Milking 200 sheep isnt something that you see everyday but it comes as second nature to Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith and her team at St. Tola Irish goat cheese these days.
A former school teacher, Siobhan took over St Tola in Inagh, County Clare back in 1999, from her neighbours the Gordon’s, who were keen to retire at the time. She has now developed the business from a local industry, to a nationally recognised brand.
With 6 full time staff the business has grown in strength but Siobhan is quick to point out its still a family affair; her husband John takes care of the companies finances and her young children regularly help out with farm chores.
Not one to sit on her laurels, Siobhan constructed a state of the art cheese making facility on the farm in 2000 making St Tola's one of Ireland’s oldest Goat cheese producers.
St Tola milk 200 goats everyday and maintain a total herd of 300 animals on their 65 acre farm. Breeds farmed include Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine.
We have 100 kids coming on each year to replace older sheep. We normally put the goats in kid at 2 and begin milking them for the next 6 years, we retire them at 8 years of age as that’s when we find milk yields are reduced,’ says Siobhan.
Goats cheese has been found to be easier to digest and contains a lower lever of lactose than cows milks. The cheese has many other health benefits including the regeneration of hamegoblobin and DNA stability. Its also long been known that goats milk is the dairy alternative for sufferers of eczema and asthma.
‘Our cheese is low in fat, calories and has 1% salt, which is a perfect, healthy food option for the family. Its rich in calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin K, phosphorus, niacin and thiamin,’ Siobhan explained.
Management of the Herd:
During the winter months the goats are housed and their diet consists of a balanced mix of hay and GM free grains. Siobhan grazes the goats in the summer periods on their pastures which are rich in wild garlic and other herbs.
‘We are all about sustanibility and environmental impact. We try and think about our carbon footprint when we farm.‘
Sustanibily and impact are a big part of the ethos of St. Tola which also works with aid agency Bóthar, to ship kid goats to third world countries.
Looking to the future the family do not intend on increasing their herd size yet and want to focus on improving herd genetics and maximising milk output.
‘I want to focus on staying the same size, bigger is not better in my eyes.’
Siobhan see’s tourism as a new way to grow her business and situated along the stragetic route to the Cliffs of Moher has meant lots of potential customers.
You can find out more information on St. Tola here.