Goat Farming in Ireland
As things stand the goats milk market in Ireland is more or less full. The bulk of this milk is processed by Glenisk. There are a number of other processors around the country but none on the scale of Glenisk. During the latter years of the last decade there was a major influx of new entrants into the goat industry, many of these farmers put major investment into their facilities creating high quality, modern units. At this time milk prices were at an historic high and obtaining goats was difficult and expensive. As a result of this influx, the historically undersupplied national goats’ milk market was filled relatively quickly. There are occasional changes to where each of the milk processors sources their milk. At this time none of them appear to be in the market for new suppliers at this time. It will take a major investment from Glenisk, one of the cow’s milk dairies or possibly a new processor to kick start this side of the goat industry.
Ireland is a major player in the global production of cheese and the quality of the cheeses produced in this country is exceptional. There are many cheese makers on varying scales around the country producing cheese from goats’ milk. Some of these are large scale units that produce the likes of St. Tola, Ardsallagh and Cooleeney cheeses. There are also a large number of smaller artisan producers producing superb cheeses such as Anna Leveque and Marion Roeleweld. We are lucky in this country to be blessed with many other gifted cheese makers not mentioned here. A number of these units are both milking the goats and producing cheese on-site, but this is a major undertaking and takes substantial commitment and organisation to do so properly. Some of the cheese makers have become very well known in their own right such as Breda Maher, Elizabeth Bradley and Helen Finnegan. Their contribution and commitment to this industry and the development of top quality cheeses cannot be overstated.
Market & Management
For potential new entrants to goat farming the most important factor is having an outlet for the milk. It is not possible to overemphasise this point. Although the potential is small, there may be some possibility of supplying one of the major goats’ milk processors or cheese makers. There also may be some scope for developing new goats’ milk products either as a new business or in tandem with an existing artisan food producer.
Contrary to common opinion, dairy goats are not at all like their feral Irish relations. Although goats are browsers rather than grazers, they are very selective feeders and will pick only the best of forage, ignoring anything of poorer quality which must be collected and discarded. They are not suited to poor weather conditions as they have little sub-cutaneous fat. They are susceptible to chilling and must be provided with shelter at all time to escape the elements. In most circumstances in this country, goats are housed year round. There are a few expectations to this rule, but this takes exceptional grassland and health management. The main breed of goat used on dairy units is the Saanen. British Alpine and Toggenburg are also present with a small amount of Anglo-Nubian. Virtually all farms feed grass silage or hay supplemented with concentrates. Yields can run from approximately 600 to 1100 litres per year, depending largely on diet and genetics.
There may be potential for the production of goats’ meat. Chevon or Cabrito is widely consumed in a number of European countries, by ethnic populations across Europe and is a staple meat in Africa, Asia and parts of the American continent. It may be suited to our methods of farming here and can be produced on a grass based system similar to lamb. However, the primary difficulty with meat goat production is the lack of suitable animals. Some dairy-type goats are being used for meat production but it is unlikely that this would be economically feasible on a large scale. Ideally, the breed of choice is the Boer though there may be potential in other breeds such as the Kiko. Since virtually all goat production in Ireland is based on the production of milk and dairy products, there are only a handful of Boer goats present in the country. The lifting of the Bluetongue restriction in the UK may allow the importation of some Boers, but they are difficult to obtain and possible numbers would be small.
Potential Health Benefits
Goats’ milk products have renowned health benefits. The milk is much more digestible than cow’s milk; one reason is that the fat globules are much smaller allowing a much greater surface area to be broken down by enzymes. It is also reputedly beneficial to those suffering from asthma. In addition, creams and soaps made from goats’ milk are extremely effective in the treatment of eczema. Goats meat has lower calories, fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than all other popular meats (including chicken!) while having a comparable level of protein. These properties may lend themselves to the development of health-focussed added value meat products.