Some goat farmers in England and Wales are looking for another buyer for their milk. Alrla, the massive dairy farmer co-operative with members in Denmark and Sweden, as well as the UK, has served 12-months' notice on all of its nine goat milk supplier, while Abergavenny Fine Foods has given four of its 15 suppliers until April to find another buyer.

Arla indicated it was leaving the goat milk business altogether while Abergavenny Fine Foods is dealing with an oversupply of milk which has coincided with a fire that destroyed its production facilities.

Fortunately Scotland is not affected by the moves as we have few large-scale goat milking herds, and those that do produce significant quantities of milk process it themselves into the likes of cheese, butter and yoghurt.

The UK dairy goat industry is made up of 40-45 thousand goats producing less than 34m litres of milk commercially. Commercial goat herds in England and Wales average about 700 milking goats that yield on average about 10 per cent of the amount of milk from a typical cow.

Though significant, the goat dairy sector remains a specialist niche market with goat milk representing less than 0.2 per cent of the volume of cows' milk produced in the UK.

Whilst there was strong growth in the demand for goat milk about ten years ago - helped by early popular cookery shows by the likes of Delia Smith - the natural forces of supply and demand have helped to slow this growth down. Over the last decade more farmers and milk processors saw an opportunity due to strong demand for goats milk and entered the market. For those farmers milking cows at the time when goats milk demand was strong it was understandable for some of them to consider switching, given the challenges of declining cows' milk profit margins.

At the time the European goat sector had been badly affected by disease, with lots of herds culled out. This also gave the UK sector an opportunity for growth. Unfortunately the boom was temporary, and the European herd has now recovered and is once again producing plenty of milk.

While Scottish goat milk production is currently mostly confined to small-scale producers, before the clearances of the 19th century goats were more numerous than sheep in Scotland. The number each croft could carry was laid down as two or three dozen but was frequently exceeded.

The crofters kept goats for meat as well as milk, and every part of them was put to good use. Their horns, which signify plenty and wellbeing (the cornucopia) was also used to make drinking vessels, knife handles and musical instruments. Their fat became tallow for candles, their skins knapsacks and containers, and ropes made from their hair was said not to rot in water. The ropes of goat hair intertwined with pigs' bristle, used by the St Kildan islanders to suspend them from cliff tops in search of gulls' eggs, were heirlooms passed from one generation to the next.

Goat hair was also once spun through wool to strengthen the yarn for socks and suchlike that needed to be hard-wearing. Long goat's hair, preferably white, embellished kilt sporrans and, tightly curled, baked and bleached, it was made up into wigs for legal heads.

Historically goat hide was used to produce parchment. The intestine of goats is used to make "cat gut" which is still in use as material for internal human surgical sutures and strings for musical instruments.

While goats were rightly described as the poor man's cow, they were no friend of the environment as they grazed just about everything from grass to scrub to trees. The destructive goat is the animal that most changed the old world and made way for the new. Its methodical mastication of the forests of the Middle East enabled man to create clearings in which to cultivate crops and keep other animals. It was centuries before it occurred to man to replant the trees destroyed by the herds of goats, and this short-sighted policy created the deserts of the Middle East and Sahara, and the ecology of the countries bordering the Mediterranean was drastically altered by the soil erosion that followed the extinction of the flora.

Norman law banned goats from forests. The earliest forest laws in England gave rights to commoners to graze cattle, horses and pigs in the woods at certain seasons of the year, but forbade them to graze sheep and goats, because of the damage they did, and this law is still in force today.