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

Case Study: Rick and Jo Gates

Name of producer: Rick and Jo Gates
Property name: Burndoo
Property location: 70km south east of Wilcannia, New South Wales
Property size (in ha): 25,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 150,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Depot
Target market: 50-55% meat export to USA; 20% domestic meat; 20% live export to Malaysia (bucks); 5-10% restockers

Goat depots - risks and rewards

Rick and Jo Gates run a successful goat depot on their station 'Burndoo' near Wilcannia, New South Wales. Rick explains that “with only 25,000ha of this country, we were not big enough to run a profitable trading enterprise and the goat depot was our best option.”

Issues associated with running a goat depot

While Rick is the first to admit that running a goat depot is not easy, he believes the financial rewards are worth the risks involved.

Key issues Rick has highlighted regarding his depot operation include:

  • Labour – Physically, the goat depot is very labour intensive. Rick and Jo employ two full-time staff and one casual staff member to assist with the operation of the depot.

  • Financial – It is costly to establish a successful large-scale depot; however, there are financial rewards.

  • Timing – Timing is critical in ensuring the success of a depot operation. Rick explains that they sell 2,500-3,500 goats weekly and must therefore have their “finger on the pulse” of pricing and markets at all times. Rick purchases all goats from within a 200km radius and explains that “if I’m not here and ready to buy, my suppliers will sell to someone else. My suppliers are as crucial as my customers.”

  • Risks – The main risk associated with a goat depot is overstocking. Rick mitigates this by pre-emptively marketing his goats which he believes is vital to a successful depot operation. This means that Rick will usually have customers ready to take the goats before they are delivered to the depot for drafting.

Alternative enterprises

Given the nature of the Burndoo country and the potential profitability of Dorper sheep, the Gates did consider breeding Dorpers. They decided, however, that the cost of ewes at $200-$250 per head, compared with small goats at $10 per head, was prohibitive.

While the Gates admit their depot operation is labour intensive and time critical, it is profitable and suited to their country.

Infrastructure requirements

The Gates spend considerable time maintaining the 160km of fencing they have on Burndoo. Rick explains “in autumn we’ll spend two to three weeks just maintaining fences for height and clearing the grass off them.”

Other infrastructure that is critical to the Gates’ depot operation includes:

  • Yards – The Gates have four sets of well constructed and maintained yards.
  • Trucks – Two on-farm trucks are regularly used for shifting goats.
  • Roads – Well maintained and upgraded roads are critical to the success of the depot, with an average of three to four B-Doubles loading around 3,000 goats weekly. Following heavy rains in a wet year, it is not uncommon to have to spend in the order of $20,000 on road maintenance.
Words of advice
  • Intensive
    Running a goat depot is labour intensive and time critical. Rick insists “don’t think you can run a goat depot part-time. It’s all a matter of timing. If you’re not there you won’t get the business.”

  • Do it properly
    To be successful, a goat depot requires a significant investment in time and money. If you are going to run a profitable depot it is important to establish and operate it without cutting corners.

  • Supplier is king
    The profitability of a goat depot relies to a large extent on the suppliers of the goats. Rick explains that if you are not the easy alternative and front-of-mind for suppliers then they will sell their goats elsewhere and you will miss the opportunity.

Key points
  • Running a goat depot requires a significant investment in time and money.
  • Location, location, location. Goat throughput is critical to the successful operation of a depot. Goats need to be able to be sourced and then delivered on time and according to specification. The depot should be located to maximise throughput.