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Wageningen University: A Sustainable Perspective For Dairy Goat Farms

Dairy goat farming is a young and relatively small sector that is striving to produce dairy products in a sustainable and responsible manner. Wageningen University & Research was commissioned by Platform Melkgeitenhouderij, an organization of Dutch dairy goat farmers and the dairy goat industry, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Quality to investigate how goat farms can become more sustainable.

Goat stops
In recent years, public opposition to large-scale livestock farming has increased, and concerns have been raised about health risks for people who live near goat farms. Eight provinces introduced ‘goat stops’ (temporary bans on further expansion) as a precautionary measure, preventing any further growth of the goat sector in these regions.

However, a viable business model includes having room to develop – obviously within the limitations set by society, government policies and laws and regulations – and this is no different for goat farmers. This does not mean that the goat sector as a whole has to expand, but forward-looking farms must have the opportunity to become more sustainable. For example, if a goat farm wants to build better accommodation for its young animals, or to purchase a new milking machine, it will need room to do so. If another farm could only employ half a worker before the ‘goat stop’, a limited expansion may be necessary to become a profitable family farm.

Social requirements
The study of society’s requirements for goat farms revealed that they need to work on a number of areas: they need to be good neighbours, to take good care of their animals, and to protect their local nature, environment and landscape. People want to live in a natural and harmonious living environment, and they expect goat farmers to make the right choices to assure this, and with the right intentions. In concrete terms, this means that a sustainable dairy goat farm must not cause health risks or other forms of nuisance, must keep healthy and happy animals, and must pay proper attention to the landscape and biodiversity.

This requires the goat sector as a whole to conduct an ongoing dialogue with civil society organizations, such as NGOs, and that individual goat farms do the same with their local community. This intensive contact between goat farmers and society is crucial for the sector’s social acceptance. NGOs need to communicate with the public to keep abreast of the issues that citizens care about, and the same goes for the goat sector.

A sustainable perspective with specific targets
The sustainability of the goat farming sector cannot be built on empty promises: real change will require specific goals. This will require verifiable targets and an assurance system, so that the expectations the goat farms raise are met in practice. This assurance system will be given form in a follow-up study in 2023.

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