Pete Wedderburn: Roving out with a new herd
Finding a viable business deep in the french countryside means mixing old and new for mathieu and his herd of rove goats
Owner: mathieu pastre from la tour sur orb, near montpellier, southern france
Pet: elio, his two-year-old australian cattle dog
Background: mathieu has just established a new herd of milking goats
Mathieu had no formal training in farming. He had been travelling overseas and he wanted to come back to the area where he had grown up. What sort of career could he take up?
His grandmother's family used to run a farm, and the old farm buildings were still in the family, although they've only been used as a holiday base for Mathieu and his cousins in recent years. Mathieu had an idea that he'd like to develop a new farming enterprise using his ancestral farm lands, so he set about turning his dream into a reality.
His plan was simple: to establish a herd of dairy goats, and then to sell the cheese locally. In the past, local people used to keep five or six goats, allowing them to forage in scrub land through the day and milking them every morning.
This practice had died out because it was no longer cost effective. Mathieu realised that there was a strong market for goat dairy products, and he decided to bring the traditional farming method into the 21st century.
The first part of his plan involved spending a year on an established dairy goat farm near Marseilles. He worked with a herd of 130 goats, learning all about their daily routine, including such details as nutrition, husbandry and working in a milking parlour. After this, he was ready to get started on his own.
He set up a small milking parlour in an empty outhouse on his grandmother's farm, buying a simple automatic milking machine designed for goats.
He bought 50 young female goats of the Rove breed; this is a traditional French breed of goat, closely related to wild goats. He also bought Elio, an Australian cattle dog with the strong herding instinct that's needed to keep goats under control.
A key part of his plan was to create a premium product to sell: the Rove breed of goat produces a special type of cheese, known as 'Rove Brousse'. This is a fresh, unsalted cheese, with a soft crumbly texture; there's always a strong demand for it. It can be consumed for four or five days after production, and it's valued for its intense, rich taste. The cheese is protected under European law: it has Registered Designation of Origin status.
Mathieu's initial investment of 50 goats bred successfully in the first year, with 25 new females born this spring. Next year he hopes to be up to 100 goats, which is the size of herd that he wants long term.
He's constructing a new, custom-built dairy, like an Irish cow milking parlour, so that he can efficiently and rapidly milk 12 goats at one time. He's also building a shop just outside the local village, where he'll make and sell his Rove Brousse cheese.
The daily routine has been established: Mathieu milks the goats early, then takes them out into the countryside with Elio. The goats forage from the dense hedgerows beside the vineyards that make up so much of the local scenery. The vineyard owners value the weed control provided by the goats, and for Mathieu's enterprise to succeed, he needs to stay on the right side of the local land owners.
Elio has an important role in protecting the vines, barking at the goats to keep them away from the valuable grapes. She's a good-natured dog who has become a family pet, but she's also an important working animal. The goat-keeping enterprise would be impossible without Elio to help keep those mischievous goats under control.