The Benefits of Swapping Cattle for Goats but Sticking to Dairy
When they returned to the family farm, John Joe and Marisa Roche decided to take a new direction while continuing in the dairy industry.
he couple have moved on from cows to goats and now operate a sustainable and unusual farming business from their holding in Screen, Co Wexford.
“John Joe’s father retired and we moved back to the farm where he grew up,” says Marisa. “It has always been a traditional dairy farm.
“We wanted to change things up, but at the same time we wanted to use what the farm already had to offer.”
Marisa worked in the beauty industry and was aware of the health and skincare benefits of goat’s milk.
John Joe already had milking experience, so they decided to convert the cow milking parlor to accommodate goats.
They started with 100 Saanen, Toggenburg and Nubian goats and haven’t looked back since.
In 2017, the couple pushes their new adventure a little further and decided to produce and sell its own products.
“After doing some additional research, we knew there was a clear market for goat’s milk and goat’s milk products,” says Marisa. “We decided to set up our own pasteurization and bottling unit so that we could sell our own milk.”
John Joe has converted an old stone outbuilding. Les Roches goats now spend 90 minutes twice a day being milked in the new 40-unit milking parlour.
The milk is routed to the milk tank before being transferred to the pasteurizer via overhead lines. It is then pasteurized at 72°C. The milk is bottled in the bottling stand and capped before it is ready for distribution.
Marisa and John Joe approached various independent retailers and health food stores to market their product. Then, in 2017, they were accepted into the Supervalu Food Academy, which led to an expansion of the company and the creation of a new product. – goat cheese.
“The Food Academy was fantastic and we made great contacts through it. We learned a lot and expanded our market significantly,” says Marisa.
The Roches add a cheese vat to their production unit and begin testing their first cheese using a traditional farm method.
“The initial phase of cheese making is the same as our milk production method,” Marisa explains. “The milk is pasteurized but instead of going into the bottle, it goes into the cheese vat.
“We wanted our soft cheese to be unique, so we added vegetarian rennet. Our cheese has a wonderful, mild taste as opposed to the stronger taste of many goat cheeses.
Maria began supplying the cheese to its milk retailers, including Supervalu.
“Goat milk products have so many health benefits that they appeal to different types of customers,” she says. “Goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk and is much more tolerable for anyone who is lactose intolerant.
“It has also proven to be a better option for those with allergies, eczema and asthma.”
Les Roches products are also served in several top Irish restaurants and hotels.
“We were delighted to win gold at the Great Taste Awards in 2017 for our milk. It proved to us that diversifying in this way was the best option for our farm,” says Marisa.
Realizing that beauty products containing goat’s milk were in demand, Marisa tried to make her own soap and lotion, giving them to friends and family.
“I made some products using our own goat’s milk combined with natural ingredients like coconut oil and shea butter,” she says.
“I received a fantastic response from everyone who tried them, which gave me the confidence I needed to add these products to our business.”
Meadowfield Farm’s soap-making process takes six weeks. Marisa combines chilled goat’s milk with her other ingredients such as almond oil and avocado oil. The mixture is allowed to harden for six weeks until the desired pH level is reached.
The soap is available in three different varieties: lavender, tea tree and plain. Marisa’s lotion does not require hardening.
“All of our products are free of chemicals, artificial colors and preservatives. They come in their most natural form and are suitable for all ages,” she says.
“Our products derived from goat’s milk leave the skin visibly soft and hydrated and are incredibly soft. We have found that parents are particularly interested in all of our products as they are ideal for use on delicate skin. »
In order to keep the business as sustainable as possible, Marisa uses compostable and recyclable packaging of 100 pieces.
“It’s important to us to keep the farm as natural and environmentally friendly as humanly possible, and that philosophy applies to our farming business as well,” she says.
Marisa and John Joe say the secret to top quality products is good animal health.
“We always say happy goats, happy milk,” says Marisa. “Animal health is of the utmost importance to us. Good nutrition and health care are paramount to good quality milk, and that’s what all of our products are made from.
The 200 goats that roam the fields of Meadowfield Farm are fed fresh grasses and herbs daily. In terms of health and maintenance, they are treated in the same way as sheep: they are vaccinated twice a year and are constantly monitored.
Marisa and John Joe like to do all of their deliveries themselves, to keep their business as personal as possible.
“We make deliveries four times a week. We are lucky to have a great family help», explains Marisa. “Our children, Max (14), Lulu (13) and Jeff (7) are all extremely interested in the farm and the business, and John Joe’s parents, Mary and Ned, are always a great help in the closed. We are proud of what we have accomplished so far.
“It’s important to look at what you already have and how you could use it in a different way”
What level of start-up costs did you incur when setting up your business?
Like many start-up agricultural businesses, our costs have been incremental. I think a lot of farmers tend to put their money back into the farm to start their own business, and that’s exactly what we’ve done as well.
How long did it take to launch the business?
It took about two years from getting our first goats to producing our first milk for retail.
Were there grants available?
Subsidies are available for different types of farms from bodies such as LEADER and Local Enterprise Offices (LEO). However, we did not take advantage of any of these.
Did you find any support organizations or agencies that were particularly helpful?
Cian Condon from Teagasc has been very supportive in all things goat health.
We have also found the Ministry of Agriculture and our LEO to be very helpful in getting advice. The Supervalu Food Academy has been excellent for training, establishing new contacts and expanding our brand.
Do you need a special license or do you have to register with an organization?
We are registered as food producers with the Health Service Executive. We are also registered with Guaranteed Irish, the Department of Agriculture and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.
Was insurance necessary?
Yes, we have agricultural insurance, product insurance and liability insurance.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to diversify their business, what would it be?
I think it’s important to look at what you already have and how you could use it in a different way.
Networking is very important in any business. Contacting the competent bodies such as the Department and Teagasc is also essential, as they have plenty of advice and training.