For Peter and Mandy Girard, goat farming was never the intention. They simply bought goats to keep their land tidy. Fast forward 20 years and they’re the owners of a 45-strong herd of beautiful Golden Guernseys.
Not only have the couple helped conserve this rare breed, they’ve become the producers of the island’s much sought-after Golden Guernsey Goat Cheese, along with a range of other products including milk, yoghurt, meat in autumn, and more.
It’s been a journey of discovery for the Girards, who’ve had to learn goat farming on the job. But now the farm is now facing its toughest challenge yet as it deals with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Being creative and finding new revenue streams has been vital to the farm’s survival, as has the support of the Guernsey community, to which Mandy is extremely grateful.
’About 80% of our income was from hotels and restaurants, so when they all closed it hit us hard – but we have not given up and the local support has been brilliant,’ said Mandy.
‘We turned to concentrating on retailing our cheese, which meant a lot more work cutting it into smaller packs and delivering to shops. We also put up a shed/shop in the front of the farm which enabled our regular customers to still get their milk and cheese. They supported it well and we have had many new customers. This has since led us to build a larger shed-type-shop which is self service, and adopts the traditional Guernsey hedge veg honesty box system.’
How it all began
Peter and Mandy first moved to their St Peter’s property to look after Peter’s mother. With so much land to take of, they decided goats were the answer to keep the grass short and weeds at bay.
‘Peter had kept a pet goat when young so knew a bit about it but we have learned a lot as we have gone along and gained experience from other goat keepers, and through the Guernsey Goat Society. We always wanted a smallholding but never dreamed we would end up goat farming for a living.’
Around the time the couple started thinking about getting goats, UK farms had been devastated by Foot and Mouth Disease. It occurred to them that herds of Golden Guernseys in the UK may have been lost, making Guernsey’s surviving population even more rare.
‘So we decided to breed Golden Guernsey goats as they are a rare breed. At first we just thought we would keep a few but the goats had other ideas, and in our first year the three we bred all had triplets, so the herd was started.’
And once the herd grew, the demand for products began. People were soon knocking on the Girard’s door enquiring about goats’ milk. Identifying an opportunity, the family then bred more goats to supply the demand and were soon producing more milk than they needed.
‘It got me thinking about cheese. Since no one else was making local goat cheese, this seemed like a good idea,’ said Mandy.
Producing cheese and more
The cheese was a huge success and was quickly bought up wholesale by local hotels and restaurants. It’s now available in individual portions from the farm shop, Forest Stores, The Guernsey Biscuit, and Surf and Turf.
The farm’s product line has also expanded to include yoghurt, plus the shop supports other local producers by stocking local jams, chilli sauces and more. It also stocks goats milk soap, shampoo, hand cream, and Golden Goat Fudge, all made made by producers who have purchased Golden Guernseys from the farm.
More open farm tours are also scheduled for this year, with cheese tasting sessions, and it is hoped these events will build brand awareness and encourage more people to try Golden Guernsey products.
Supporting local producers
While lockdown created momentum for buying local, Mandy is concerned that the relaxing of restrictions will mean a return to old shopping habits, and people might forget about all of the wonderful food produced on their doorstep.
‘Advertising and social media seem to be the only ways to keep reminding people. A lot of folk have been saying they liked the more relaxed ways during lock down and I fear they will soon go back to convenience ways of shopping as restrictions are lifted,’ she said.
‘Local producers that survived lock down needed local support then but will need it more after, as we may easily be forgotten. We miss our local chefs promoting our cheese on their menus in the hotels but hope they will soon be back as the island gradually comes back to life.’
For more information about the Golden Guernsey Goat Farm, see here. Read more in our Meet the Producers series.
(Feature image: Peter and Mandy Girard of Golden Guernsey Goat Farm.)