Making the move to goats

29 August 2017

Location: 30km north of Walgett, NSW
Properties: ‘Tara’ and ‘Dundalla’
Producers: Tony, Kaye and Joel Smith and Victoria Porter
Area: 8,498ha
Soils and grasses: native pastures with Mitchell grass
Rainfall: 450mm
Goat herd size: 300–700 Boer goats depending on the season, aiming for 500 stud stock 
Target market: domestic meat market and seedstock for rangeland producers
Enterprises:

  • 2,000 Merino ewes
  • 100 mixed Charolais
  • 300–700 commercial Boers
  • 1,295ha of wheat

Why goats?

Joel Smith, a cropping and livestock producer from Walgett, NSW, has always had a keen interest in goats.

“They are the most interesting stock on the place,” Joel said, whose family’s operations – apart from goats – cover sheep, cattle and grain.

“The challenge was convincing Dad, a staunch Merino producer, to make the change. In the end, it was the returns from the goat operation that changed his mind.”

The Smith family started off with a small number of Boers and now, with Joel’s influence, run between 300–700 commercial Boer goats depending on the season.

They aim to run up to 500 stud Boers in addition to their sheep, cattle and cropping operations.

Breeding ‘fit for purpose’ animals

“Boer goats have a lot to prove,” Joel said.

“There is certainly an opportunity to learn from mistakes in the past and ensure breeders are producing suitable stock which will perform in the rangelands.

“Buyers also have a responsibility to make sure they are buying something that will suit their needs.”

Joel believes this is where the KIDPLAN program can add definitive value to Australian goatmeat production.

“Like the sheep industry, we have an opportunity to provide great-looking animals which are backed by hard, independent data regarding key traits.”

Joel is also interested in investigating programs like Pedigree Matchmaker further to see how this can add additional value to the stud operation.

Husbandry

“We usually average a 150% kidding rate for the stud herd, though it jumped up to 170% in 2015. The rate is usually around 130% for the commercial herd,” Joel said.

Joel explains that the high kidding percentage for stud stock is due to the does being managed more closely and kidding in smaller paddocks.

“The does are mostly having multiples,” Joel said.

“We do controlled joining for six weeks starting in January or February.”

Maidens are joined at around 14 months of age.

The Smiths have a strong culling policy – does receive one strike and if they are not conceiving and bringing kids through to weaning following this, they are culled.

“For the stud herd, we track the performance of individual animals so we can trace parentage and things like ‘number of kids produced and weaned’. We take measurements from birth weights onwards,” Joel said.

The Smiths preg-test their stud herd so they can separate the does with singles and multiples and manage nutrition better. 

Joel said they have a deliberate strategy not to supplementary feed unless necessary.

“We want to produce tough animals that will perform for our rangeland-based customers.

“The goats are grazed on native pastures, including Mitchell grass, and we have lick blocks in the paddocks all year round.”

To help with ease of stock management and handling, the Smiths have bought weigh scales to help with monitoring the performance of individual animals, as well as a stock lifter which is used for husbandry activities. The next step will be bringing in an auto-draft.

The Smiths have been impressed with electric fencing. For most of the property, they use a plain six wire fence with one wire electrified. So long as animals are trained to respect the electric wire in small holding yards first, the family finds they have few problems with goats in the paddocks.

“Once the goats are settled and happy, they don’t seem to put too much pressure on the fences,” Joel said.

“We needed something more robust for the buck paddock, so we’ve used ringlock there.” 

What does the future hold?

“The culls and some of the commercial herd are slaughtered for the domestic market out of the Tamworth plant. Wethers are sold separately to a local branded goatmeat value chain which targets the Sydney restaurant trade.

At the moment, we don’t have much contact beyond the processor and this is something I want to change.

“From an industry perspective, I think the future will depend on the uptake of goats with more producers,” Joel said.

The family would like to be in a position to better understand how their animals are performing over-the-hooks so that they can relate this data back to specific sires.

“There are so many misconceptions out there. I think people need to realise goats are not sheep. We have been surprised to see that they are not as hard on the country as sheep if the stocking rate is right.

Joel believes there is plenty of opportunity for improved growth rates through Boer infusion into rangeland herds, either through full-blood Boers or crosses. He said that with the right animals, this can definitely be achieved.

More information:

Joel Smith E: taras1@bigpond.com

Click here for more information on KIDPLAN.

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