Goats can add value to mixed farming operations

06 January 2016

With record prices on offer and low levels of maintenance, goats are proving the perfect fit for mixed grain and livestock farmers.
 
For Kyle McDonald, of ‘Woolabra’, Charleville, Qld, his 1,500 rangeland does have provided the perfect supplement to the family’s 4,000 Dorper ewes and 400 hectares of irrigated cropping.

Mr McDonald said the herd slotted perfectly in with his other farming activities on the 32,000ha aggregation due to their low maintenance, minimal environmental impact and high returns.
 
“Other animals can require quite a bit of husbandry but goats don’t – other than maintaining some electric fences, they are more or less maintenance-free and you don’t have to worry about them until you have some time free to muster them for sale,” Mr McDonald said.
 
“They have been a huge bonus for our business in terms of cashflow, particularly in dry years when other parts of the business can come under pressure. If we have a spare week we can run in a mob and collect $30,000 without really incurring any additional expenses.”
 
Goat prices are currently at record levels, with the November average over-the-hooks indicator price at 481 cents per kilogram.
 
“Good prices have been on offer for a prolonged period now so these prices are not a flash in the pan. I believe the goat industry has a bright future ahead – it’s widely consumed around the world because there are no religious limitations like pork or beef, and we can’t keep up with demand,” Mr McDonald said.
 
Attracting more mixed farmers to include goats in their enterprise is a key objective of both the Goat Industry Council of Australia (GICA) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). Their Goatmeat and Livestock Industry Strategic Plan 2020 identified the mixed farming sector as a potential growth area to boost goat production and maintain more consistent supply lines to Australia’s export customers.
 
MLA Goat Industry Project Manager Julie Petty said Australia was the world’s largest goatmeat exporter with approximately 95 per cent of production exported to countries in Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States, to the value of $241.8 million in 2014.

“However, there is significant scope for growth – there are estimated to be more than 4 million goats in Australia, but in 2011 only 500,000 head were in managed herds,” she said.

“In order to grow our goatmeat supply base, we need increased numbers of producers to add goats as an enterprise within their business – and for mixed operations they are a great fit with additional on-farm benefits such as weed management, and improved utilisation of rougher country.”

Mr McDonald made the change from opportunistic harvesting to a breeding operation when Western Meat Exporters was established in Charleville in the early 2000s. Their breeding program is not conventional – they separate the pregnant does which are harvested, kid them down and rear their kids to a marketable weight.
 
The McDonalds also purchase young goats that are too small to be processed from Western Meat Exporters. These are grown out to a marketable weight of 40kg liveweight, creating a low cost, low maintenance addition to the business.
 
Mr McDonald said adding goats into their operation did not impact their time-intensive activities, such as sowing or harvesting their irrigated crops of lucerne, barley, sorghum and oats.
 
“It is actually beneficial to have both goats and crops as we’re able to finish our goats on stubble if it is dry elsewhere on the farm,” he said.
 
Mr McDonald said that as a small-hooved animal they had a smaller environmental impact, particularly during dry periods.
 
“They will survive on your harder country but when it comes to finishing them for market, they have similar nutritional requirements as sheep and can be run at the same stocking rate as sheep,” he said.
 
“But they are well suited to our environment and we don’t have any problems with parasites because of the dry climate and low stocking rate.”

Resources to help farmers transition into goat production, including the Going into Goats: Profitable producers' best practice guide, are available at: http://www.mla.com.au/Research-and-development/Extension-and-training/Going-into-goats

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