Milk is sold to health food stores, cheese makers and at farmers markets or processed into gelato
FANNY BAY, B.C. — Feeding 32 goat kids at once at the Snap Dragon Dairy near Fanny Bay would be a time consuming nightmare if the farmers didn’t use milk pails with nipples on all sides.
“They can sully up to the bar and drink all they want,” said Karen Fouracre of her Toggenburg herd.
This late winter day on Vancouver Island, the crocuses are up in the farmyard and twice daily milkings of 17 does carry on as usual as the farm waits for the arrival of five more kids.
Learning the finer points of livestock production was a steep learning curve for Fouracre and Jaki Ayton, friends who grew up in Victoria.
The challenges included initially buying bad stock.
“The first couple of goats, we got taken,” said Ayton.
They measure each goat’s production to help them decide which ones to breed or sell, with the farm selling $4,000 worth of milk goats last year. Poor milkers are sold to meat markets along with the male culls.
“We’re not going to set somebody else up to fail,” said Ayton.
Meat markets are increasing slowly at the local level but are strong in ethnic communities around Langley, B.C., on the mainland.
The milk is marketed to health food stores, cheese makers and organic markets such as Island Naturals in Nanaimo, B.C., and through a farmers market.
“We sell to stores that want high end products, people that care how animals are treated,” said Ayton.
Added Fouracre: “We give them a wholesale price because we don’t want to price ourselves out of the market.”
The farm competes on price with the much larger mainland goat dairies and is one of only three on the island.
They sell their milk for $1.75 per litre wholesale and are currently looking at bottling milk for retail markets to get a better price.
They are also exploring pooling with other producers to have enough milk for buyers.
They created Legato Gelato to add value to their goat milk and process it at Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt in the Comox Valley and the Lush Valley Food Action Society’s commercial kitchen.
The friends divide the work: Fouracre is in charge of the dairy and milking and Ayton handles medications, breeding, recordkeeping and sanctioned goat shows.
“If you want to get into goats, go to shows and see their characteristics,” said Fouracre.
Ayton said the shows are recreation but also a good way to connect with other producers.
They are also involved in their community, teaching 4-Hers how to judge goats and mentoring others interested in rearing goats.
They have stocked different breeds but favour Toggenburgs.
“They’re calm, sweet and the smallest of the dairy goats,” Ayton said.
Added Fouracre: “Nubians are the most popular backyard goats, the Siamese cats of the goat world.”
Ayton cited Fouracre’s strengths in handling the dairy.
“Karen has a lot of energy, lots of social skills, she likes meeting new people and getting things done.”
Fouracre said Ayton is skilled at doing research.
“If there’s a better way to do it, she figures it out.”
They train and hand raise the goats on less than two acres but walk them onto crown land to forage. High land costs make a larger land base unfeasible. Kuvasz and mixed breed dogs and electric fencing help control predator attacks.
“It’s lots of work but it pays off,” said Fouracre.
They believe their goats produce better tasting milk, as much as six litres per goat per day, because they use only non-genetically modified feed.
Fouracre said they have dabbled in cattle and sheep but found goats more manageable.
The decision to raise goats four years ago was spurred by her lactose intolerance.
Ayton said they keep veterinary costs to a minimum by doing preventive maintenance on the herd, giving them adequate room and breeding for hardy goats.
“I do what’s best for the girls. They get medicine if in pain. I don’t want them to suffer,” she said.
Ayton seeks to improve the herd through careful breeding and the introduction of other breeds.
“Ones with trouble are gone so you’re not breeding them.”
They also raise their own produce, chickens and a few batches of pigs, which are fed waste milk from the dairy and processed at nearby Gunter Bros. The meat is sold locally.
This year, they will keep the best six of their kids.
“You can’t keep them all,” said Ayton.
Tears are shed when they lose some of their long-time milkers, but they know it’s part of the business.
“There’s a lot of death, that’s hard,” said Ayton.
Fouracre said too many people get into agriculture and are overwhelmed as the herd numbers and workload increase.
“Within four years, if you haven’t culled, you’re not going to be a farmer,” she said.