FEATURE: Just kidding – the teething problems of the new goat meat industry

A new industry breeding goats for their meat in the UK is on a steady rise. After some media coverage reporting on a new business breeding dairy goat kids for their meat, which would have otherwise gone to waste, I feel compelled to reconsider my vegetarian diet. Oh, and did you know goat is the healthiest red meat you can eat?

it’s Christmas Day 2020, the presents are wrapped, a warming scent of mulled wine is spreading around the house. The roast vegetables look all crisp and lovely, and you are just about to make that first cut into the roast leg of goat. Oh yes – goat. Chances are it will become part of your staple diet within the next few years.

As the most commonly eaten meat worldwide, goat was until a few years ago only eaten by a small number of Britons, predominantly from ethnic minorities, as well as some dare-devil foodies. However, a sneak peak into today’s market shows a steady rise in supply and demand.

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Kate Little runs Lakeland Valley Goats in Cumbria. She also published a report on the growing market in 2010 through the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust. She says: “I could sell everything I have several times over.”

Goats were among the first animals domesticated by humans. Sheep and goats outnumber all the other types of animals raised worldwide. Countries like Spain and Greece have a long tradition of goat farming. Here in the UK, a modest 80-90,000 goats roam the countryside.

Goat dairy products have grown more popular here in the last 10-15 years, but the goat has much more to offer than just milk.

Ms Little says: “Eating goat is good for you. It’s lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, pork and lamb, and has more protein than chicken … And that buzzword – sustainability. I would argue extensive meat goat farming is one of the most sustainable ways of producing meat.”

So just how healthy is this meat? Actually, figures show goat is as an ideal choice for the health conscious, as it’s lean and high in nutrition and lower in fat and cholesterol than all other traditional meat. Figures are from USDA

Alastair Boyd from Goat Meat South East started breeding meat goats five years ago after spotting a rising trend. Reared deep in the Kentish countryside, Alastair and his wife, Janice’s, South African Boer goats are not bred for their milk as they only produce just enough to feed the kids.

Chances are, if you have tried curry goat, a popular Caribbean dish, it was made from Boer. This tender meat is more versatile than you might think, however. Janice says: “Cook it slowly…it’s a lovely piece of meat, the shoulder cut is beautiful for a Sunday roast.”

During my visit I learned that goats are rather personable and capricious creatures who eat a lot of straw, and sometimes jump the fence. In the summer they graze the surrounding fields and in winter they take shelter in a massive barn, often staying close to one another to stay warm.

Regardless of the growing demand, breeding goats can be difficult, and costly. Alastair tells me that with the industry not yet established, many vets are reluctant to take on goats, as they have little to no training. Vaccines can be hard to obtain. He says: “I can go into a wholesale to buy any amount of sheep vaccine. With goats I have to pay £30 for each prescription.”

While some rear goats for their meat, others keep them for milk only. A small amount of farmers recycle a resource which would have otherwise gone to waste. A little known dark side to the dairy goat industry is the issue of superfluous billy goats. These young males are, if you like, a by product of goat’s milk production, and they have no place in the industry. As a result, dairy farmers sometimes slaughter billy goats straight after birth. Too small to eat, the whole animal goes to waste.

Out of this, a new industry emerged. James Whetlor and Jack Jennings, make their business Cabrito Goat Meat from buying some of these billie goats and rearing them for meat. After six or seven months at their Somerset farm they are sold as kid meat, which is slightly similar to lamb and does not need slow cooking like the meat from the adult goat.

James, previously a cook at up-market London restaurants, says since they started 18 months ago, they have had great success and have “doubled the size of the business in the last six months”. He says: “All we really wanted to do, now this is going to sound really corny, is give this thing that’s born a value. It’s just moral really. For something to be born into a system and have no value, when with five to seven months work, it can feed 25 people.”

Figures mentioned in earlier articles show that Defra estimates 30,000 billy goats are born each year, and that most of them are killed straight after birth.

James, who sells around 30 kid goats per week, thinks that the actual figure is higher. He says: “It’s got to be a lot more than that. I reckon it’s probably closer to 90,000, given how many that we’ve managed to pick up.”

