Shaun Murray is at the coalface of New Zealand’s $1 billion export infant formula industry.
He and his wife Sarah have been – and still are – dairy farmers in Wairarapa for 15 years, but have now set up the Oete goat farm in Patumahoe, just south of Auckland, in partnership with New Image. They will solely supply goat milk to New Image which makes infant formula and other nutritional products, mainly for export to Asian markets.
Oete currently has 2400 goats in its 1.3ha of barn housing, but plans to increase to 3000, making it the largest goat farm in New Zealand.
The Boltons dairy farm on two other properties in Wairarapa: he is fifth generation from the Wairarapa and milks about 1000 cows on the Pahiatua farm, as well as running sheep and beef. They also bought a dairy farm in Greytown about six years ago milking 600 cows.
Sarah is originally from Ramarama and so when they started a partnership with Auckland-based New Image it made sense to be closer to where they are based, Matt says.
He says goats are lovely animals to handle.
“Going from dairy cows which are a lot larger and a little unpredictable, it is almost like each goat is a pet. They are very easy to handle: if a goat has kidded or you want to move her from one pen to another you basically just put a collar on her and lead out.
“I haven’t tried that with a cow but I think she would be leading me out.”
Bolton says the farm has 120ha of grass, which is cut and harvested back and fed to the goats. That is 80% of the goats’ diet and they source other roughages and locally sourced feeds to balance diets. This includes silage, canola, goat pellets and brewers’ grain.
At present they have 2400 does, all in kid and due to start giving birth this month. The goats are housed and are milked twice a day on a 56-bail ‘gotary’ – a converted dairy cow system.
The super-clean and contented goats are housed in the 1.3ha ‘shed’ but will be put outside at times to graze or play. An outdoor play area is being fitted out.
Bolton says they are looking at production of about 75kgMS/goat this year as most of the goats are yearlings. When they get to two and three year olds they will get up to 100kgMS/goat.
They have had seven staff, but this will increase to 11 when milking gets into full production.
Currently they plan on milking 10 months of the year. The goats will be dry for six to eight weeks, some will kid earlier, some later – so they may end up milking over the whole year.
They manage the bedding by topping up the straw and shavings every three or four days when the goats go up to the milking shed, so it is always kept fresh and dry.
The Boltons were starting to investigate the nutritional benefits of goat milk when the New Image name popped up.
“So we started to talk to them about what they were doing and found out they were keen to have suppliers come on board. It evolved from there: we were keen to start a goat farm and New Image were keen to take us on board.”
Bolton says more people are now better understanding the benefits of goat milk, so while it is a niche market it may move beyond that. “I am pretty excited about the prospects of goat milk.”
He claims goat milk has higher vitamins and minerals. With bovine milk you digest only about 60-70%, but with goat milk up to 90% is digested because it curdles differently in the human stomach, Bolton says.
Three thousand goats will fill the capacity of the farm because they want to allow more space per goat than the industry standard.
“We want to be pretty special here; we want to produce New Zealand’s best goats’ milk, higher quality and we want to have NZ’s happiest goats because we feel the two go hand in hand,” he told a recent official opening attended by Minister of Food Safety Jo Goodhew.