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

Case Study: Simon Kopke

Name of producer: Simon Kopke
Property name: Weebo Station
Property location: 150kms north of Leonora, Western Australia
Property size (in ha): 323,750ha
Avg. turn off annually: Goal is to turn-off up to 1,000 goats annually
Rangeland enterprise type: High input breeding system (with Kalahari Red genetics)
Target market: Perth domestic meat market and live export to Malaysia
Other farm enterprises: Cattle and pistachios

Using guard dogs in a managed rangeland goat enterprise

Increasing numbers of wild dogs in the Northern Goldfields region of Western Australia have caused most pastoral stations to cease production of small stock. 'Weebo Station', owned by Nickel West (a subsidiary of BHP), used to run about 8,000 Merino sheep prior to being destocked in 2008.

In 2009, Simon Kopke, the manager of Weebo Station, resolved to improve the commercial viability of the station. He investigated the opportunity of starting a rangeland goat enterprise comprising of a high input goat breeding system that, in the future, would be capable of supplying higher quality goats to the Perth domestic meat market and to live export.

Simon’s planning for the enterprise included introducing new goat genetics (Kalahari Red), modern electric fencing technology and the use of Maremma guard dogs within the initial grazing area of about 8,000ha.

Making a start with guard dogs

These plans materialised into the Weebo goat enterprise. The initial herd is made up of about 200 rangeland does and four Kalahari bucks. Simon is looking to build up numbers to 4,000 goats with a goal to turn-off up to 1,000 annually.

The herd is contained within a large 10km x 8km paddock (about 8,000ha) that is fenced with a five line electric fence. This fence is powered by the largest available energiser and has been designed to both contain the breeding herd and act as a deterrent to wild dogs.

Four Maremma dogs have been introduced to the breeding herd to also protect the breeders from predators and their movement is being monitored via GPS tracking collars.

Through the application of Kalahari goats, electric fences and Maremma guard dogs, Weebo Station is hoping to become a learning site for neighbouring pastoralists to observe the project as it unfolds.

Learning from others

Simon suggests that producers do their homework before investing in a new type of fencing or the use of guard dogs.

“I visited Ninian Stewart-Moore’s property 'Dunluce Station', near Hughenden in Queensland, to see how the Maremma’s were being managed to reduce the impact of wild dogs on their sheep flock. It was after witnessing firsthand the success that Ninian was having on his property that I decided to trial Maremma's on Weebo Station”

Training of the Maremma dog requires patience and perseverance. Weebo Station had experienced about 30 percent goat losses to wild dogs before the guard dogs settled into their role within the large paddock. Simon reports that no further losses have occurred, despite one dingo living within the large paddock for over six months.

One of the greatest challenges Simon encountered was encouraging the Maremma pups, introduced at eight weeks of age, to bond with the goat herd. Through trial and error and by applying advice from Maremma breeders from Australia and the United States, three of the four dogs have now bonded to the herd.

Word of advice
  • The solution to the wild dog threat to goats may be unconventional.
  • Fencing allows for targeted management and investment.
Key points
  • High input breeding operations require the identification of high value markets to remain viable.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of other producers when beginning a goat enterprise.
  • There are ways to combat the affect of wild dogs. The challenge is finding the right solution for your situation (this may influence enterprise choice).