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

Managing predation

Predation can impact a goat enterprise at any stage in the production cycle, especially when wild dogs are the main predator; however it is kids that are most vulnerable.

After birthing does tend to plant their kids and graze off, only returning periodically to feed and nurture the kids. This behaviour persists for several weeks before the kid begins grazing with the doe and it is during these early stages that the kids are most vulnerable.

The success of the breeding cycle and kid survival is highly dependent on seasonal conditions and predation.

Where possible, kidding should occur in paddocks that offer cover to escape predators and shelter from inclement weather. Common predators of kids are wild dogs, foxes, pigs and eagles.

Controlling predators can be a costly and time consuming activity but in many areas forms a critical part of running a viable rangeland goat enterprise.

Efforts to control wild dogs, foxes and pigs involve baiting, trapping and shooting, with a combination of some or all of these activities often being the most successful approach.

Predator control is far more effective when undertaken on a regional basis with all neighbours participating in the program. Formalised producer-run dog control groups have been established in some areas. These groups coordinate dog baiting and trapping efforts and seek funding from external sources including government and meat processors, to assist in undertaking control activities.

Fencing is another option available to producers and, while costly, can provide long term gains through increased production and reduced stock attacks. When used in conjunction with baiting on the outside of the fence to prevent incursions, or with guardian animals, fencing becomes even more effective and the cost benefit increases. Fences must however be well maintained to be effective and unless time is invested in their upkeep, money is better spent on other control methods.

Wild dogs

Wild dogs have had a profound effect on livestock enterprises in many rangeland production areas, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia. There are three critical elements to successful wild dog control:

  • A strategic approach is required.
  • The strategic approach must be coordinated to include all properties and the broader community in an affected area.
  • The program must be delivered on a landscape scale rather than localised efforts.

For a wild dog control program to be effective it must be integrated and utilise as many forms of control as possible. This may include large scale aerial baiting in March- April (targeting the breeding period,) and again in late spring early summer (targeting young dogs bred that year) in addition to trapping, shooting and ground baiting. Control needs to be proactive and in place ideally before attacks occur.

Where foxes and wild dogs coexist, it is important to consider the behavioural habits of both species in planning a control program. Foxes take baits more readily than wild dogs and need to be controlled prior to coordinated wild dog baiting programs. By controlling foxes first, producers ensure baits are available to the target species, in this case wild dogs. Baiting prior to kidding is one way to manage losses and remove foxes from the landscape.

Producers can also strategically bait or trap on a regular basis in areas where wild dogs are known to travel or water.

Wild dogs are creatures of habit and will utilise the same geographic features and aspects of the landscape year in year out even when they come in from another area. Ares such as drainage lines, firebreaks, watercourse and ridgelines leading off hills are a great place to start your wild dog control program. 

Wild dogs often move along the soft sandy edges adjoining Spinifex country in rangeland country. Producers can capitalise on this behaviour by placing baits or traps in these areas so any dogs entering the property will encounter some form of control.

Foxes

Foxes tend to be less of a problem for goat producers in rangeland country than they are in agricultural or high rainfall areas. A coordinated control response by neighbours is the most effective approach where foxes are a problem.

Unlike wild dogs, foxes rarely challenge mature goats meaning that baiting should be timed to occur in the weeks prior to kidding. This will reduce the number of foxes in the area at kidding when the goats are most vulnerable.

Foxes are territorial and once a dominant fox is removed from an area, there will be a brief period of decreased fox pressure before another fox moves into that area.

The challenge is to have as many kids as possible on the ground and mobile before the fox population re-establishes.

Strategic baiting when vixens are whelping and young foxes are dependent upon their mother in late winter can also be effective.

Wild pigs

Pigs can be a problem in some areas and at some times. Reports by producers indicate that when pigs are a problem, they can have a devastating effect on kid populations, reducing reproduction rates from about 150 percent at kidding to 30 percent at weaning.

Pigs can be effectively trapped and baited. As with all predator control, this is best done through a coordinated, strategic approach.

Guard animals

Guard animals are being used successfully in higher rainfall areas where paddocks are smaller; however producer trials suggest that they may also be effective in rangeland systems.

Best practice guidelines on the use of guardian dogs have been published by the Invasive Animals CRC and provide comprehensive instruction on bonding and implementation of these dogs on farm.