Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 25 May 2018

Why these Westmeath goat farmers have huge expansion plans on their 500ac estate

Claudia Marl and her husband Juergen run a herd of 350 goats at their farm near Collinstown
Claudia Marl and her husband Juergen run a herd of 350 goats at their farm near Collinstown
The goats are milked in a Fullwood rapid exit parlour which takes 80 goats at a time
The herd consists of Toggenburg, Nubian, Alpine and Saanen breeds

Chris McCullough

It's not just the dairy industry that's experiencing expansion as goat farmers Juergen and Claudia Marl will testify.

The German couple are currently milking 360 goats on their Westmeath farm and are aiming to increase the herd size to 500 over the next few years.

Juergen and Claudia have lived and worked the 500 acre estate at Barbavilla House near Collinstown for almost 30 years and established the new goat herd there over the past four years.

The farm was purchased by Claudia's father, Franz Pohl, in the 1960s. Barbavilla House itself dates back to 1730. After initially operating a goat herd on the farm from 2001 Juergen and Claudia decided to disperse the herd in 2012 for personal reasons.

The goats are milked in a Fullwood rapid exit parlour which takes 80 goats at a time
The goats are milked in a Fullwood rapid exit parlour which takes 80 goats at a time

However, after a one year break from the goats the couple decided to build a new herd.

Claudia takes the lead in looking after and milking the goats while Juergen is in charge of the machinery and fodder.

"We did start afresh with a new herd in 2013 after taking a break for a year," says Claudia.

"There are 500 acres here at Barbavilla Estate in total, of which we use 340 for farming purposes including 70 acres that we use only to produce fodder for the goats.

Also Read


"As they stay indoors all year round we use the 70 acres to make pit silage, round bale silage and hay to stock as fodder to feed the goats over the run of the full year."

Demand

The herd consists of Toggenburg, Nubian, Alpine and Saanen breeds
The herd consists of Toggenburg, Nubian, Alpine and Saanen breeds

The new herd has already established itself and is producing top quality milk which is in high demand from local processors and milk buyers.

"This current herd consists of Toggenburg, Nubian, Alpine and Saanen breeds," says Claudia.

British Saanen goats produce higher milk yields and are the most commonly used breed commercially. Anglo Nubians produce a higher fat content and are also quite common on most goat farms.

Goats tend to have a gestation period for around 150 days, give or take a week, and with that in mind between 33 pc and 50pc of the goats at the Marls' farm are in kid at any one time. The female goats are served by the billy goats when they are in the region of 40 to 45kgs which is the optimum mating condition.

The goats are milked at 7am and 5pm at Barba Goat Farm.
The goats are milked at 7am and 5pm at Barba Goat Farm.

There are 10 billy goats used at Barba Goat Farm of varying breeds that have been purchased from other goat breeding farms in order to advance the genetics in the Marl herd.

"The billy goats are pretty timid animals," said Claudia. "We house them all in the same pen here when they are not being used. Billy goats get a bad rap for being quite smelly and if people touch them they, too, will be smelly.

"However, the smell comes from a gland between the billy goat's horns and if you don't touch this then you won't smell." Long fibre is a major part of a goat's diet. Access to good quality hay or clean barley straw in addition to a silage or concentrate based feed is essential to the maintenance of healthy rumen function.

Forage

"We use a JF Stoll VMR tub feeder to mix up hay and silage to feed the goats twice per day.," says Juergen. "Goats thrive well and produce milk when fed a high percentage of forage so that's why we mix the silage and hay together.

"One kilogramme of concentrates per head per day is also fed to the goats in the parlour when they are milking to give them a mineral boost and to help them feel at ease when milking.

"The concentrates are specially produced goats nuts which we buy in."

Managing the goat's health is important to ensure goats remain mobile and in peak production.

The Marls carry out regular checks on their animal's feet to ensure there are no infections.

"If we find a goat with a foot issue it is removed from the main housing area and the problem is addressed immediately," says Claudia.

"We also administer regular vaccines to protect against common clostridial diseases."

Goats are also double tagged from birth and are fitted with an electronic tag later on which can be read via a hand reader.

The milking goats also have a coloured band around their necks to help Claudia know to which lactation group any particular goat belongs.

'We produce 750 litres a day and receive 70c per litre from the processor'

The Barbavilla farm goats are milked at 7am and again at 5pm each day, seven days per week and achieve a yield of around two litres per goat per day.

Milk is stored in the farm's two dairy tanks and is collected twice per week by the processors.

"We are currently milking 360 goats producing around 750 litres of fresh milk per day and receive 70 cents per litre from the processor," said Claudia.

"We get paid on quantity rather than quality but we still aim to produce the best milk we can from our farming system.

"Goats are milked in our Fullwood rapid exit parlour which holds 80 goats and milks 40 goats at once on one side.

"Our goats are currently yielding an average of two litres per animal but we always strive to increase that to three litres per goat which is an excellent average.

"This parlour has been installed for the past 10 years and is really efficient when milking the goats. Each milking takes around one and a half hours to two hours and I usually milk them all myself keeping our labour requirements to a minimum.

"We do employ two staff here at Barba Goat Farm and also take on some students who come here to help out as well."

Demand is strong for goat milk and goat milk products. Claudia and Juergen supply Glenisk Dairy in County Offaly and the Village Dairy in Carlow as well as some specialist cheese makers in Galway.

"There is currently a good demand for goat milk and cheese and that demand is on the increase," says Claudia.

"With that in mind we are planning to increase the herd to 500 milking goats sometime in the near future."


For Stories Like This and More
Download the FarmIreland App


Trials are currently underway at the Sligo Institute of Technology to develop a new range of ice cream flavours using the milk from Barba Goat Farm as the raw ingredient.

The Marls use a milk recording programme to monitor the production of each goat which helps them choose which ones are the best, in terms of milk yield and quality, to breed from.

"We operate a 20 per cent goat replacement rate," she said. "That means we currently replace around 70 goats per year with younger stock.

"When we increase the herd to 500 we will therefore be replacing around 100 goats each year," she adds.

Indo Farming

Get the latest news from the FarmIreland team 3 times a week.





More in Dairy