When Americans Byron Walker, 72, and Ruth Mitchell, 70, decided to retire to Jamaica, a country they loved and visited often, they founded the Ruby Goat Dairy to produce milk, yogurt, and cheese products from the goats that are a ubiquitous presence on the island but are raised chiefly for their meat. During their visits, the couple was surprised they could not find goat dairy products in the local stores in a place where the animals are so commonly raised. After some eight years, Walker and Mitchell are leading the growing goat-dairy movement in Jamaica.
Ruby Goat Diary – its name derives from the first syllable of Byron and Ruth – now employs nine workers and sells goat’s milk, yogurt, and goat-milk-based cheesecake to local Jamaican stores, hotels, restaurants, and many individual customers. They have found that demand for their products is far greater than their capacity to fulfill it, so they are training other goat farmers in how to collect milk from their goats, which they then sell to Ruby Goat Diary. The diary currently has such an arrangement with five farms.
Prior to becoming goat farmers, both Walker and Mitchell had professional careers. Walker worked on Wall Street as a technology analyst, and Mitchell was a nurse and a home health agency manager. They wanted a project for their retirement so they could be productive, and as Walker noted, they are both “professionally driven” and “a little competitive.” They had expected to operate a hobby farm with a few goats, but as the business grew, they became excited and interested in expansion.
In preparation for their new business, Mitchell worked as an intern to a goat farmer in Connecticut and learned to make cheese from goat’s milk. Once they returned to Jamaica, Mitchell and Walker “borrowed” a goat from a farmer and began making cheese at their home in Trelawny. The first challenge was making cheese without air conditioning in 85-degree weather, Mitchell said. They continued to educate themselves about goat farming through advice from their veterinarian, local farmers, books, and videos on YouTube.
Ruby Goat Dairy now has 45 goats, and more people have become interested in their products as word about their business has spread. Especially interested in goat’s milk products are individuals who are lactose-intolerant. Their success is serving as an inspiration for other goat farmers in Jamaica and leading them to diversify their businesses. According to Trudy Wilson, the co-owner of Cabra Ranch, one of the suppliers of Ruby Goat Dairy, the American couple has “definitely sparked an interest” in a market that had previously been ignored.