Crunching the numbers pays off

16 November 2017

  • Location: 87km from Blackall, Queensland
  • Enterprise: ‘Coolagh’
  • Producers: Anita Dennis and Joe Taylor
  • Property size: 11,569ha
  • Soils and grasses: mix of sandy/loamy desert uplands and heavy black soil channel country with buffel and Mitchell grass
  • Rainfall: 1,800mm
  • Goat herd size: 800 rangeland breeders
  • Target market: goatmeat export
  • Other farm enterprises: 150 Santa/Angus breeders and 1,800 Dohne/Merino ewes

Why goats?

Prior to building an exclusion fence around the more fertile parts of their Blackall property ‘Coolagh’ back in 2009, Joe Taylor and Anita Dennis were only able to produce cattle due to predation pressure.

They crunched the numbers on diversifying into small stock and realised that for their property, goats were a cost effective and profitable woody weed management option. Once the exclusion fence was in place, they expanded into a semi-managed rangeland goat breeding herd as well a Dohne/Merino sheep enterprise.

The goats are produced for the export meat market and are usually processed skin-on through the Charleville plant.

Grazing management

Anita and Joe rely on forage budgeting and a rotational grazing system to ensure they have enough feed for their stock.

“We generally review our forage budget after a rain event and then three to four months later to ensure we are on track,” Anita said.

“We like that it gives us some warning about when we are likely to run out of feed and if we need to start looking at de-stocking while the animals are still in good condition.”

The forage budgets are used in combination with rolling rainfall records from across the whole property to help in forecasting feed availability.

“Depending on the paddock condition, we graze all three species together. The cattle and goats in particular work very well together,” Anita said.

The exclusion fencing combined with the forage budgeting has meant that Anita and Joe have been able to better control their total grazing pressure. During the growing season the stock are moved between paddocks on a monthly basis, allowing for paddocks to be spelled appropriately.

A good variety and volume of pasture and browse has meant Anita and Joe have not needed to implement a supplementation program.

Fencing

Anita and Joe originally only enclosed the more fertile paddocks in exclusion fencing as other areas were prone to flooding. The fencing has allowed for the introduction of both goats and sheep, and has improved kidding and lambing percentages. Anita estimates the exclusion fencing has paid for itself in 12 months. They’ve used a laminated netting onto existing fences costing approximately $3,500 per kilometre.

Cluster fencing has also become more popular in the Blackall region, and Anita and Joe have recently joined one which encompasses some of their channel country which is more prone to flooding. This means even more of the property can now carry small stock with some degree of safety.

Breeding and husbandry

The Coolagh goat breeding herd was originally sourced from harvested rangeland does. Until recently, rangeland bucks have been joined to the herd, however Anita and Joe are keen to improve the genetics of their animals.

“We’ve recently purchased several Kalahari Red bucks and we are looking at other options as well including Boers. The red colouring is important for our enterprise to assist with predation prevention,” Anita said. 

Anita estimates that kidding percentages range from between 98-135% depending on the season. 

“We are yet to see progeny from the Kalahari Red bucks as they’ve only recently been introduced and it will be interesting to see the difference they make,” Anita said.

All goats are tagged, earmarked and the males not wanted for breeding are castrated. Joe and Anita bring the herd in for marking twice a year and while they are in the yard they also harvest off animals at marketable weight for sale.

“Now with the property in the process of having some internal netting fences erected, we will be able to run the goats much more efficiently by separating different classes of animal” Anita said. 

“We’ve noticed a big difference in the herd with the castration of the young males. All the animals are more settled. The does aren’t being harassed, the wethers have improved growth rates compared to the the whole males, and the handling helps keep the animals quieter and more manageable,”. 

Key lessons

“I cannot emphasise enough the importance of crunching the numbers and looking at the potential economic returns for your various enterprises,” Anita said.

“The woody weed control is a fantastic advantage of having the goats for us, but it was really the returns we could see from them that sold us on introducing goats as a stable and managed part of our business.

“The goats have provided us with steady cash flow and they complement our sheep and cattle operations. In summary, look at the numbers and look at how you can use goats to your advantage in your environment.

“Our goals for the future are to continue to get more control over the herd in terms of implementing controlled joining, weighing of stock and improved carcass performance through genetic gains,” said Anita.

For more information contact Anita at TaylorDennis@bigpond.com

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