Goat milk brims with potential

Dairy Goat SA is a privately-owned organisation and their aim is to build the dairy goat industry into a fully-fledged agricultural sector.
Issue date : 10 July 2009

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how big is the market  for goat milk products in South Africa?
We don’t know how big it is because it’s never been tested properly. For all we know, we’re sitting on a goldmine. I see no reason why the local dairy goat industry should be inferior to that of Europe. Holland processes more than 20 million litres of goat milk every year.

In Israel, they process 7 million litres and on some of the Greek islands, cows were only introduced during the last generation. Until then, they’d relied on goat milk.
Most of the milk produced here is sold one way or another, but there are no reliable consumption statistics. But there is a ready market for infants, people who are lactose-intolerant and also for those who need an easy-to-digest form of nourishment, such as HIV/Aids sufferers and the elderly.

There’s a baby clinic in Pretoria that buys 160â„“ a month from one of our members. When I started out, we battled to sell the milk. Now I sell more than 6 000â„“ a month and from time to time buy in milk from selected farmers. There will also be many Europeans here for the Soccer World Cup who need no introduction to goat milk. But as things stand, visitors won’t be able to buy goat milk or any of the processed products like cheese and yoghurt.

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Goat milk should no longer be seen as a luxury or niche product and South Africans who choose to consume goat milk should have easy and regular access to it.

Where does the dairy goat industry currently stand?
I’m excited about its potential in South Africa. But it’s not yet an established industry. We’re considered hobbyists. Existing farmers give up and sell their goats because they can’t sell their milk and consumers don’t drink goat milk because they don’t know where to buy it. We need to connect consumers to farmers, and then we’ll have an industry. That’s why I launched the Dairy Goat SA website in 2008.

Tell us about Dairy Goat SA.
It’s a privately-owned organisation and our aim is to build the dairy goat industry into a fully-fledged agricultural sector. We’re establishing communication channels amongst farmers and are creating an infrastructure for consumers to find goat milk products. There are dairy goat farmers all over South Africa, but until the formation of Dairy Goat SA it was difficult for them to get information or advice. I established Dairy Goat SA when I realised most farmers had the same problems I had.

A few years ago, there was a health scare at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, when processors added bovine milk to goat milk. What’s being done to prevent this happening again?
The SA Milch Goat Breeders’ Society recently formed the Southern African Goat and Sheep Milk Processors Organisation (Sags), primarily to deal with issues of quality. It will draft minimum standards for both established and new entrants and will manage a purity certification mark.

This applies only to goat milk at this stage. Sags will manage it under contract, and license each accredited member. Members can then display the “100% Goats Milk” mark on their products. The label will give the consumer some comfort that the milk is produced professionally and hygienically from healthy animals, and that it’s pure dairy goat milk. However, this project is in the initial phase and very few farmers even know about the certification mark.

What new products are in the pipeline?
We’re currently running tests to produce powdered milk in South Africa and hope to have locally produced goat milk powder available later this year. We’ve also asked an ice cream factory to do tests on making a goat milk ice cream. The cheese market is already fairly well established and all types of cheeses from feta to cheddar can be bought from selected cheese-makers and retailers. Long-life and evaporated milk is still not available here and these projects will be tackled next year. Kefir, a type of fermented drinking yoghurt made from goat’s milk, contains huge amounts of probiotics.

Tell us about the dairy goat feed problem.
Up to now, there was no dairy goat feed available and goat keepers resorted to cow and sheep rations. Because the feed mills can only manufacture large batches, dairy goat farmers had to order 1t or more at a time and this was just not viable for farmers with small herds. Goats eat about 1,5kg of concentrate per day and 1t of food is likely to expire before it’s consumed by goats on small farms. Dairy Goat SA has concluded a deal with one of the feed mills to manufacture a specially formulated dairy goat ration. This means farmers can buy the real thing in 50kg bags from us.

Are dairy goats hard to come by?
There’s huge interest in South African (Swiss) dairy goats from many countries in Africa such as Lesotho, Botswana, Kenya and even the Great Lakes region higher up in Africa. Some of the orders are so big we can’t fill them. But everything feeds off the local market. If we can develop a local market for milk and farmers can make money, they can expand their herds, breed more and supply the export market. Farmers are currently only too happy to get involved in exporting animals because this helps them keep their operations afloat financially. It also suits the buyers of goat milk, as they can only process in limited quantities due to the market being undeveloped.
This will all change if South Africa becomes an international player in the goat milk industry, as we’d need to retain these animals to produce milk locally.
While the export market isn’t a reliable source of income for farmers, it provides welcome relief to some farmers.

Do you think South Africa has the potential to export goat milk products?
South Africa has more than enough expertise to produce world-class processed products like cheese, powdered milk, soap and so on. If we intend to become an exporter of processed products, we’ll need to increase our herds gradually over the next few years, with a view to producing larger quantities of milk over and above servicing the export market.

Do you foresee a future for emerging dairy goat farmers?
Several emerging farmers have already been established. A single dairy goat can supply a family with all its daily dairy needs if she receives the right feed. She can also be kept on as little as 1ha and you don’t need a farm, trucks or a milking parlour to keep a few goats. As the industry grows in South Africa, we foresee that many new farmers will start up.

The three recognised breeds of dairy goats in South Africa are the Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine. But is the indigenous goat not better suited for milk production in Africa?
Many people do milk ordinary Boer goats for their daily supply of milk. Dairy goats carry less meat than Boer goats and their primary purpose is therefore to produce milk. They can obviously be used for meat too. In the same way, the Boer Goat can produce milk but it’s primary purpose is to produce meat. A Boer goat won’t produce nearly as much milk as a Swiss Dairy goat. Secondly, we need to remember the bigger picture here.

We want to become leaders in this industry and therefore we must produce the best quality goat milk from as few as possible animals. For this reason, we must conform to the quality of processed products available throughout the world and will have to use the milk from Swiss dairy goats.

Dairy goats are less hardy than indigenous goats and in areas where the conditions are harsh and unforgiving, rural farmers should stick to indigenous animals. It’s a matter of focusing on your needs – do you want to feed your family or do you want to contribute to the economy?

Tell us about the dairy goat information event that you’re planning to hold in Johannesburg in September.
Anyone who is interested in dairy goats can come to network and exchange information and advice. It’s primarily about strategic planning and creating a structure for everyone to benefit from. If we organise ourselves, we can be an international player within 10 years or so. But we have to centralise our efforts and stop working in inefficient, under-financed pockets all over the country. People who are interested in attending the event should get in touch with me. Contact Deon van Dalen on
082 779 4899 or e-mail [email protected] For more information visit
www.dairygoat.co.za. |fw