A booming milk alternative

goatsMany people today have to avoid milk and dairy products in their diets because of allergies or intolerances. But luckily for them, there is an alternative – and one that is becoming increasingly popular and increasingly available in Ontario.

That alternative is goat milk and it’s a booming industry in Ontario. According to Lisa Thompson, general manager of the 108 member Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative, demand for milk to make goat cheese is up over 30 per cent from last year.

Goat milk is the most widely consumed milk in the world. In Ontario, there are 265 goat milk farmers, a number that is growing rapidly as demand for goat milk increases.

“We’re a very young industry but we know we’re onto something good,” says Thompson.

I had a chance to meet some dairy goat farmers – called that to distinguish them from farms where goats are raised for meat – in the Ottawa area recently to learn more about this fascinating industry.

John and Noemi Oude Egberinks  used to be dairy farmers who switched to milking goats in 2007. They currently milk 200 goats – a bit smaller than the average Ontario herd size or 300 – 400 animals – but are working to expand their production.

“It’s easy to increase got milk production because you don’t need quota,” says John, referring to the supply management system in the dairy sector that requires farmers to buy expensive quota to be able to produce milk.

milking-parlorOne goat will produce about 2.5 litres of milk per day and it takes 10 goats to produce the same amount of milk as one dairy cow. An average goat will be milked seven to eight years and starts to give milk every year when she gives birth. On the Oude Egberinks farm, the female young are kept to grow the milking herd and the males are raised for meat.

All of Oude Egberinks’ milk goes into goat cheese production. There are two main processors of dairy goat milk in Ontario – Woolwich Dairy in Orangeville and Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville, making goat milk products an excellent choice for lovers of local foods as well.

In addition to cheese and milk, goat soap and cosmetics are entering the marketplace. For example, goat milk will help skin retain moisture so it is becoming popular with those who suffer from dry skin. Work is also underway to develop other products, such as a powdered goat milk, in order to keep the industry growing.

“Dairy goats is a stable industry,” says Thompson. “We have no where to go but up.”

For more information on dairy goats and goat milk, visit www.ontariodairygoat.com or www.ontariogoatmilk.org.

And for your own chance to tour a dairy goat farm – virtually – visit www.farmissues.com and click on the goat photo.

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