Following many years working in the dairy industry, both in production and then management, Rupert Soar oversees a thriving Waikato dairy goat operation and a small scale fresh milk and artisan cheese business, Cilantro Cheese.
In 2005, Rupert and his wife Catherine Taylor met local goat farmer, (the late) John Gommans, and they went into business together.
“John and I went to Australia to buy equipment for our venture, and we ended up buying a dairy factory over there instead!” says Rupert.
John and his family relocated to Australia to set up a goat farm to supply the factory… but that is another story.
Setting up in Gordonton
Cath was brought up on the farm and she still had a flat 70-hectare block that was leased out for pasture as it was too small for dairy farming.
“It was suitable for a dairy goat operation, so we set up the goat shelters and built a 100-bale dairy goat shed.
“Most of the other land is used for pasture, a mixture of rye grass, plantain and chicory. We’ve also been experimenting with lucerne as a feed option.”
They currently milk around 2000 goats but there are 3000 in total on the farm.
The farm is managed by Dan Griffin, with six other staff. The staff share a diverse skillset covering farm management, pasture management, milking, tractor work, breeding and kidding.
The goats’ main diet is pasture, cut fresh up to seven or eight times a day and fed to the goats in their shelters.
They also receive a silage, canola and barley grain mix. As pasture harvesting is so weather and season dependent, grass silage is used as the backup.
Photo: A Saanen milking goat. Photo: Catherine Fry.
Saanen milking goats originate from Switzerland but are a popular milking breed worldwide.
The farm finds their hand-picked billy goats are very effective, with >95 per cent pregnancy rates. Sometimes good milkers are brought in from other New Zealand farms to add to the genetic pool.
“Our goats are separated into four herds and that are on different cycles so we can kid three or four times a year, producing milk all year round.”
Kidding is weighted towards the warmer months when there is more pasture available, and kids are raised in kidding sheds with increased staff over those periods.
“It’s a simple model as possible given the high cost farming and staffing, but also higher prices for each kg/MS compared to cows, which hopefully covers those costs!”
Production varies between 160,000 to 180,000 kg/MS and this depends on how much feed is needed for the goats.
An independent producer
As an independent producer, NZ Nutritional Foods uses factories in Ruakura to process their milk. Their main product is powdered milk for the Asian markets, and fresh pasteurized milk for a niche New Zealand market.
Milk is also bought from other producers and processed with their own.
“We also use our own milk powder to feed our kids on the farm.”
As a response to diversification, Rupert took over Cilantro Cheese in 2018.
“The business was already well set up for our needs and we were able to continue with our fresh pasteurized milk at these premises.
“That’s our main product here, and we are the only consistent supplier in the North Island. It’s considered a gentler option for those with milk intolerance.”
Cilantro also produces chèvre cheese, a soft, spreadable goat cheese, which is hand produced in small batches weekly by operations manager, Suli Laomahei and staff member Sheryl Searancke.
“We expanded our range to make cajeta, a caramelised goat’s milk with a floral hint of spice. It’s our take on dulce de leche, a sweet treat with South American origins. Shortly we will be launching chèvre in marinated in oil with different herb flavours.
“It’s very satisfying being able to provide real artisan products to the New Zealand market and oversee and control the whole process from gate to plate.”