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

Case Study: Tara and Sam Homfray

Name of producer: Tara and Sam Homfray
Property name: Fairmount Station
Property location: 40km south east of Wilcannia, New South Wales
Property size (in ha): 75,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 12,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Primarily pure wild harvest, small high input goat breeding
Target market: Skin-on does to the USA, bucks live export to Malaysia
Other farm enterprises: Opportunistic cattle trading

Animal husbandry in a rangeland goat breeding enterprise

The size and location of the Homfrays’ 'Fairmount Station', 75,000ha near Wilcannia, New South Wales, means there are plenty of rangeland goats to be wild harvested and selected for sale or breeding on an annual basis. By selecting the best of the rangeland goats and introducing Boer genetics, the Homfrays have been able to realise significant gains in productivity and therefore profitability.

Selecting the right animal

Buck selection
The Australian rangeland goat is a unique animal which has adapted to Australian conditions through over 200 years of natural selection. The principle behind the Homfray’s breeding program is to take advantage of the best that the local rangeland goats have to offer by selecting and retaining the better does and bucks for breeding and making their own adjustment to the local population through the limited introduction of Boer goat genetics.

In 2007, the Homfrays decided to experiment with the introduction of 140 Boer bucks to their rangeland goat operation. Tara explains that; “We are now seeing clear evidence of the influence of the Boer goats coming through the herd including higher weaning weights. We’ve retained the vigour and adaptability of the rangeland goat but are now producing a faster growing animal which means we can hit our target market specifications earlier.”

Doe selection
All does are selected from the local rangeland goat population through visual drafting-to-type in the race. Those with sound conformation and udders are retained along with does exhibiting Boer influence; the others are sold into the goatmeat trade. This helps sustain ongoing genetic improvement in their herd.

Managing predators and kid survival

While breeding the right kind of goat is important, maximising weaning rates is also critical. Central to this is in much of the rangelands is predator control.

Baits are laid strategically for foxes and when pigs present a problem, which is usually only in dry years, they are trapped and culled.

Joining times

The scale of Fairmount Station makes it difficult to manage joining times, so Tara explains “we let mother nature do what she does best.”

The Homfrays have found that, in their area, goats will naturally join twice a year, in spring and Autumn, if there is sufficient feed. If not, they can still be relied on to join for a spring kidding. “It works well,” she says. “They know what they are doing so we leave it up to them.”

Special considerations for breeding goats in the rangelands

Manage the country, then the goats
Tara insists that with a rangeland goat operation you must “manage the country, then the goats. The goats will respond to well managed country.”

Through running the goats in bigger mobs and rotating paddocks, the vegetation is more responsive, the animals tend to stay healthier and any worm burden is minimised.

Draft off the bucks
Drafting off the young bucks to grow out in a separate paddock helps minimise stress on does and kids while maximising the young buck growth rate.

Genetic potential

Tara sees Boer goat influence as being the next stage in the ongoing development of the rangeland goat. “We have a terrific goat in the rangeland goat and we shouldn’t ignore the animal’s potential. What we are doing by introducing Boer goat genetics is just steering the next stage of the rangeland goat’s evolution to produce more meat more quickly.”

Boer genetics offer rangeland producers two significant advantages; hybrid vigour and marketing opportunities.

Hybrid vigour is the term used to describe the increased growth rates that typically result from joining a rangeland goat to a Boer goat. This allows the Homfrays to meet their turn-off weights faster; therefore increasing productivity and profitability.

Some markets will pay a premium for consistent lines of Boer and Boer cross animals. By first identifying these markets, such as the live export market to Malaysia, and then refining the production system to deliver goats that meet the market’s specifications, significant value can be added to a production system through the introduction of Boer goat genetics.

Words of advice
  • Don’t ignore the potential of the Australian rangeland goat. With some selection, very resilient and productive lines of goats can be identified.
  • Look after the environment and the goats will look after themselves.
  • Prepare a budget before focussing on goat production; you may be pleasantly surprised.
  • The incorporation of Boer goat genetics is a good way to add value to a goat breeding operation in the rangelands.
Key points
  • An open mind, planning and operational flexibility are important to developing a successful rangeland goat operation.
  • Value adding opportunities exist; however, the cost benefit of pursuing these opportunities as opposed to capitalising on the existing resource need to be assessed.