Angela O’Hanlon had to learn quickly when she bought two goats to milk for her family. When she tried her hand at making cheese, she quickly found she had a hit on her hands, and now she has expanded to 100 milking goats and Dingle Goats’ Cheese is supplying top-end outlets across Kerry and beyond
What started as two pet goats nine years ago has turned into a herd of 100 milking goats today and a business for Angela O’Hanlon.
Angela, who runs Dingle Goats’ Cheese, supplying hotels and restaurants throughout the country, says she never envisioned starting her own business when she first began milking two goats by hand in her back garden.
“I bought two goats in 2014 with the intention of milking them for our house. My children were young and had asthma and eczema and I heard goat’s milk was a good cure.
“So I bought two Saanens from a lady in Killarney who showed me how to milk them by hand. From growing up in an estate in Dublin, I had no idea about goats, let alone milking them so it was a learning curve,” says Angela, who met her husband Shane while in school and moved to Kerry, where his family were originally from.
“His ancestors moved to Kildare during the time of the Land Commission. It’s always been Shane’s dream to move here so 15 years ago we bought the house and the surrounding land. We wanted to raise a family in the countryside.”
Angela soon got the hang of it and after seeing the results in her children’s health, she decided to expand her herd, bringing in a buck goat to breed the two females.
“When they had their kids, my husband looked at me and said ‘we better find a use for all these goats or we will have to start selling them,’” she says.
Angela tried making soap from the goat’s milk at first but found it was a lot of work and she wasn’t confident there would be a market for it.
“I had bought a buck goat from Eileen from Anna’s Dairy in Kildare and she gave me a recipe for soft goat’s cheese,” she says.
“I made it one day just to see what it was like and when I gave some to our family and friends they thought it was gorgeous and asked for more.”
After practising her technique, Angela approached some local businesses to see if they would be interested in buying the cheese.
“I went down to our local pub and restaurant, Foley’s, and Fidelus Foley, who is the chef there, tasted it and thought it was fabulous. She said she would put it on her menu if I could produce it. I was delighted. I knew the cheese was good but I needed someone else to tell me,” says Angela.
Angela also approached the Little Cheese Shop in Dingle and again they loved it and pointed her in the right direction.
“They told me if I wanted to start producing cheese and selling it that I’d need to apply to the Department of Agriculture for a registration number and become approved by it following assessments and inspections.
“The Little Cheese Shop agreed to take me on if I got that done.
“There was nobody else in Kerry milking goats and making cheese at the time, and I’m still the only one I think.”
Angela started by converting one of the rooms in her house into a cheese-making room which she got approved by the Department.
She started pasteurising her milk as instructed by the Department and sourced some packaging for her new product.
“When I was starting out it was just me and I didn’t have a lot of cheese to sell. Gradually, as customers got to know my cheese and it became popular, the demand increased,” she says.
Angela was taken by surprise soon after when she got a phone-call from the Europa Hotel’s head chef asking to meet her.
“Alex, the chef had bought my cheese in Mary’s Organic Store in Miltown and loved it. When I met him he told me he wanted to put my cheese on the menu.
“That was six years ago and since then I’ve been approached by more and more hotels and restaurants and now I can’t make enough cheese to meet the demand,” says Angela who has won a number of Blas na hÉireann awards..
Angela has built up her herd of milking goats to 100 and supplies her cheese throughout Kerry and to surrounding counties. Last year she moved from making the cheese in her house and built a purpose-built cheese-making room on the farm.
She keeps a mixture of breeds and milks them once a day using a mobile milker.
“The first goats I bought were Saanens — they are one of the best breeds for milking because they produce a high volume of milk,” she says.
“I’ve since added Toggenburg goats because they produce lovely creamy milk, even though they don’t produce the same volume as the Saanens do,.
“I’ve also got some Alpine and Nubian goats because they’re hardier breeds with better feet. I’ve found the Sannen goats have bad feet for mountains, and we are on the Slieve Mish mountains looking down over the beach.
“The Alpines don’t produce as much milk or as creamy milk as the others but they’re good for our land and I think it’s healthy to have a mixture of breeds in a herd.
“I’m still milking the first goats I ever bought, at eight years old.”
Angela milks all year round, with the majority of her kid goats being born in the spring and the remainder in the autumn.
The kids are kept with their mothers for at least six weeks and they’re weaned gently. All goat kids should be kept with their mothers for at least three days so that they get all the colostrum which is imperative for overall health, according to Angela.
“I keep some of the females for milking but I have no use for the males so I have another farmer who buys them off me and fattens them for meat,” she says.
“There is always someone looking for goats so I’m never stuck for someone to sell the kids to.”
Angela has a new contract-rearing venture lined up for next year and has organised someone to buy her female kids and rear them before she then buys them back.
“I feel I need to just focus on one aspect of the business, and both rearing goats and milking them is a lot of work,” she says.
Angela’s goats are fed dairy nuts, oats and barley and while some goat farmers swear by haylage, she says, it’s not for her.
“Haylage tends to taint the milk ever so slightly and I don’t like that. My cheese is completely natural with no added colours or flavourings so it needs to have that pure, natural colour,” she says.
When Angela started her business she milked her goats twice a day but she has changed to once-a-day.
“Milking twice a day was taking up too much time. Since we changed to once-a-day milking we’ve found the goats are happier and healthier because they aren’t under pressure,” she says.
“When goats are sick they go down fairly quickly, so you have to be vigilant. Foot-rot can be one of the biggest issues and so can mastitis.”
Each of Angela’s goats produces between two and three litres of milk at each milking, and she can milk two goats at a time.
“The goats have to be trained to jump up onto the stand for milking,” she says.
“I clean their udders before I start milking.
“It takes about three minutes to milk a goat and when I have them all milked I test the milk.
“The milk goes from the mobile milking machine into the milk churn and then we take it down to the milk processing room which is only 900m from the dairy.”
The milk is poured into 30L pots and heated on a stove until it reaches a certain temperature.
The pots are then transferred to large sinks where the milk is left to cool and the cultures and rennet are added.
After two days the cheese is drained, and salt is added.
“I currently only make soft cheese but, in the future, I’d like to try my hand at hard and semi-hard cheese as well,” says Angela.
“It’s packaged in tubs and I designed the label myself. I do deliveries in Tralee, Killarney and Dingle and deliveries outside those areas are done by courier.
“Over the last few years I have built up a great relationship with the hotels and restaurants and I maintain that by doing the deliveries myself.”