally will not have this skill. So it may be better to import that skill or hive off cheesemaking to a third party and concentrate on producing milk, and let experts make and market the cheese. That may be more profitable for them."
Mr Jones has experience of this. His wife markets seven goat and sheep products around Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk for his company, Country Nibbles. But the market varies. Expensive goat and sheep cheeses sell through delicatessens in the exclusive coastal areas of Aldborough, Southwold and Orford where tourists will pay for quality.
"In Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds cost is the most important factor when selling the product. It has to be competitive, pre-packed and have no discolouration. On the coast, cheese with cracks and mould sells best." So you need to know your market, he adds.
It is also important to ensure the product is right. This stems from goat breeding and feeding. Otley runs British Saanen goats, which are the Friesans of the goat world, says Mr Jones.
The herd averages 1400 litres a year, with an average of 3.8% butterfat and 3.02% protein, on twice-a-day milking using a standard cow parlour. Gross margins can be as high as £80, he reckons.
The goats kid each year, despite potentially being able to milk for two years without difficulty, he says.
Cheesemaking has become dogged by red-tape recently, but Mr Jones feels that this is not a problem when a good relationship can be forged with your local environmental health officer.
"We work closely with ours and they helped sort things out. I think this has happened in the majority of cases. But there is little common sense behind it. Why impose large-scale manufacturing regulations on small-scale producers?"
But he accepts the legislation ensures food safety, which is perhaps where a small cheesemaker has an advantage in that the customer often buys direct from the producer. "This helps increase confidence in the product and improves service to the customer."
Otley makes soft cheese and hard cheeses. But in an effort to increase butterfat levels to 4% and improve cheese quality, Mr Jones has introduced an Anglo Nubian male to breed crossbred replacements that will produce higher butterfat milk.
Goats are fed on 18% protein concentrate costing £180/t. They also have good quality hay and pea straw to maintain a high proportion of roughage in the diet. This helps keep the digestive tract running and milk solids high, he reckons.
The goats also have other advantages at the college. Because they are more inquisitive, sociable animals than sheep they make good stock for students with disabilities to work with, according to Mr Jones. *