This little-known industry has grown steadily. But there are still obstacles hindering the take-off many would like to see.

Kate says: “It costs a lot of money to rear a kid goat for meat, and much of the resistance to doing it is because farmers don’t think they can make it pay. The customer has to be prepared to pay a sustainable price for the meat at the other end of the process.”

Some would like to see new dairy regulations for the goat industry. For example, Dutch farmers have a legal obligation to rear a certain amount of billy goats every year. James says he would like to see such a development here too: “How it’s not against the law to bash an animal on the head the minute it’s born if there’s nothing wrong with it is ridiculous … Even if you make dog food out of it, at least that.”

Alan runs Wobbly Bottom Farm in Hertfordshire. Previously rearing a herd of 500 dairy goats, he now has 75, all for cheese production. He says: “Breeding goats just for milk is very tough, because all the milk sales are controlled by a few companies like Delamere or St Helens.”

Alan says not all dairy farmers slaughter the billy goats at birth. “I don’t do that. This is why we’re keeping less goats. Because that part is the hardest part to deal with … It really happens because people want cheap food, and because of the cost of the animal welfare I wouldn’t buy that product.”

With the market still teething, the meat is fairly pricey and hard to find. Apart from some Co-op shops in the Midlands, goat has not made it to the supermarket shelves just yet. Many of the farmers I spoke to have tried, but with little luck.

Tim Dobson from Chestnut Meats, one of the largest goat meat suppliers, says that like with the black and white dairy bull calves a couple of years ago, now known as rosé veal, Waitrose have said they are keen to get behind the same development for goat meat and that they would like to have a “moral social responsibility” in this matter.

He explains, however, that it could be difficult for Waitrose to get the farmers on board. Such an initiative would require investment from their side: He adds: “They can’t come to a point where everybody’s making money so far.” He says the farmers have said that because the goats all kid at the same time, they have to build new sheds to do it, take on more staff, and they’re not prepared to make the investment. So because of that, “it’s been a slow sell.”

Interestingly, instead of sourcing UK goats, many butchers still import from other countries such as Spain, and even New Zealand. Stuart Thompson, Managing Director, Peter Thompson Group sells goat meat at Smithfield Market. He says he has tried to make a viable business out of selling British goat but has gone back to importing from Spain.

He says: “The smaller producers need to get their act together and market their products better. The trouble is if they are doing it in very small quantities. They may have one or two or three goats per time. The cost per time for exporting that product was just so expensive it wasn’t viable.”

As someone who rarely eats meat, I felt compelled to give this meat a go. After extensive research, and with a looming deadline hanging over my head, I was close to buying a piece of frozen New Zealand goat. For somebody on a budget like myself, there seemed no other way I could find a small portion suitable for a dinner for two. The cheapest UK goat meat I found online would have come up to £30 with the delivery cost.

Eventually, I learned that James sells his meat to Ginger Pig, which has several butchers shops in London, happy days! Kane Webster, who sold it to me says he has seen an increase in demand. He says: “When we advertise it we sell much more. People just don’t know it’s here.”

Only five pounds poorer, I have some nice, thick loin chops on my kitchen counter. Since I have no idea what to do with this I’m going to follow Kane’s advice. I rub the loin chops with a simple salt, pepper, chilli, rosemary and wild garlic marinade. Whilst the meat rests nicely in that, I throw some diced sweet potatoes in the oven dressed with olive oil, salt and a couple of whole garlic cloves.

It all came together nicely and the pungent roast garlic scent fills the kitchen as I excitedly throw the chops in the pan, as if I know exactly what I’m doing. Truth is, I don’t. I might have overcooked them slightly and now, due to a faulty extraction fan, this scent will linger for days.

However, my dinner guest is thrilled, or perhaps just very polite, who can say. As a meat novice, I must admit, I find myself – almost secretly – loving the fiery rosemary and chilli taste the chops have. It’s slightly beefier than lamb, “with a gamey side to it as well”, my guest says.

Goat brings a certain something to the table, and the conversation around it: a story of it’s own. Though still outside the average midweek dinner budget, goat is an interesting addition to our diet. But vegetarians beware! This sustainable piece of meat may lure you to cross over to the other side.

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