Goats lift the bottom line at Kallara Station
Location: Tilpa, NSW
Enterprise: Kallara Station
Producer: Justin and Julie McClure
Soil type: Fertile black soils and arid flood plains
Pasture type: Native grasslands
How goats came to be part of the enterprise mix
Western NSW goat producers Justin and Julie McClure have a simple philosophy when it comes to the enterprise mix on their Tilpa property, Kallara Station.
“Our grazing business aims to produce protein in our rangeland environment at the most profitable level,” Justin said.
“We also want flexibility so we can make the most of opportunities when they arise in terms of the season and markets. Our enterprise mix is based on the most profitable use of available feed whilst ensuring sustainable farming is in harmony with the environment.”
This approach has meant goats are now part of the mix, along with Dorper lamb production and a beef breeding herd. It’s a big change for a property which traditionally ran a Merino wool enterprise alongside beef cattle.
The switch in enterprise mix has cut operating costs, particularly labour and husbandry costs, in an attempt to maintain profit margins.
Goats comprise 12 per cent of the total carrying capacity, while organic Dorper lamb production comprises 68 per cent and cattle 20 per cent. Dorper sheep contribute 85 per cent of the business profit, while goats account for 12 per cent and cattle three per cent.
The family’s ability to buy in goats in large numbers, cost effectively, when there is surplus feed available has been a catalyst for their expansion into goats.
The wild harvest of goats has always contributed to the McClure family’s farm cash flow. However, the recognition that goats are a profitable part of their business has increased in the last few years, with the improved prices prompting a more managed approach to production.
Fencing to control livestock grazing pressure and better manage pasture growth is a crucial management tool for the McClures.
“The key to having management flexibility in this environment is being able to contain grazing animals and minimise the impact of pest animals. Containment allows us to manage the sheep, goats and cattle for maximum productivity but also ensures the capacity to better manage the native pastures both for productivity and sustainability,” Justin said.
Stocking rates are based on running a 20kg animal per three hectares and total carrying capacity for the property is 33,000 DSE.
“One of the biggest limitations to productivity in this region is stocking animals at too high densities,” Justin said.
Keeping a check on stocking density is critical. Stocking rates that are too high result in reduced availability of feed which compromises growth rates and reproduction. High stocking densities will prevent feeder goats from gaining weight.
In the last 10 years the McClures have invested in farm infrastructure including yards and fences which have the ability to handle multiple species. They have erected approximately 600km of total grazing pressure (TGP) fencing costing $3,000 to $4,000 per kilometre. TGP fencing is often hinge-joint based but can include Weston electric fencing or multiple plain wires. The design keeps predators and pest species out and sheep, cattle and goats in.
Justin has also used the strategic placement of water points within paddocks, as well as paddock design and size, and yards to maximise enterprise productivity and labour efficiency.
“Watering points are an integral part of the management plan,” Justin said.
“The location and number of watering points assist in grazing control as well as providing trapping opportunities for mustering of goats. Goats generally graze within a 3 to 5km radius of water so most of our water points are spaced 6 to 10km apart. This ensures stock spread out and utilise the total grazing area rather than eating out the area around the watering point.”
The goat enterprise consists of 300-500 breeders, but is supplemented with goats bought in for trading or growing out depending on the markets and availability of feed. The extra goats can be sourced from wild harvest or bought from neighbours through their own depot system.
A similar approach is used in the management of both Dorper lambs and goats. Livestock are handled only when necessary and low stocking rates, combined with a low rainfall environment, eliminate the need to drench or vaccinate goats in most years.
Foot trimming is eliminated through hard culling with a zero tolerance for bad feet in the breeding flock.
Husbandry focuses on breeding and nutrition in the breeding goat herd and around mustering, drafting and marketing for the wild harvest goats.
Mustering and drafting of goats is the most labour intensive husbandry practice in this business. Goats are mustered using a gyrocopter and motorbikes. Between 10-15,000 hectares can be covered in about 12 hours by air.
Mustering occurs outside of the heat of the day to minimise stress and once the goats are gathered in a mob, they generally travel at their own pace. Depending on season, and market demand, wild harvest usually occurs two or three times per year and a selection of does are retained in the breeding herd.
There is no set joining period. Bucks run with the core goat herd all year with joining rates of five bucks per 100 does joined to introduce Boer genetics into the herd.
Harvesting rangeland bucks is essential to support the introduction of Boer genetics. Mating usually occurs twice a year but is seasonally dependent and the average kidding rate is 120 per cent which is similar to the Dorper enterprise.
Like the sheep program, managing body condition score (BCS) in breeding goats pre joining and pre kidding is the key to maximising reproductive performance. Early weaning to maintain doe BCS for joining is used in poor seasons. This strategy helps match animal demand and pasture availability through the TGP approach.
Kids are segregated by sex and males are left entire to allow faster growth rates and to minimise mustering and labour associated with marking kids.
Kids are weaned at 15kg live weight and grown out to 33-35kg live weight on pasture before being sold direct to abattoirs targeting the 15-16kg carcase export market.
Post-weaning growth rates of approximately 100grams/day means the goats are turned off at 7-8 months of age.
Automatic drafting technology is used to draft off goats in the suitable weight range for sale. The same equipment is used to draft Dorper lambs and has reduced the labour needed in the yards and made drafting simpler and more efficient.
Only goats fit for transport are sold. Undersize goats, unweaned kids and pregnant does are separated from the sale flock and returned to the paddock. Time is taken throughout this process to minimise the stress on animals by avoiding pressure and overcrowding.
- Matching livestock productivity to pastoral carrying capacity is the key to effective livestock management in a rangeland environment.
- Understanding the relationship between total animal numbers, animal feed demand and feed resources available is essential for effective grazing management.
- Growth rates are a key profit driver in the rangeland system.
- Understanding the carrying capacity of the rangeland takes time and experience but is a crucial part of a rangeland management system.
- Overstocking, overgrazing and reducing the range of feed types can be detrimental to enterprise performance and long-term sustainability.
- Variation in seasons make it important for a business to have flexibility in enterprise choice with regard to fencing, paddock layout, water supply and pastures in order to take opportunities when they present.
- The ready supply of goats at a cost effective price to utilise surplus feed or to respond to market prices is a critical success factor for this business
- Goat supplies at favourable prices may become harder to source when more livestock producers begin to value goats as a commodity and supply tightens. This could make the economics of growing out goats less favourable in the future. Justin is retaining a selection of wild harvested does in the breeding herd to be joined to meat goat sires. This is to offset the risk of reduced access to feeder goats as the industry adjusts.
What to know more about how goat trading stacks up vs other enterprise types? Check out this short article which includes a gross margin comparison based on the McClure’s business.
For more information, contact Justin McClure firstname.lastname@example.org
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