Tender, delicate and mild, kid goat is fast emerging as the new sustainable alternative to chicken, lamb and beef. Hugh Thomas speaks to the UK’s first commercial outdoor-reared billy farm to see why.
Playing catch up
Eating kid goat is nothing new. Three-quarters of the world’s population eat goat or kid meat, and in countries as diverse as Ethiopia and Greece, Jamaica and India, it’s been a central part of the local diet for centuries. For the majority of home-cooks in the UK, however, it’s a meat staple we’ve never learnt to cook, let alone eat.
But that’s set to change. Five years ago, the UK’s first commercial outdoor-reared billy farm came to life. There were no guidelines. No government support bodies. It was a project that really had to start from nothing. ‘We’ve learnt as we’ve gone along,’ says Lizzie, who set up Just Kidding at Dartland Farm in Crickdale in Gloucestershire.
A serious business, no kidding
Lizzie applied her knowledge of traditional British livestock farming to buying young billy goats – or kids – from a high-welfare dairy farmer, then raising them for their meat. Her knowledge has been useful, but in reality she had to learn a whole different beast. ‘You have to have the patience and the eye,’ says Lizzie. ‘And then you can learn everything about the animal. If you can understand them, you can start to adapt your system to fit them, rather than the other way round. Particularly with goats and kids. They’re a completely unique animal to farm.’
Free-range & grass-fed
The vast majority of goats farmed in the UK are raised indoors on a diet of grain. Dairy farms, where most goats are raised, are restricted by the lack of a licensed parasite wormer, which would allow the goats to be kept outdoors. Just Kidding is not a dairy farm so Lizzie’s kid goats can be kept free-range and on a grass-based diet in as natural an environment as possible. ‘Goats don’t have a lot of fat on them, that’s the way they’re designed. But if you keep an animal inside and put a lot of grain through it, they will put a lot of fat on.’ says Lizzie. This is what makes her kid meat exceptional: tender, delicately sweet and lean.
A darker side to the goat dairy industry
The traditional way of farming goat in the UK has a more significant shortcoming however. On dairy farms, half of births aren’t nannies (females). As they’re surplus to requirements, these billy goats are dispatched at birth or not long after. In the UK, more than 30,000 kid goats are slaughtered each year in this way. That’s a lot of potentially good meat wasted, and if you’re someone who eats goats’ cheese, or drinks goats’ milk, then there are some sustainable considerations at play.
‘There’s an opportunity to say, well why don’t we take something that’s being wasted, farm it and rear it in a sustainable way. And produce quality meat at the end of it?’ says Lizzie. ‘The goat dairy industry is well established, but rearing kid meat is in its infancy. There should be lots of us doing it. I’ve had vegetarians emailing saying, we don’t eat meat, but we think what you’re doing makes absolute sense.’
Under the media radar
While kid or goat meat has been eaten for centuries in many cultures, the UK has one of the smallest goat populations in the world. Maybe that’s why we don’t pay much attention to the consequences of the dairy industry, or it doesn’t get the PR it needs. Then again, the much larger cattle dairy industry suffers from a similar issue. ‘It took a long time for veal to get its reputation back,’ says Lizzie. If you ask people in the street, a lot will remember the negative side of veal. That’s why we try and do things very transparently.’
Kid goat: a healthy, delicious source of red meat
Some dairy goat farmers have said their proudest achievement is getting to a point where they’re not euthanising kids any more, and it’s farms like Lizzie’s, and setups like James Whetlor’s Cabrito, that are helping them to do that. But it’s no small feat. ‘They will graze on everything,’ says Lizzie. ‘But it’s about variety. They love getting in the hedges, but if you kept them there they’d get bored of it. So you have to give them new strips to graze on every few days just to keep their interest.’
The cost of raising kid can also be daunting for famers. Kid goats needs milk powder from when they arrive on the farm until they reach a certain weight. ‘It’s astronomically expensive,’ says Lizzie. Kid goat is therefore more expensive than goat meat (which refers to a nanny spent of her milk), which is likened to the difference between mutton and spring lamb. The older the meat, the tougher it is, and the taste differs too. Kid meat is tender and mild, while lower in sat-fat and just as high in protein when compared to beef, pork, lamb and chicken, making it a healthy – and tasty – source of red meat.
A bright future
Most of the world eats goat but generally speaking, in the UK we’re not interested. With no government body, and little ulterior support besides, Lizzie and co. are on their own somewhat. The industry has a lot to catch up on, but Lizzie is making sure others can follow. And for once, it’s not a profit-driven corporate power calling the shots. ‘I like that we’re showing you can start from scratch,’ says Lizzie. ‘and by giving billy kids a purpose, we’re rearing a sustainable source of red meat that’s not only highly nutritious but delicious too.’