Not kidding around

Giovanni ConteCountryman

Goat meat is eaten more widely around the world than any other meat. Capretto (or baby goat) is very popular where our family comes from; Italy. But our main interest in goats was due to a very practical need — weed control.

We’d heard that goats were excellent for keeping down weeds, so we decided to buy 30 baby does of mixed breed from a producer in Margaret River. It was working well and they were doing a great job of keeping the weeds down, so we decided we would source a buck.

We looked into many different breeds but Boer goats interested us, because they were classified as the world’s best meat goat. This was because of their growth rate, fertility, high quality of meat and low maintenance. They’re also a resilient breed, since they come from South Africa.

We ended up cross-breeding our mixed-bred does with a pure-blood South African Boer buck.

But be wary — goats are very intelligent, persistent and have an overwhelming curiosity. They will test your fences and, if they win, they’ll take great pleasure in devouring anything that is edible. For example, we had 30 beautiful rose bushes on our property — funny, that’s one per doe. Instead of pruned roses that year, we had bonsai roses.

Our adventure into selling capretto to restaurants started after the does had their kids; we had about 40 baby goats and desperately needed a market.

Farm-gate sales were not an option. We would have had to sell frozen meat instead of fresh, which would have meant buying multiple freezers.

We decided to find restaurants that we could supply capretto to that were relatively close to our property, so we could keep transport costs down. We had to figure out what to charge, so we researched how much butchers were charging for their capretto.

We decided that we would have to sell our meat for less than a butcher — or else why would they buy from us, an unknown supplier? But we also needed to make a profit after taking out costs such as transport and abattoir fees.

Once we’d set a price, we spoke to several restaurants. Since we were an unknown supplier, we had to answer a range of questions — who we were, the type of goat, the age and the quality, for example.

We explained they would get meat of a guaranteed age, weight and freshness, supplied within days of being slaughtered. Some restaurants wanted whole carcases, while others wanted them halved.

The other important question was how to transport the meat. At the time, the Department of Health advised that it was important for the meat to remain below a certain temperature. We transported the meat on ice in an esky, checking it regularly with a thermometer to ensure the temperature did not go above 5C. (If you wish to sell meat to a restaurant, find out the latest regulations from the Department of Health.)

We supplied one restaurant with capretto for about 18 months, but the biggest problem was consistency of supply. We were a small producer and production of capretto was seasonal. The restaurant, however, wanted to be able to serve capretto on the menu regularly.

In addition, although it seemed reasonable to us, the restaurant started to question the price, unaware of the great effort being made to provide this quality product.

We considered the idea of finding other producers to work with in a bid to provide a consistent supply of capretto, but the complications of finding other producers, developing a structure for the organisation, ensuring quality control and the inevitable administration and paperwork did not appeal to us.

Our aim was to provide quality capretto, not to have to deal with administration.

The difficulty was in ensuring quality from the different properties, both from a point of growing the animals and from a consumer perspective — that is, tenderness and taste. Off our own farm, we know what the quality is going to be.

Since our adventure into supplying restaurants, we have found that we get the same profit selling either live animals or whole, half or butchered carcases through the small network we have developed.

The ongoing difficulty we face is processing our animals. It seems a shame that there aren’t small, local abattoirs and butchering services for producers such as ourselves.

It becomes prohibitive to sell to restaurants when you have to drive two hours in total to deliver the animals and two hours again to pick up the carcases.

All in all, the experience with selling to the restaurants has been one of discovery and better understanding both what we are producing, what the restaurants are wanting and, crucially, that restaurants are one of many potential markets.

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