Elchies business is based at Campbell Cairns farm in Speyside. It is a family run farm which husband and wife team Brian and Julie Cameron started from a vision of producing high quality products deploying traditional values of zero waste, ie processing offal, skins and horns, and total animal care. Added to this was a belief that success would only be achieved through innovation in production, marketing and sales.
Elchies’ herd of South African Boer goats – the goat equivalent of an ‘Aberdeen Angus’ meat breed - is now the largest meat herd in Scotland, growing from ten goats in 2010 to over 350 today and provides a very healthy and palatable alternative red meat. However, as the national herd is so small, little infrastructure or knowledge exists in the UK to support effective husbandry – eg veterinary knowledge is particularly limited with only one drug licenced for use on goats. Elchies have worked with local vets and the Goat Veterinary Society on research projects including the effective treatment of CODD in goats and kid and doe behavioural studies. Combined with their own research into husbandry practices in South Africa, Australia and USA, Elchies have developed effective meat goat management strategies for the much colder and wetter climate in Speyside. Innovations have included developing unique feedstock and feeding regimes, management equipment and housing eg the development of a unique goat feed pellet in conjunction with East Coast Viners, the manufacture of bespoke penning and feeding systems in conjunction with Modulamb and the installation and use of MacGregor’s agricultural polytunnels for housing and kidding.
Although goat is the most eaten red meat in the world the market positioning of goat meat in the UK has provided the greatest challenge and has required creative solutions. Elchies have used social media as an effective tool. Twitter has yielded ongoing sales contracts into Michelin Star restaurants in London, and Facebook has been used to grow a significant local market. Underpinning their social media marketing Elchies have worked towards the vision of having ‘friends not customers’. Through a succession of unique open days, such as the annual ‘Kidding Around’ event, bringing in up to 1,600 visitors, they have exposed the provenance of their livestock to all and leveraged this with innovative video and back-story messages through Facebook to create a robust following of repeat customers.
Success has also been dependent on the quality of the product and here Elchies have researched and implemented specific practices that accommodate the unique combination of the Speyside environment and South African Boer goats and ensure ‘quality on the plate’ – such as avoiding peri-mortem stress to reduce meat-tainting ph values. Further research and careful selection of breeding stock have reinforced quality.
In the changing world of consumers eating less but better-quality meat (Waitrose Food & Drink Report 2018-19) Elchies have seized the opportunity and taken a ‘new’ high quality food product into a premium market position and thus created a potential model for other Scottish small-scale farmers.