Getting results as goats cheese demand continues to grow

From beef and sheep farming to milking 300 goats and producing one of the finest soft cheeses in the Munster region… And there’s more to come it seems from the Leahy family – including Seamus, his father Jim; mother Breda; and sister Norma – at Bally Goat Farm in Limerick’s Newcastle West.

The farm is currently producing milk in Limerick for its soft cheese, that comes in three different flavours, and is produced at Firies in Kerry.

The Leahys are focused on producing high quality local produce that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and there are lots of new products in the pipeline to look forward to.

The journey of transitioning from beef and sheep farming to goats and then into cheese production hasn’t been an easy one for the Leahy’s; certainly Covid-19 didn’t help matters, however things are on the up as demand for the cheese increases across the entire Munster region.

A new product that has been in the pipeline for some time now is expected on the market soon and the family is very excited about the outcome.

Taking a step back now and recalling January 2019 when the food side of the business began to take shape for the Leahy’s, Seamus pointed to how the family had been milking the goats themselves – up to that point – and “were in limbo for a period of time because we had the goats, we had the milk but we had no market for the cheese”.

“We are now making the cheese in Firies in Kerry and farming in Newcastle West, Limerick; it’s being marketed as a handmade cheese in Kerry,” added Seamus who left teaching to move into the family business full time.

Bally Goat Farm, Newcastlewest, Limerick
Meanwhile, the Leahy’s would have been well-known beef and sheep farmers in their hometown of Newcastle West and while they always “kept a few goats” the family showcased them at the various agricultural shows in Munster – and that was about as far as it went.

However, at the back of Seamus’ mind there was a “niggling feeling” and one that was focusing more and more on milking the goats and perhaps producing something very special from that.

“I always had it at the back of my mind that I wanted to milk goats but I realised that I’d need qualifications for all of that,” he continued, before highlighting how he initially qualified as a teacher and taught for three years thereafter.

“During the first year of teaching I invested in a herd of goats and started building on things from there.

“The reason I got the goats in the first place is because I felt there was no future for me on the farm; we cut the cattle and sheep and scaled up on the goats and we have 300 goats now.” He says that what’s going on at Bally Goat Farm now “is a work in progress”.

And, while the cheese is doing well, there are plans to bring Bally Goat Milk to the market in the very near future.

Meanwhile, Bally Goat’s cheese can be sourced locally in Limerick and Kerry – where it is being produced.

Seamus highlighted how the family focused on Kerry first “because we found a market there for it and then we expanded to Limerick”.

“We had plans to expand further this year but unfortunately Covid-19 happened and because we were servicing local restaurants we ended up completely ceasing production.

“We put in calves then and they got the goats milk but it didn’t pay – but it was either that or throw the milk down the drain which was something we didn’t want to do.” The Limerick native says the family now have “the best calves we ever had” because goat’s milk is low in fat and high in protein.

“We have plans to bring new cheeses onto the market but they won’t be ready for another two months,” added Seamus.

“The plan is to launch a Blue and a Brie with the possibility of a cheddar next year…at the moment we are producing a soft cheese in three flavours.” Meanwhile, the “work in progress” continues and plans are in place to produce Bally Goat’s Milk for the market.

“We have everything ready to go, just waiting for the approval,” added Seamus.

“We are starting off on a very, very small scale; we will supply local shops and the brand will be Bally Goat’s Milk.

“It is pasteurised non homogenised milk – nothing is taken out of the milk and nothing is being added to it – it’s just pure natural.

“With homogenised milk the fat is taken out of it and then it is reentered back to get a consistent amount of protein and fat throughout the whole year, whereas ours will fluctuate depending on variants like grazing or whether or not the goats are inside or outside.

“It will always be about three or four grammes – it won’t be a big fluxaciation but it will depend on what they are being fed, the time of the year it is, etc.

“Our goats are outside whereas our competitors’ goats are inside.” Seamus said that the family have been inundated with calls inquiring about yogurt since Covid-19 struck; apparently goat yoghurt can’t be sourced anywhere!

“Goat’s yogurt can’t be got at all and that is another consideration for us going forward,” he added, before highlighting how the family run business is also supplying goat’s meat to a number of hotels in the region.

It’s an aspect of the business that Seamus is passionate about.

“I really want to develop this area as well; in the UK they have what’s called Goatober which encourages people to have goat’s meat as a starter or main course when they go out for a meal.

“The high end restaurants really bought into the concept and it’s something that I would really like to do; goat meat is so healthy and is one of the most widely eaten meats in the world – except in Ireland and the UK.

“It’s high in protein with very little fat content and is very tender.” Goatober originated in New York in 2011 and has grown in strength with events and participants all around the world, from London to Melbourne, from Amsterdam to Trinidad and Tobago.

 Seamus Leahy of Bally Goat Farm, Newcastlewest, Limerick

Seamus Leahy of Bally Goat Farm, Newcastlewest, Limerick
What started as a small campaign to prolong the lives of billy goats and to put a delicious, ethical meat on the menu has grown into an international campaign bringing together dairies, farmers, NGOs and individuals who are passionate about ending food waste in the goat dairy system.

“Covid-19 set us all back,” added Seamus who also works in the local mart.

“But things are looking up and we have some great products to focus on now.”

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