In this week’s Farmer Focus series, That’s Farming, speaks to Emma O Connor (Anna’s Dairy Goat Farm), a micro-goat farmer. In this article, we discuss establishing a small-scale micro-dairy, creating a plan for the future and the challenges associated with goat farming.
Emma, a 28-year-old, is a first-generation goat farmer in Carbury, Co. She farms 70 micro goats alongside her mother, Eileen, on a 2-acre enterprise.
The innovative farmers plan to produce and sell goats’ milk, cheese, yoghurt and kefir into local artisan shops and farmers’ markets.
Eventually, Emma plans to establish a farm shop of her own.
Anna’s Dairy Goat Farm
Having had a passion for agriculture, particularly equines, she decided initially to pursue studies at Kildalton Agricultural College following her secondary education.
An interest in horse riding influenced her decision to enrol in a third-level equine degree programme.
“In 2012, I did a level 5 stud management course at Kildalton Agricultural College. I loved it but decided not to finish the following year. I have an autistic brother at home who needs 24-hour care; I wanted to be at home to help.”
Knowing she wanted to work outdoors, Emma struggled to find a part-time job to match her interest.
“Mam and I did some research to see what we could do from home on a small space and came up with the idea of starting a micro-dairy to milk goats.”
“We called it Anna’s Dairy Goat Farm, after a nickname my mam has.”
Furthermore, in 2014, the O Connors purchased 2-acres of land behind their house to kick-start their micro-goat enterprise.
They established the herd by purchasing two pet goats. They sold these pet goats and purchased milking goats from a local breeder.
“We had no experience of milking cows, never mind goats,” she told That’s Farming.
Following on from this, Emma and her mother milked two goats with a portable milking machine. They built a small parlour and consumed the milk within their own household. The herd slowly began to grow.
The purchasing of goats has been less prevalent in recent years, as they have been breeding and retaining their own replacement female goats.
“We bought in various breeds; the majority of them were from show herds. They were goats that did not make the cut for showing. For example, because of misplaced markings.”
Saanen, Toggenburg and Alpine are the current breeds on Anna’s Dairy. “These three breeds suit us best because they are high yielders, easy to kid, hardy and have good temperaments.”
Goats are seasonal breeders. They have a gestation period of five months.
“Our breeding season kicks off in September or October, weather dependent. Calving begins in either February or March.”
They house goats indoors all-year-round. They have access to grazing during the day from April to September.
“Currently, we are using pour milk to feed our kids on an ad-lib set up for up to 16-weeks.”
“We strive to breed purebred goats for each breed mentioned above and keep most of the females for replacements.”
“Surplus goats are sold. We sell all our billy kids for breeding and pets.”
Farm life at Anna’s Dairy
When asked about her favourite aspect of running the micro-dairy, Emma tells That’s Farming, “it provides such a good routine for the day which the goats and myself love”.
Enjoying the outdoors, combined with getting to know and work with each animal, is another element of the farm life, which Emma “particularly enjoys”.
Comparatively, Emma discusses the challenges associated with running her own micro-dairy for goats.
“There just is not that much information out there about goats, and it can be hard and sometimes frustrating when you encounter a problem with the goats, and there are very few places to go.”
Fortunately for Emma, she has built a relationship with a fellow goat breeder based in Co Donegal, whom she can rely on for advice when required.
Make it worthwhile
A highlight for Emma since establishing Anna’s Dairy has been kidding each year.
“You have the opportunity to watch new life enter the world and then select replacements to rear.”
“Furthermore, then watch them grow and join the milking herd and finally kid down for themselves – it definitely makes it one of the best jobs in the world.”
Emma advises those interested in starting up their goat farm to “do as much research as possible as you can look into which market you want to specialise in”.
Emma does not disregard the hurdles she has surpassed in her goat farming career to date.
“My farming journey so far has been nothing short of challenging. I honestly would not have changed it because I have learned so much, and every day I get to do something I love; I know how lucky I am.”
“I have also learned so much and met some great people I might never have crossed paths with if it was not for goat farming.”
Planning for the future
Emma has plans for the future to innovate her current farm enterprise.
“My plan for the herd in the future is to continue breeding good quality purebred goats and not increase too much in numbers.”
“I work outside on the farm mostly alone, and around the 70-80 goat market for me is easy to handle.”
Another goal Emma has for the future is to become trained in the AI of goats.
“Not many people AI goats in Ireland that I have found, and it would increase new bloodlines into our herd. Bloodlines can be limited in Ireland and can be hard to do without AI.”
In terms of the business element of the micro-dairy, the O Connors plan to construct a processing building established to enable customers to come to their farm and taste the products for themselves.
Emma concludes, “it has been a long road, as we start with just a 2-acre field and built all our sheds from scratch.”
“To see it finally up and running and our products out on the market would be the goal for me.”
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