“Goats are very inquisitive and smart. They can be real characters and sometimes even trouble makers! They keep me on my toes. But I wouldn’t say there is a hard part about working with them. When you love what you’re doing – how hard could it be? When I became a goat farmer, it turned me into a much more passionate person about the industry that I was working in. It’s a love that you don’t realize is there until you find that ‘thing’ that makes you want to do everything you can for it.”
Ed Donkers calls himself a ‘happy goat farmer’ and he has been since 2008. While he was raised on a dairy farm, he decided to switch up to a goat farm as he saw lots of opportunities in the area. As he says, “There’s a desire for more goat milk products. A lot of this is due to new Canadian immigrants and their food preferences. I started milking 400 goats in 2008 and now milk 1,000 goats.”
Ed also cites the fact that with an increased awareness around dietary restrictions, goat milk may be a good alternative. Containing no lactose, goat milk can be ingested by those with an intolerance. Goat milk can also be leveraged more easily to diversify a business. “I followed the milk – more opportunities to do your own thing with the goat industry vs. the dairy cow industry,” he explains. “For example, I can have my own cheese factory where it’s hard to do that with dairy cows.”
As we shine a light on Canada’s Agriculture Day, and those who work to make our culinary landscape great, we sat down with Ed to learn a little more about what it’s like to be a goat farmer.
What are the challenges of your job/industry?
The biggest challenge I’m encountering is labour; it’s difficult to find employees willing to be up at 4:30 in the morning and to work weekends. It isn’t for everyone.
We’re a growing industry so there’s highs and lows. Allotments are not set in stone so you can face setbacks in production. With it being a young industry, animal care and nutrition is still being learned. It can be a challenge but I’m dedicated to learning best practices. It’s also hard to supply everyone with enough product as it grows in popularity.
What can the foodservice industry and consumers do to help support you and your business?
Overall, I think it’s just about promoting goat products and trying and enjoying them. It’s gone from being a niche market to a bigger product. Way more products are now available, consumers should branch out and try them and foodservice operators should consider adding them to their menu.
What makes you proud of the Canadian terroir?
We live in a country that allows us the ability to have family farms – government supported to better our farms.
Why is it important to celebrate Canadian ingredients/local produce and food?
I’m proud of the food we produce – both the quality of it and the quantity. We know where it came from and the quality we have. Why not eat something that was raised or grown close by vs. something that was shipped halfway around the world?
What does Canada’s Agriculture Day mean to you? Why should consumers and industry alike participate in Canada’s Agriculture Day?
It’s a reminder of the biodiversity we have available to us. It’s a day to promote what products we have in Canada that consumers can enjoy.
What would surprise someone to learn about your job/industry? Are there any misconceptions?
I think many people may assume that I’m a small farmer who milks 30 goats in a straw hat and overalls. I’m a modern dairy farmer who raises his goats and cares for them on an updated farm with updated facilities. My most important tool is my smartphone. It’s connected to my barn and all of my feeding and milking equipment so that I instantly know what’s working well and what might need to be looked at. For example, if a goat isn’t eating as much as she should normally, I’ll get a notification which enables me to check her individually. The system even feeds every goat individually according to the amount of milk they’re producing.