An Interview with our Goat Farmers
Ewen and Tessa own a small farm in Carlisle. Having supplied us with raw goats milk for over ten years, I wanted to meet them to find out all about the goats and the milk.
I meet Ewen and Tessa in a large goat barn, which smelled of a mixture of sweet hay and only a faint whiff of goat. The barn was filled with nanny goats and their kids of varying shades, including a sweet golden baby goat that Tessa was particularly fond of.
So how old is this little one?
About a week. Shelby, the mother, recognises the little one by smell. If one of these kids wanders off to somebody else, they get bitten! Oh they are foul! Shelby will wallop anyone who has a go at the baby. She is very protective is Shelby.
Do they feed on the hay?
Yes, they love picking at the straw. They are quite sensible; they won’t eat dirty straw so they eat it before they P and C on it! They will only eat it for a few hours and then that’s it. Goats are very fastidious, contrary to popular belief they won’t just eat any old rubbish like tin cans. I don’t know if you have any experience of pigs, but goats are much the same, very clean.
When they are in the [milking] parlour, they never lift their tails or make a mess once they get over the delinquent stage.
How long have you had the farm for?
Well we have both had goats for over thirty years, but independently for about ten. So we have been in partnership for about twenty years.
Everyone says how distinctive the goats cheese is, why do you think this is?
It is to do with your recipes, but goats milk has a protein called Casein that cows milk doesn’t have. Also, the fat molecules are much smaller in goats milk and so are easier to digest.
The theory is that the human race evolved with goats before cows; dogs were the first to be domesticated and then goats second. We have evolved with them. The start of civilisation was in the Middle East where explorers found evidence of the oldest cities, towns and villages. They often found goat skeletons near to settlements. They would have been using them for milk, and they probably will have eaten them too.
What was that noise? Was that a goat?
No it was a man shouting! Well they can sound very similar sometimes! (Reminded me of this YouTube clip).
Can we see the kids?
Yes! They are all supposed to be kept in pens of six but I have got an extremely slithery lot and they keep changing pens, particularly if they think they are going to get seconds!
The great thing about goats is that you don’t have to kid them every year, which means we can maintain Northumberland Cheese’s milk supply through the winter!
If you keep milking them do they keep producing milk?
Yes, the same as cows.
But you don’t give them any hormones?
No. They give about 2-3 litres of milk per day. Some of our goats are big, and some are small.
Are they good for meat after they have stopped producing milk?
To be perfectly honest, if I’ve bred an animal, I have had them 12 years and I will not take them to the market. We get them shot and taken away. I reckon I owe it to them. If you’ve got four year old animals that have a duff udder, for instance, then they can go into sausages quite easily. The meat gets tougher as they get older.
What will happen to these boys?
They are going to a chap in two weeks’ time, and he is either rearing them for the kid market, like veal, or else he is keeping them on.
Is there much of a market for veal?
Yes there is, but not up here. He sends his veal down to London.
They sell goat meat in the butcher’s near to my house, [www.charlottesbutchery.blogspot.co.uk] but only occasionally
She probably can’t always get what she wants. They are not prepared to pay enough for them. It costs too much to get them to a meat level.
How do you choose the billy to mate with the females?
We take a group and put a particular male in with them. It is slightly variable which male we use, we will have Douglas this time and Ben is always the smelliest, so you start off with Ben to get them really going. The smell that people get really put off by is the billy’s aftershave. The stronger he is, the more attractive he is. If they are really smelly, you are going to get good quality kids, and after all the whole purpose of breeding is to perpetuate your species. So you’ve got to choose the best male to do so.
Can you smell which ones are the smelliest?
(Laughing) Quite easily! They are fairly pongy! Some of them start smelling in July, some of them don’t until August or September.
Do they just smell really goaty?
Yes very powerful, and that is the bad “off” flavour that people complain about in goats milk, but on the continent they permanently like it!
He is nibbling your jumper!
Have you seen the state of my jumper?! Years of chewing! It has been sucked – that bit’s wet! Some people can’t be doing with goats, but Ewen and I are hooked on them and that is why we spend all our working days working on them.
And then we said a fond farewell to Ewen, Tessa and the cheeky little goats, and said to them all “thank you for the milk, we really appreciate it! - NCC