Going into Goats: A practical guide to producing goats in the rangelands

Case Study: Bruce Foott

Name of producer: Bruce Foott
Property name: Barta Park
Property location: 65km south of Mitchell, Queensland
Property size (in ha): 10,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 1,500-2,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: High input breeding system (with Kalahari Red genetics)
Target market: High input breeding system
Other farm enterprises: Males to the abattoir, does live export market into Malaysia

Running a goat breeding operation in the rangelands

After becoming involved with goat production in 2000, Bruce’s property ‘Barta Park’, south of Mitchell, Queensland, is now fully fenced and is a 100 percent goat-focused operation. Owner, Bruce Foott, initially went into goats as part of his mulga control program; however, they soon become a profitable enterprise in their own right. Bruce has in this time learnt a few lessons along the way regarding running a Boer goat operation in the rangelands.

Selecting and introducing new bucks

From Bruce’s experience, the best bucks are those that are bred on similar country. According to Bruce; “When we buy-in Boer bucks we always look for animals that have been bred in similar country to ours. They are accustomed to the conditions and tend to be tougher than those that come from a stud on the coast or from colder country.”

That said, Bruce has found that it is getting harder to find Boer bucks bred in the rangelands so he has begun his own breeding program. This has attracted interest from other producers and Bruce is now operating in-part as an unregistered stud.

Selecting does

When running a self-replacing breeding operation targeting the live export doe market to Malaysia, it is critical that the right balance be achieved between the number of does which are retained and the number of does sold. Sell too many and not enough replacement does will be kept in the herd to maintain numbers in the next breeding cycle.

Does to be retained in the herd are selected for characteristics that the market requires; that is typically red heads, white bodies and strong Boer characteristics. Bruce is a little sceptical about this as there are very good goats that may fall down in colouration and are therefore culled; however, there is no point in breeding a goat that the market does not want.

Kid survival

Bruce has observed rangeland goats to be a lot tougher in his environment and he is finding that Boer does on average produce less kids. His experience is that the higher the Boer genetic content, the lower the weaning percentage.

This is a problem for his operation and he is considering adding another breed like Kalahari Red into his breeding program in an attempt to increase his kidding percentages.

Managing predators

Predators are a major problem for Bruce who undertakes strategic baiting programs for wild dogs, foxes and pigs. Bruce runs baits for most of the year to keep predator numbers down as they can decimate goat numbers if left unchecked. 

Bruce acknowledges that baiting can be a problem for his own working dogs; however, his strategic approach and attention to best practice guidelines ensures that the risk to non-target species is minimised.

Bruce does not have a set joining time but rather runs the bucks with the does for 12 months of the year. Bruce does so to minimise the impact of uninvited rangeland bucks as the Boer bucks are more likely to be on hand when the does come into season.

Special considerations for breeding in the rangelands

Bruce believes that the rangelands are the best place to breed goats as there is plenty of space and browse. Grazing management is, however, important to protect the environment and the feedbase. The main form of browse on Barta Park is mulga and it is important for this to be spelled periodically to allow it to recover

Breeding objective

Bruce is the first to admit that running a Boer breeding operation in the rangelands is challenging.  “Defining a breeding objective in the rangelands is about tossing up between the adaptability that the rangeland goat brings and the value-adding opportunities that the Boer goat brings through increased meat production potential and the live export market. I’m looking for that balance; an animal that will survive, be a good mother and meet market specifications.” 

Drenching hasn’t been a problem at Barta Park for the last 10 years due to the dry conditions.  Bruce has observed that in their area they only tend to get worms if the browse decreases and the goats are forced onto the ground in search of grass. Consequently, it is important to maintain a good level of browse. Bruce also maintains relatively low stock densities to reduce the likelihood of worm infestation.

Words of advice
  • If buying-in, buy stock that have been bred on similar country.
  • Ensure the balance between the number of does retained and the number of does sold.
  • Don't breed a goat that the market doesn't want.
  • Protect the goats environment and feedbase to ensure good ongoing feed and to avoid worm problems.
Key points
  • Be ready to change your enterprise if that which you are pursuing becomes unsustainable (profitable).
  • For goats to thrive in an area, they must be fully acclimatised to that area. The best way to achieve this is by:
    • Breeding them where they will be run;
    • sourcing them from a similar environment; or
    • introducing them at as young an age as possible.