Almost every culture on earth eats goat, but never the UK. As a nation however, we do seem to have a good appetite for goat dairy products. Combine this with our lack of goat meat consumption and it presents a very distressing issue, and one that’s not widely known about.
The UK goat dairy industry is currently valued at £60m, with 17.5m litres of drinking milk and 1820 tonnes of goats cheese produced annually. At present, the majority of these products are consumed within the UK due to the strong domestic demand for goats’ products, and with further growth predicted, the dairy side of the industry is thriving. I’d go as far to say that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
There are 50 – 60 UK commercial goat dairy farms, which between them sees a population of between 40 – 45 thousand goats. In order to keep the nanny goats producing milk, that goat needs to have kids. Goats usually give birth to twins and the law of nature dictates that the sex of the kids will be split 50/50. If 2 girls are born you’re onto a winner, with 10 years of milk production, herd replenishment and comfortably repaying the resource investment which has gone into getting those goats born in the first place. If 1 or 2 billies are born however, this is where things start to get ugly.
The dairy industry currently sees the billies as a waste product. Let’s think about that for a second. A waste product, not a by-product. There is a very unfortunate distinction between the two in this case.
A by-product is defined as “An incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else”. Therefore a product in its own right, with a value.
A waste product is defined as ‘An unusable or unwanted substance or material produced during, or as a result of, a process such as manufacturing”. Therefore with no value.
The latter definition is how the billies are regarded. Annually in the UK 34 – 40,000 billies are euthanised shortly after birth. Shot, gassed or simply knocked on the head and incinerated, like pieces of rubbish. An unusable or unwanted material.
It’s important for me to mention at this point that in no way can we blame the dairy farmers for this sad fact. You simply can’t expect a farmer to rear an animal that there is no market for. It simply comes down to supply and demand.
There’s an historical reason behind the lack of demand for goats meat here in the UK, which dates back to medieval times. The wool trade. Without delving into a full blown history lesson, Cambridge historian John H. Munro wrote
“No form of manufacturing had a greater impact upon the economy and society of medieval Europe than did those industries producing cloths from various kinds of wool.”
It says it all really I think. Large areas of land were turned over to pasture for sheep. Goats don’t do well on pasture, and at the time wool had value. The full history is fascinating, but in effect this saw us eating lamb/hogget/mutton instead of goat meat. And that eating habit has never really changed.
Cabrito – A goat meat company
Thankfully this is where James Whetlor comes in. Back in 2012 James founded Cabrito, an award winning goat meat company, after keeping a few goats to solve a land management problem. A chef by trade, he was cooking at River Cottage at the time and a few of the goats ended up on the menu. He’s never looked back since and, with the help of his girlfriend Sushi, Cabrito has created and has continued to grow a market for kid goat meat.
All Cabrito kids are a by-product of the dairy industry, no longer destined for euthanasia shortly after birth they are now instead raised for meat. In a world of dwindling resources and rising food prices, James and Sushi believe the waste cannot be justified. They now have a network of farms producing high quality meat from a previously wasted source, supplying restaurants, butchers, catering suppliers and most recently Ocado and Turner & George These latest additions have made kid meat widely available to the public following an increase in demand.
Originally, and now a longstanding annual event held in the US every October since 2010, this year sees the exciting launch of the UK’s inaugural Goatober.
A month long celebration of the dairy billy goat meat industry sees the ETM Group, HIX Group, River Cottage Canteens, Shotgun BBQ, I’ll be Mother and Romy’s Kitchen putting a goat dish on their menus and urging diners to try this amazing meat.
Cabrito are also teaming up with The Jugged Hare restaurant in London and have asked 6 top chefs to each serve a goat inspired dish. It’s no surprise that tickets are sold out for the event being held on the 5th October, which includes a wine pairing with each course, petit fours and coffee, all for £85 per person.
Cabrito, Goatober and the BBQ family
When James recently took part in a UnitedQ podcast hosted by Dan Shahin and Ben Forte, he inspired a whole host of professional and amateur BBQers, including myself, by talking so passionately about billy kid goat meat and the background behind it.
I was immediately spurred on to help with getting the word out to everyone I could and so, along with my Twitter BBQ family and James himself, we decided that on the 8th October 2016, we’d all have a day of cooking goat on the BBQ to help raise awareness and get right behind the #goatober celebrations.
So why eat goat meat?
Apart from the obvious ethical reasons, it’s a delicious meat, similar in flavour to lamb but with a sweeter note. It’s low in fat and saturated fat (even compared to chicken cooked with the skin off), cholesterol and calories, but it’s also packed full of flavour. It lends itself well to roasting, slow cooking, curries, stews, tagines, grilling and even stuffing into sausages. If you haven’t tried this amazing meat yet, I’d encourage you to give it a go.
I recently gently grilled some goat cutlets on the BBQ, after marinating them for a few hours in olive oil, crushed garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest and a little salt and pepper. They were incredible! I’ll be cooking more goat throughout October, so keep an eye on my blog and social media for inspiration and tips on how to get the best from this fabulous meat.
Note: This article was put together with the help and permission of James Whetlor of Cabrito, who supplied the facts and figures and who also kindly allowed the use of certain photographs.