You have goat to be kidding me!
We took a trip to Kingston Smallholding on the Isle of Wight to find out more about the goats that were to provide the meat for our new dish.
We arrived at Kingston Smallholding a little before 9am on the Sunday. We were blocked from getting up the track in the car by a large amount of branches obstructing the way. David and a young lad hurriedly came across and picked them up, followed by Simone who also helped, setting aside a large bucket of feeding bottles to free her hands up. Laurel looked at me with a grin and said “maybe we are going to feed the kids”! She was excited and had a giddy look about her. We were both looking forward to this.
As we parked up alongside an outhouse, Simone greeted us warmly and we did introductions. David explained that he and the young lad who was their weekend help were moving the big branches to feed the goats. It was in fact ‘goat willow’ and grew locally in a field. The goats would strip the branches of all the leaves and bark providing a free source of food. David explained to us that goats can live harmoniously among trees and that before farmers changed the landscape to fields for sheep and cattle there would have been lots more goats around. He pointed out a long row of willow trees that they had planted and that were growing quickly for a more sustainable future. You could tell that David and Simone were excited and proud to show us what they have been doing.
We first went into a fenced area to see the kids and Simone put the feeding bottles out in the dispensers. There were clambering over each other to get to the milk which is made from a formula and got all tangled up trying to steal each others feed. Simone told us that each kid costs around 50p per day to feed which does add up pretty quickly and really puts into perspective the small profit that could be made from the male goats, even selling them for meat. The kids had been rescued from euthanasia and had been free to the couple from a mainland dairy farm. There is a huge imbalance in the dairy industry which creates such an enormous demand for females, resulting in a large ‘waste’ of healthy males. In the goat industry many of the kids would be culled at only a few days old. Whilst it is easy to blame farmers, we are all responsible for allowing an industry to grow with a 50% mortality rate. And that doesn’t mean we all need to go out protesting or that we should stop eating goats cheese or drinking goats milk, it means we should be utilising other parts of animals as well such as the meat and hide. Simone told us that she was making some small stools from the willow wood with a goat hide seat covering!
You can tell that David and Simone live and breathe goats, not just for the meat or the milk. They have lots of pet Pygmy goats as well and they really care about giving these animals a better home. Their passion is really evident and it is so nice to see that the goats are the priority. There is plenty of land there and it would be really easy to get greedy and push it too far but the animals’ welfare is paramount. Simone was happily carrying a friendly goat who was cuddling up to her, Simone unphased by it’s back end covered in diarrhea where it had been unwell. She explained that the goats are wormed and looked after but that they also leave a lot to nature and try not to create un-natural environments for the animals. It is quite clear that the couple know how to look after the goats and give them the best life possible; Simone having a great knowledge of goat medics, which allows her to see signs of illness and adapt their feed relative to the age of the animals as well as the time of year and weather etc. It was really very interesting listening to them both.
As we continued chatting and discussing Eat Street and what our plans are for the meat it became clear that we were all thinking in overdrive, imagining the possibilities of the meat as well as ways we could all raise awareness and have a lot of fun in the process.
Simone showed us the special breed goats known as Boer which are native to South Africa. They are the only meat breed of goat in the UK. They are much heavier and more muscly than other breeds and this overall good conformation lends itself to the best goat meat in the world.
We also got to meet the resident stud and some other breeds including Golden Guernsey and Pygmy. All of the goats were super friendly and great characters. I have to say I feel they are slightly more fun than sheep or cattle. The Pygmys and Guernseys are Simone and David’s personal pets and they have a great play area with swings and climbing frames. It was really lovely to see them having such wonderful lives.
My new best friend, Benne - a British Guernsey
So why don't we eat more goat?
It’s delicious and it’s good for you – higher in protein and iron per gram than most meat and lower in saturated fat than chicken and beef! So when did it all go wrong?
The goat ‘belt’ stretches through Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean. Most of the cultures eating goat are those of developing areas and traditionally most goat meat would come from the kids, culled when a flock was getting too big. The flock would provide milk, meat and hide for humans and it looks like it has been this way for tens of thousands of years if cave wall drawings are anything to go by!
Dating back I suppose we would have had little choice but to eat what we could get hold of. A lot of houses would keep a goat, using the milk and meat as they were generally low maintenance. They can survive with trees, shrubs and dry land where a lot of cattle wouldn’t survive. They are grazers though and so need a lot of space and cannot be farmed in huge barns/meat factories like other livestock. As the thought process around meat is changing in this country and animal welfare is certainly becoming a bigger priority to more people, hopefully we will see a change in our diets and we will steer away from chicken breasts 5 nights a week and start to become more diverse in our meal selections. This is ultimately what has got us in this mess that we are in, a lack of diversity. So maybe a little less chicken breast and a little more goat meat? Let’s be less fussy and diversify our palettes.