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

Case Study: Greg Church

Name of producer: Greg Church
Property name: Bushley Station
Property location: 90km south of Wilcannia, New South Wales
Property size (in ha): 19,600ha
Avg. turn off annually: 5,000-6,000
Rangeland enterprise type: High input goat breeding
Target market: Wethers live export to Malaysia. Smaller does meeting specifications live export to Malaysia for breeding purposes. Crossbred offspring for domestic market.
Other farm enterprises: Dorper/Damara breeder sheep

Value-adding through genetics

The difficult times facing the wool industry and the nature of the 'Bushley' country in New South Wales encouraged Greg Church to shift his enterprise focus from Merinos to value-added rangeland goats in the late 1990s.

From an initial pure wild harvest of 1,500 goats annually, Greg now turns off 5,000-6,000 Boer crossed goats. “With the introduction of Boer genetics I decided to make a real effort to meet specifications as I am now getting paid on a live weight basis instead of a dollar per head figure. There’s more incentive for me to put the effort in as I see the returns on my bottom line,” he says.

The introduction of Boer genetics

Physical and human resource considerations
While Greg still requires labour to muster, draft, process (with ear tags) and truck his value-added goat herd, the timing of the operations are less critical than with his Merino flock. This has significantly reduced the stress and difficulties of running a grazing enterprise in an isolated region.

Financial considerations, risks and potential rewards
Following many 'sleepless nights' Greg decided to introduce Boer genetics, cautiously optimistic that this would reward him financially, and now, as a result, he is able to predict his income 12 months in advance.

“I knew there were a number of markets for value-added goats out there, including the depots, meatworks and one-off opportunities, so I can pick the option that maximises my income with the goats I have on hand,” Greg says.

The installation of appropriate infrastructure for goats has also enabled him to introduce Dorpers to his enterprise. “It’s a win-win,” he says.

Other enterprise options

Greg maintains that his country is best suited to goats.

“Cattle are useful to rotate through the country if feed and markets allow, but the Bushley land is too fragile to be full-time cattle country,” he says.

Greg has considered running more Dorpers, which were new to Australia’s pastoral system when Greg decided to focus on goats, but the financial rewards of his current enterprise mix are meeting his business objectives for now.

Infrastructure requirements

Greg continues to upgrade infrastructure, as time and budgets allow, with the recent addition of a fourth set of yards and roofs over some yards to minimise animal stress.

The purchase of auto-weigh scales has enabled Greg to ensure he is meeting market specifications and hence maximising his returns.

Pros and cons

Greg has found his value-added goat herd to be both financially rewarding and less stressful than his previous operation. He is, however, now faced with the difficulty of finding a supplier of hardy Boer bucks that will survive and thrive in the Bushley country, explaining “many breeders are currently more focussed on the show ring than the commercial job”.

Words of advice
  • Infrastructure
    Goats can be hard on the country and on your facilities. If you are value-adding your herd then invest in suitable infrastructure to minimise animal stress and losses. Ensure you have the facilities to meet your market’s specifications, such as auto-weigh scales, in order to maximise your returns.

  • Know your markets
    Knowing your marketing alternatives for value-added goats is vital. “Anyone can breed the crossed goats but you need to be able to do something with them and make something from them, if you know your marketing alternatives and their specifications you can maximise your returns.”

Key points
  • Value-adding opportunities do exist for rangeland goat producers and many of these are accessed via high value breeding operations.
  • Before investing, understand the opportunities and potential return on investment.
  • Scales are often an important component of a value adding enterprise as they help ensure delivery to market specifications.