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Smallholding allows goat show success

Breeding and showing British Toggenburg goats has brought a whole new way of life for one couple and their smallholding. Laura Bowyer reports from Cambridgeshire.
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Annette and John Bingham
Annette and John Bingham

Annette and John Bingham never intended to fall into the world of pedigree goat showing, but instead began keeping goats in hope the milk would improve John’s asthma which was affecting his ability to work on-farm.


At the time though, in the 1960s, goats’ milk was not available in the shops so they started their search for some animals of their own, and came across two in a field, which they approached the owners of and consequently bought.


Annette says: “Knowing what we know now, those goats had every fault they could have had.”

 

goat pic

Feeding

Grass has to be mown as goats are not grazing animals, favouring the hedges. At the holding, goats are fed hay, a goat ration, home-grown lucerne haylage and artichokes.

Prizes

From those goats, they bred two white kids and someone suggested they went to a show. They went on to win first and second prizes in the novice class and the goats did well the following year as yearlings too.


Annette says: “It was when we started going to shows we became aware of the British Goat Society (BGS), which we joined, as well as the Cambridge Goat Club.


“As our interest grew we decided to move to the British Toggenburg breed and a friend at Newmarket offered us a kid, which turned out to be a good goat.


“British Toggenburgs have a personality, they are individuals. They need good conformation, udder attachment, top-line and a gentle slope to the tail, and like any animal, stand four square. Toggenburgs are generally bigger, rangier and have a smooth coat.”

 

steer pic

Aberdeen Angus cross steers consume feed which the goats will not eat

Goat health

Due to keeping their goats clean and fit, the couple say they generally have a low level of disease.
They vaccinate for enterotoxaemia and goats are wormed. Goats have to be tested for caprine arthritis encephalitis which needs to be carried out by the vet and animals cannot be shown without certification of being free of this.

The smallholding at Rose Cottage on Farcet Fen, Cambridgeshire, is now home to four British Toggenburg milking goats and six female kids, one goatling, two male kids and an adult billy, all under the Anjo prefix. Goats here are fairly closely bred, with the couple following a line breeding strategy.


When the couple moved in to the 0.8-hectare (two-acre) site adjacent to Annette’s parents’ house in 1983, there were just pig sties and a Nissen hut, with the latter quickly collapsing on arrival. The work which has been put into developing the smallholding is clear, with John responsible for all of it.

 

Work

“We did not move in fast,” says John. “It took a lot of work and we would not be able to do it now.”


John initially worked on a mixed farm, then on another farm for Tony Derby, Newborough, for 27 years, followed by 10 years for the Burgess family of Produce World, before retiring seven years ago.


Annette is responsible for milking the goats twice a day, which is carried out in the goat shed using a stool and bucket, taking half an hour for four goats to be milked. A milking machine has been purchased and is still in its packaging, kept as a back-up in case anything happens to Annette in the future. She says they are aiming for a butterfat content of 3.5 to 4 per cent and a protein of 2.5 to 3 per cent.

 

billy pic

Elsewhere on the holding

  • Four Aberdeen-Angus cross steers are also kept to eat what the goats dismiss, as they are very selective feeders
  • The couple’s daughter Kim Coates keeps Landrace pigs on the holding and goes to a similar number of shows with her pigs, but she will travel further
  • Pigs are kept in pig sties which John renovated and a radio is played 24/7 to keep them calm
  • 400 Christmas trees are also grown on-farm, with 100 sold each year. Customers can select their own tree
  • John is also a member of a vintage machinery club
  • A number of chickens are kept

The gestation period of a goat is 150 days and a nanny’s 21-day-cycle is determined by sunlight. They come inside to feed in the second week of October and kid inside in the second week of March.


“On nice days in the winter, the goats will be let out but it is essential they have a field shelter,” she says.


Each nanny could have two or three kids although Annette says they would favour twins. After two weeks inside, nannies and kids will be let out on to grass.


Showing is a time consuming occupation with any species, but arguably more so with goats as the process includes a 24-hour milking competition, with animals milked out the night before the show and their milk quality inspected. The judge will then take the milk into consideration when he looks at the goats the following day.


“There has to be more than one person interested if you want to show as someone has to keep things running at home,” says Annette.

 

xmas tree pic

Show team

This year, the show team is six strong and a number of shows are attended within an hour-and-a-half of their holding.


Annette says they also enjoy the social side of showing, adding they have met and formed friendships with people from all over the country.


Show kids need to be two months old and have to be taken off their dam after a week, so are then bottle fed. Nannies for shows have to be at least 30 days fresh and there are separate shows for billies.


Annette says: “We support the shows, regardless of who is judging. The BGS have been the biggest support for us. They take care of publicity and registrations and they address every breed society.”


John adds: “I have not suffered from asthma since being on the goats’ milk. After 40 years, we would not want to be without the goats.”

shed pic

The Binghams’ tips for prospective goat keepers:

  • Buy from breeders. Although this may be more expensive, it will decrease chance of buying-in any problems
  • They are herd animals and cannot be kept on their own
  • Get in touch with the British Goat Society
  • Join your nearest goat club or smallholders club
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help with starting up
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