In the United Kingdom, the production of goat milk has changed drastically in the last ten years. The industry is continuously looking for significant future developments in areas such as artificial insemination and genomics, disease control, mortality reduction and protocols for rearing kids.
Nonetheless, the goat industry is not a notable livestock sector in the United Kingdom, as evidenced by the evolution in the number of animals during the last 25 years (Figure 1). According to FAO census data, the total number of animals was at a maximum in 1990, followed by a continuous decline until the beginning of the 2000s. After that, the number of heads showed an upswing with some peaks and valleys, and a linear increase from 2010 to 2016 (FAOSTAT, 2016). The largest concentrations of commercial goat operations are found in York, Somerset and Worcestershire counties, all of them located in England.
Although the official figure currently is around 90,000 goats, the British dairy goat industry is in reality composed of between 40,000 to 45,000 goats that produce less than 34 million liters of commercial milk, the rest of the animals having either no commercial use or being kept as pets.
In comparison, the production of milk from dairy cows, with 1.9 million heads, reached just under 15 billion liters of milk (2014/2015). Therefore, the dairy goat sector has little economic importance.
The average size of commercial farms is between 700 to 1,000 goats, which are managed by 2 to 3 people plus the owner of the operation. In these farms, two milking per day are carried out in systems where goats are kept indoors, and grazing is almost nonexistent.
Animal welfare and environmental conditions are essential to the conduct of dairy goat farms in Great Britain. This allows the farms to have the Red Tractor Accreditation certification (https://www.redtractor.org.uk/). This is one of the instruments that promote international quality standards regarding hygiene, welfare, and care of the environment under the direction of the Red Tractor logo.
2. Breeds and management systems
In Great Britain, dairy goats are not well adapted to the cold and humid conditions of the country, so most of them are housed indoors with enough space for freedom of movement.
The breeds used by British producers are Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine, and in some cases Anglo-Nubian, the latter being more widespread in other areas of the planet despite its British origin (Picture 1).
Genetic improvement is insufficient, there are practically no records, and there is a need to improve these goat breeds to make them more productive. Research grants were recently awarded to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) (https://www.sruc.ac.uk/) to help decipher their genome. This is a vital study that will help close the gaps between goat genomics and advanced research that has been carried out in other species of livestock.
Breeding is done by natural mating in 99% of the cases, and only 1% of the farmers use artificial insemination. Farmers still do not trust the effectiveness of artificial insemination for reproduction. The replacement rate reaches 25% according to the farm census, with the first breeding of females occurring at approximately 12 months of age.
From a health aspect, there is a risk from local and imported diseases, and research is needed to help fight them. Tuberculosis, previously at very low levels, has become a growing problem in recent years. The average life of the goats is about five years of age, although we can find goats of up to 10 years.
Feeding is based on the use of maize silage and concentrates in mangers. Grazing is practically non-existent in British commercial goat farms.Information and training on the basic principles of goat breeding are difficult to find for those entering the industry. There is ‘Goat Farm Walk’ approximately every 18 months (http://www.hallfarmpark.co.uk/goat-walking/), with expert speakers that attract people from all over the country, as options for learning are quite limited.
3. The market of goat products in the United Kingdom
Fresh goat milk (pasteurized / UHT) occupies the first place as a dairy product and is more important than cheese and yogurt (Picture 2). However, it constitutes a small proportion of the total dairy sector in the United Kingdom and covers only a few percents.
Goat milk still is a specialized market that represents less than 0.2% of the volume of cow milk produced in the United Kingdom.
The major quantity of goat cheese made in the United Kingdom uses imported goat milk, mainly from the Netherlands and Belgium. Also, a large proportion of goat cheese is imported from France, a country that has a well-known and much more developed goat sector structure (Picture 3). Goat cheese (local or imported) is now among the top 10 products of this type consumed in the United Kingdom.
St Helen’s Farms (https://www.sthelensfarm.co.uk/), the high technology and efficiency goat dairy company established by D. Angus Wielkopolski has been working on improving productivity of their own herds during the last twenty years.
Thanks to a well-designed breeding strategy and high levels of improvement, as well as the use of technology, goats reach up to 1,400 L of milk per year. The feeding is computerized and the goats are milked three times daily.
The company is participating in the research on genomics carried out by SRUC, attributing part of its success to this fact.
The diversification of their processed products is important: milk in different formats, yoghurts, ice creams, cheeses (Picture 4).
Concerning goat meat, approximately 50,000 dairy goat kids are butchered annually at a young age, although no reliable data are available (Picture 5). This procedure is conducted according to the guidelines of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals) establishing that when there is no market chain for these kids, they must be subjected to a humane butchering to avoid possible ill-treatment.
Nevertheless, there is a growing market for goat meat, providing an incentive for some producers. The greater demand for goat meat comes from ethnic minorities residing in the United Kingdom, but much of the product is imported.
There is also a certain demand in the “black” market for goat meat from some of these ethnic or cultural groups, whose methods of butchering (e.g., halal) and/or preparation of the meat do not meet the health and environmental safety requirements in force in the United Kingdom.
Many thanks to D. Angus Wielkopolski for his help in writing this article.
Materials for this report were provided by Heather Rose Briggs, IGA Country Representative for the United Kingdom. The original article was written in Spanish with the collaboration of Francisco de Asís Ruiz Morales, IGA Regional Director for Western Europe (firstname.lastname@example.org), edited by Juan Capote (email@example.com), IGA Past-President, and published in Tierras Caprino 2018, no. 22, page 44. Jean-Marie Luginbuhl, IGA Secretary-Treasurer (firstname.lastname@example.org) translated the original article into English.
The International Goat Association promotes goat research and development for the benefit of humankind, to alleviate poverty, to promote prosperity and to improve the quality of life.