Marnie and Tim Dobson’s farm may be set down a long and winding lane in the heart of the Cheshire countryside but people are beginning to beat a path to their door.
Theirs is one of a handful of goat farms in the country and, largely due to their efforts, the British public is developing a taste for goat meat.
“We are what you call ‘niche market’,” says Marnie at the couple’s 110-acre farm in Spurstow, near Tarporley. “We sell mainly to three groups – minority groups whose traditional diets includes goat meat; foodies; and the health conscious who like it because it is low fat and low cholesterol. It is lower in fat than chicken.”
Ideally, they would like to see goat meat sold alongside pork and beef in butchers’ shops and supermarkets and are working towards that aim.
At the moment much of the meat is sold through their own Chestnut Meats farm shop, on-line, or at farmers’ markets. They attend 12 farmers’ markets a month around Cheshire and Shropshire and will be at the Chester Food, Drink & Lifestyle Festival at Chester Racecourse from April 3-5. They also supply an increasing number of restaurants.
Meanwhile, Marnie has been getting a broader view of growing the business. She has just come back from the US, having been to Washington and Pennsylvania on a 10-day study tour after being awarded a Nuffield Farming Scholarship.
“I came back invigorated,” she said. “I feel it will really help the business. I have new ideas and fresh approaches and hopefully I will be able to work with people that I met on the course. It’s very empowering.”
Marnie was one of 21 people from the UK farming, food chain and rural industries to be awarded Nuffield Scholarships this year and joined other award winners from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and US for a conference in Washington when the subject under discussion was the ‘global food crisis’.
“It made me think about different approaches to farming, sustainable farming for the future and using land in a more sustainable way,” said Marnie.
“I also learnt leadership skills and was given an insight into global agriculture.”
She is now planning to further her Scholarship studies by visiting Holland and Greece where she hopes to meet up with other goat farmers.
Marnie and Tim bought their first goats back in 2005. “It was just to try something different,” said Marnie. “I always seem to go against the tide,” she laughs.
Her first thought was to establish a goats’ milk business but she soon realised that she would need a herd that was at least 1,000-strong to make it a viable proposition. “We simply didn’t have the room,” she says. And so she explored the option of becoming one of the UK’s very few goat meat producers.
Until then Radmore Green Farm, where the couple live with their three small children, had been a dairy farm, but slowly the goat herd has increased from 60 to its current 400 and the last of the dairy herd was sold off at the end of last year.
Now they are hoping to encourage other UK farmers to rear goats to help them meet the growing demand.
For further information about Chestnut Meats, visit www.chestnutmeats.co.uk. For more information about Nuffield Farming Scholarships, visit www.nuffieldscholar.org.