Good news for goats as Bourke processor reopens
08 September 2022
In good news for both the goat industry and the processing sector, a cutting-edge goat and sheep processing facility is set to re-open its doors in the western NSW town of Bourke next week.
With its first kill scheduled for 15 September, Thomas Foods International Bourke aims to process up to 3,000 head a day by Christmas – most of these being goats.
According to Thomas Foods International’s National Smallstock Manager, Paul Leonard, the facility’s reopening couldn’t have come at a better time.
“As a processor, you’d rather a consistent supply rather than an ‘undersupply then oversupply’ scenario, which is what we’ve seen in the past,” Paul said.
“When the facility was built by its original owners four years ago, we were coming out of a drought and it was difficult to get supply.”
“We’re very fortunate that there’s now been three good seasons in a row in western and central western Queensland, as well as western and central western NSW, that has enabled the goat herd to rebuild to a level that will provide the facility with consistent supply.”
Paul said a move towards semi-managed goat enterprises in recent years will also aid the consistent flow of livestock through the facility.
“There’s also been a big change in the industry with the increased on-farm management and also the investment in genetics, which has been a real game changer,” Paul said.
“Back in the day, producers would put a couple of choppers up and get several thousand goats which would have to go straightaway.”
“Now, producers have invested in infrastructure such as yards, holding paddocks and exclusion fencing that will enable them to provide a consistent supply and avoid that bottleneck of numbers.”
Sourcing and exporting
When it comes to logistics, the plant will look to source goats both via direct channels and a number of established goat depot operators to meet its quotas.
“Our resident buyer Edward Johnson is based at Bourke and he will be dealing with clients who want to sell larger consignments on an over-the-hooks basis,” Paul said.
“Rob Newton, who’s very well known in the Bourke district, has been involved in procuring goats from a depot perspective for years and as well as supplying from his depot, Rob will also buy goats over-the-hooks for us as well.”
“We have another goat depot operator at Broken Hill, Pat Cuffe, onboard to supply stock as well.”
Goatmeat processed by the facility will then be exported to a diverse range of markets thanks to the unique capabilities of the plant.
“The Bourke plant has the capacity to produce both skin-on or skin-off goatmeat – there are two skin on-chains in this facility as well as a skin-off chain,” Paul said.
“As many producers know, the US is the main export market for Australian goatmeat and it is a skin-off market.”
“However, the good thing about having skin-on chains at this facility is that if there’s pressure on the US market or increased supply, we can pivot into some of those other skin-on markets such as southeast Asia.”
A strong season ahead
While labour shortages have challenged the processing sector in recent times, Paul is pleased with the team already in place to start work at the facility.
“We’ve got the full management team in place and we’ve got around 30–40 local people ready to start work at the facility,” Paul said.
“Inevitably, once we get closer to full production, we might need 80 staff, and eventually, we might need more than that – but the Bourke community has been fantastic and so we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the team numbers we’ve built.”
Although the facility will process smaller numbers of livestock in its first few months as it builds capacity, the plant is still set for a solid first season of work.
“It should create a bit of competition or at least allow for the slaughter of those extra several thousand head a week that are available now,” Paul said.
“Once we’re at full capacity, the processor backlog we’ve been seeing will evaporate too.”
“There’s a lot of goats out there at the moment and producers are having an outstanding season – so I don’t think there’ll be any challenges with supply considering the volume available.”