On the face of it, lawyer turned cheesemaker Will Atkinson is a walking, talking advert for giving up the rat race. Hill Farm, the dairy he set up with his wife, Caroline, in 2008, sits in 30 acres of picture-perfect rolling English pastures and woodland south-west of Taunton, with 100 goats gambolling happily around the place.
But there is a dark side to the dairy goat industry. Most male kids are killed at birth and their carcasses burned, or they are sold to the local hunt as meat for the hounds. Unsurprisingly, this makes Atkinson uneasy: “My goats aren’t just units on a spreadsheet … ,” he says. “They have names, so we see them as individuals.The idea of treating my billies as a waste product doesn’t sit comfortably.”
While the plight of male dairy calves led to a flexing of the national conscience, legislative change and renewed demand for humanely reared British veal, billy kids don’t get so much as a mention. The numbers involved are tiny by comparison – Defra says there are around 90,000 goats in the UK – but that still means a lot of billies going to meet their maker soon after their first bleat.
And that’s a terrible waste. Goat meat is damned tasty, but when was the last time you saw it at the high-street butcher, let alone supermarket?…
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