Getting the goat in Cockerham

UNLIKE Julie Andrews' goatherds in 'The Sound of Music', Chris and Sharon Peacock's goats are neither high on a hill, nor lonely.

The couple's 23 acre farm on Cockerham Moss is definitely low lying and their 250 goats look content in each other's company in the spacious fields and farm buildings.

The Peacock's goat meat business started as part hobby and part attempt to live 'The Good Life' - but has burgeoned into a busy business - on top of Chris and Sharon's day jobs.

The eco-minded ex-Myerscough College students bought the farmland seven years ago with the idea of producing their own food - with a few sheep, cows and pigs.

But a chance reading of an NFU leaflet about the rearing of goats for meat rather than milk captured their interest.

They visited an established goat rearer at Todmorden to see for themselves - and immediately bought their first five Boer goats.

Local farmers with more traditional farm animals initially raised a quizzical eyebrow at the new enterprise - but a few years down the road now realised their enthusiastic young neighbours mean business.

The Peacocks specialise in Boer goats, whose origins, as the breed's name suggests, are in South Africa. And even in their native country they are, as meat, a relatively new 'product', coming to the fore in the food stakes there over the past 40 years.

In other parts of the world, such as the Caribbean, goat meat is popular in rich, spicy curries, while in many Mediterranean countries roast kid is a delicacy.

Boer goat meat farming began in Britain in the mid-1980s. Until then goats were almost exclusively linked to milk production rather than for meat.

Now Boer goat farmers around the UK are slowly making inroads into people's eating habits.

Chris said: "We start killing when they reach 60 – 80lb, any time from four to six months old.

He added: "It's the world's top eating breed, bred for flavour.

"All our meat animals are born and reared on our farm and therefore we are able to guarantee both the traceability of our meat and the standard of care it has received both whilst alive and after slaughter."

Sharon said: "Meat production is our primary aim, supporting breeders concerned with the preservation and improvement of the Boer goat as a breed.

"We also use some full blood Cashmere does in the herd as they carry a good quantity of meat. "

Kidding (the technical term for goats giving birth) takes place indoors, away from predators, with the goats having free access to grazing and shelter for as much of the year as possible, and leading as natural a life as possible. They are only housed in particularly bad weather conditions."

Chris said: "All our meat is produced from prime young stock between the ages of four and twelve months as such it is a succulent and flavour some meat."

"When well cooked it is beautifully tender and creates a wonderful roast dinner in addition to the more traditional dishes such as curries."

The Peacock's goats are slaughtered at Bamber Bridge and butchered at Westgate Frozen Foods, Galgate, before Chris and Sharon sell the pre-ordered meat from the farm or via mail-order. Buyers are encouraged to browse round the farm.

While Chris and Sharon are reluctant to describe themselves as pioneers in Boer goat farming, they have certainly become among the industry's most active publicists, with features in popular Sunday newspapers and a recent interview on Radio 4's Food programme.

Chris is currently secretary of the Brtish Boer Goat Society while Sharon edits its newsletter.

Sharon praises the quality of the product: "The meat is extremely healthy. It's incredibly low in cholesterol, high in iron and, ounce for ounce, has less saturated fat than chicken. And the same calories, too."

The Peacocks have high ambitions. Chris said: "In 10 years time we want to have the best herd of Boer goats in the country."

Their efforts have already seen the nearest thing Cockerham has seen to a "Royal" visit - a visit from the Duchess of Cornwall's son, Tom Parker-Bowles, a journalist with the Mail on Sunday.

He reported on the Peacock's efforts and left Cockerham with a joint of Boer meat.

After massaging it with olive oil, seasoning it with salt and pepper and scattering with a few sprigs of rosemary and popping it in the oven his verdict: "The cooked goat is very good indeed: sweet, succulent and tender, with a whiff of lamb and the very slightest, gentle gaminess. It's a roast to be proud of, and one I'd happily eat again."

l For more information about Chris and Sharon's goat meat products visit www.goat-meat.co.uk