From buying a house goat because of their daughter’s cow’s milk intolerance, Kerry Haywood and Oliver Goolden have moved on to build up a herd of Golden Guernsey goats that is forming the foundation of Three Daughters Dairy, a growing cheese business on their Dorset smallholding.

Kerry and Oliver became smallholders through a desire to become self-sufficient in the family’s food production. Although she grew up in a rural village in Yorkshire and had experience of her grandfather’s backyard rabbit production, Kerry didn’t have a farming background. She says: “When I met my husband Oliver, who had grown up on a smallholding, we decided to try to make a go of producing food to sell.

 “Our first experience came through WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms), an organisation which enables volunteers to work on organic farms and learn about sustainability. From there we spent two years living in an off-grid community in Somerset. That was where things really changed for me when I started producing my own food. Raw milk in particular changed my relationship with food.”

In 2003 the couple bought a bare land holding in west Dorset and established an agricultural tie which enabled them to start their own organic farm. They have 20 acres, two of which are orchards and vegetables with the rest rotated with hay and grazing. The land contains a lot of ancient oak trees and is home to a host of wildlife, including polecats, harvest mice, dormice and barn owls. Initially they ran a beef suckler herd and farmed organic vegetables and apples and, at that stage, goats weren’t part of the commercial operation.

Kerry explains: “I had first met a Golden Guernsey at a Hampshire farm for Wembley schools. So, when our daughter struggled with cow’s milk intolerance, we decided to buy a goat and, of course, it was a Golden Guernsey.”

Upscaling the goat business

 After 14 years of just having house goats and producing cheese for their own consumption, Kerry and Oliver started to move in a different direction in 2019. Kerry says: “We were finding less of a demand for organic grass-fed beef and Oliver’s back was not happy about the vegetable business! Our children were full-time in school and I was more available for work so, with the encouragement of friends who were keen to eat more of our cheese, we decided to upscale the goat business.”

The herd currently stands at 19 milkers, plus offspring. The couple operate a 10-paddock system where the goats are moved on every four days. The goats are able to get onto the clay grassland year round, which is an improvement on the cattle, which tended to poach the ground. Until recently, Kerry and Oliver have been operating a kid-at-foot dairy, raising the male kids for meat.

Sadly the meat side of the business has suffered a setback as, due to a land sale, Kerry and Oliver have lost a rented grazing tenancy which enabled them to keep the young males until they were ready for slaughter. Meat production had looked to be a promising business opportunity after 15 years of producing meat for family consumption. Kerry describes the meat as “really delicious and tender”. A major factor in looking at meat production was having a small abattoir just a four-mile drive away. Kerry says: “This was important to our meat production and was why we were happy to continue with it. We aren’t stressed by the journey down the lanes and the animals aren’t either. This, plus the fact that the animals have a relatively short waiting time in a quiet space when they arrive at the abattoir, is something we really value.”

An added bonus was that Kerry and Oliver can collect the hides: “We use a small tannery where the process is biodynamically certified. The hides are extremely luxurious and their sale pushes up the value of the meat. We had also found a London cured-meat producer who is very interested in high-welfare goat meat salami so we know that there is something to be explored on that side of the business if we have the grazing land available to us.”

The most delicious food

In the meantime, the focus is on raw milk cheese. Kerry says: “We started with Golden Guernsey goats because we wanted fresh low food-mile dairy produce for home consumption and it has turned out to be the most delicious food we have produced from our land. The process is very much a natural farming one: goats go out to graze, keep their kids for a few months and eat hay from our own pastures. Surprisingly, these things don’t always happen in the goat cheese industry.”

The first steps on the road to commercial cheese production were completed in early 2020 when the milking parlour and cheese making room were finished off. Oliver also carried out numerous lab tests on various different batches of milk and cheese throughout 2020, in order to be confident that the cheese was safe for sale. During that time, the kids were kept on their mothers to limit milk and cheese production.

The completed facilities consist of a 3m square holding room and an equal sized milking parlour with a single milking stand; they also have a twin portable goat milker although, to date, they have only milked one goat at a time. The cheese room is 3m by 6m with a catering fridge adapted with a heating element and thermostat override to create a warming cupboard that runs at 21°C. Cheese sales were launched at the end of 2020, with about half of the production sold locally to the shops and restaurants that formed their existing customer base. The main breakthrough, however, came after Kerry contacted Neal’s Yard Dairy through Instagram.

Developing an aged cheese

Kerry describes what happened next: “After my initial contact, I sent Neal’s Yard Dairy some cheese to try. They were excited both by the cheese itself and the way we were farming and this led to a visit. Over the past year NYD were very helpful and supportive as we developed an aged cheese with them. We are planning to produce more of that this year which NYD will finish in their facilities in London.”

Over the first six months of production, in 2020, Oliver estimates that they averaged about 20 litres of milk a day, due to a few low yielders, which gave around 28 110g cheeses a day, selling at £4.00 each wholesale. He says: “We have only had one-and-a-half seasons so far and there have been a lot of set up costs, so we can’t say that we are making a good enough living yet. However, we are looking to increase this when the Golden Guernseys we are breeding for a more milky line come into milk next year. This should get us to the stage where we can employ someone – and we can have a bit more leisure time! “It’s a pity that we have lost the opportunity of the meat and hide sales, but we see the sale of breeding stock bringing in a relatively good income as we have some of the at-risk bloodlines.

Kerry adds: “We see the farming process we use as a kind of conservation process. It isn’t a big earner, but combined with other home produce – we produce the majority of our own food here – it is capable of giving us a good living, with a high quality of nutrition.”