A few years ago and we’d have said ‘no’, this is an impossible concept – goats are animals that above all love freedom and to be able to wander about – goats do roam! There’s even a red wine with this name. The demand for goat’s milk which is now sold in supermarkets has led to the rise in commercial goat production, even though it’s over £1.30 a pint, it sells out every day.
Still, we imagined that goats would be farmed in a similar way to cows (better fencing perhaps) and would be out grazing most days and running in to the barns at night. We’ve recently discovered that this isn’t so. In some commercial goat farms they are kept indoors for the whole of their lives, only leaving the shed to go into the milking parlour and then it’s back again.
These are very large buildings where hundreds of goats live together under intensively farmed conditions. There are central feeding areas where the goats poke their heads through bars to eat a maintenance ration. Above all, goats are intelligent, inquisitive creatures with strong family ties. Although they looked well cared for they are still always inside and with no chance of a natural life. What happens to these thousands of goats when they don’t milk so well? It’s a disturbing question.
All the goats have their horns burned off when they are a few days old, there is no place for horns in intensive farming, it’s said it would make the goats too difficult to handle and that they would injure each other. Kept hundreds to a shed this is likely. There is a risk of extreme pain and even death during the disbudding process. Goats have thin skulls and this is a mutilation after all. Goats kept naturally and with plenty of room do not need to have their horns removed.
However, we’ve been told that in New Zealand, where goats are also farmed for milk production, they do not burn the horns away and that they still manage their herds perfectly well. We’re aiming to find out more about this.
In the commercial herds kids are taken away from the goats soon after birth and reared communally. That’s the female kids only, the male kids are slaughtered as it is deemed too expensive to rear them. They can’t have their mothers milk because it goes to be sold. This has to be distressing for the mothers, goats are very maternal. Eventually they may become numb to what’s happening to them.
So this is something to think about when you go to buy a pint of goat’s milk. I imagined that the goats would be ambling around in meadows, gazing at the sky, picking on thistles, grasses and browsing. As so much in our modern lives, the reality is quite different.
Is this a natural or kind way to keep a goat? Is it in accordance with her natural life? Human’s don’t need dairy at all once we’ve become adult. We may like but it isn’t good for us. We don’t like any animal to be kept intensively. The proposed factory farms for cows are something we oppose absolutely. Traditional farming may not be perfect but it does let cows have their freedom.
Belinda with Buffy and Bafta. She loves her kids and they love their mum.