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

Case Study: Bob Grinham, WA

Name of producer: Bob Grinham
Property name: Meka Station
Property location: 100km north of Yalgoo, Western Australia
Property size (in ha): 394,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 500 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Harvest and hold
Target market: Live exports and abattoir
Other farm enterprises: Dorper/Damara breeder sheep

Harvesting and holding rangeland goats

Bob Grinham manages 'Meka Station', one of the largest holdings in the lower Murchison region of Western Australia. Meka has a 8,000 Dorper/Damara breeding flock that annually produces 4,000 to 5,000 lambs for live export and harvests about 500 goats for delivery to an export abattoir.

The techniques Bob applies to harvesting and holding goats have been refined through past experiences which included capturing and exporting about 300,000 goats over a 15 year period and designing and operating Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) quarantine and export facilities.

Harvesting rangeland goats

Bob’s technique for capturing goats out of coastal parks first involves hiring a plane for an hour or so to fix the location of the main herd. Bob and his crew then select a suitable site near where the goats were sighted and erect temporary yards with lengths of hessian and wire to form wings for guiding the goats into the yards.

At first light the next day, or on a full moon, Bob takes a motorbike and a dog to surprise the goats at their camp and walk them to the yards. Bob’s theory is that wild goats come together for security in numbers during the night. At first light the goats break camp; separating into family groups to graze out during daylight hours.

Once yarded, the goats are provided with fresh water to drain salt water out of their system – goats in coastal areas often consume large amounts of saline water and hay for gut fill. Within 24-36 hours after capture, the goats are trucked to station holding paddocks or to an abattoir.

Settling goats into holding paddocks

Bob believes that goats settle into paddocks if they are comfortable with the other goats in the mob. Female goats are drafted into lines based on age and liveweight, with the younger goats separated from four-tooths and older, and each group is moved into a securely fenced training area of about 300m x 300m.

The placement of water troughs at the opposite end to the feeding area ensures that dominant goats cannot control both the water and the feed at the same time.

Hay is provided both in feeders and on the ground to provide shy feeders with the opportunity to eat from either location. Shy feeders are also shepherded onto water troughs. Pet ‘coach’ goats are a useful aid because they provide the new goats with confidence to approach the feed and water troughs.

Feed troughs must be cleaned out daily, to avoid becoming dirty from goat excretions. Any dead goats should be lifted, not dragged out of the yards to avoid dropping contaminated body fluids onto the soil within the intensive yard area. In addition, any sick goats should be quarantined separately and fed in a way that prevents the transmission of feed or soil that may be contaminated to the healthy goats.

Fencing

Within the training area, goats can be trained to respect electric fences. Electric fences are erected about five metres inside the perimeter of the training fence. Goats that escape the electric fence are returned behind the electric fence each day. Repeat offenders are culled, because they encourage other goats to become fence breakers.

Bob believes that a five line electric fence (two electrified wires; three earth wires) with a minimum of 6,000 volts and nine joules current is adequate for most situations.

Bob has found that in his environment and soil type, steel posts at 30m intervals with polythene droppers at 10m spacings provide a good structure for the electric fence. The bottom wire should be no higher than 10cm above ground level. Bob has learnt to remove old fence lines within any new paddocks as goats learn to walk through these old fences and will therefore pressure the electric fences.

After about a week of training, the goats can be released into a larger paddock of up to 25,000ha. Bob has observed that newly arrived goats generally walk around the boundary of their new paddock to seek a escape route. For this reason, he places water troughs at spacings of about 5-6 kilometres around the fence or in the corners of each paddock, rather than in the middle of the paddock.

It takes time, planning and commitment

Newly captured goats take about one year to fully acclimatise to their new environment and settle into their social groups. Reproduction levels may be lower than average in the first year of the enterprise.

Boer bucks need to be delivered onto pastoral stations at an early age (less than one year of age) to be able to perform and compete against bush males.

Bob has observed that the range condition can improve if goat numbers are managed correctly. This may be due to the goats’ preference to browse the vegetation canopy above, thereby allowing for new seedlings to establish underneath shrubs.

Words of advice

Bob’s words of advice for people starting out in a rangeland goat enterprise:

  • Identify a market that meets your capacity to supply.
  • Spend the time necessary to build a relationship with that market and show loyalty to that market.
  • Install infrastructure properly the first time.
Key points
  • Rangeland goats can be successfully harvested and held.
  • Goats settle into paddocks if they are comfortable with the other goats in the mob. It pays to draft goats to minimise dominance behaviour (separate males and females as well as younger bucks and older bucks).
  • Feed and water troughs should be placed around the perimeter fence as goats will naturally walk onto these while patrolling the boundary.
  • Goats that continually challenge or breach fences should be removed from the mob.