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

Case Study: Garry Hannigan

Name of producer: Garry Hannigan
Property name: Churinga
Property location: 130km east of Broken Hill, New South Wales
Property size (in ha): 50,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 2,000-3,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Harvest and hold
Target market: Local depot
Other farm enterprises: 4,000–5,000 Dorper/Damara crossed meat sheep

Matching feed demand to feed supply

Garry Hannigan runs a complementary grazing enterprise on 6,000ha of his property 'Churinga', 130km east of Broken Hill in New South Wales. He uses the condition of the available vegetation as a means of determining his stocking rate, thereby maintaining the balance between production and environmental sustainability.

Key indicators guiding stocking rate

Garry grazes sheep and goats together on the fenced country at Churinga. While there is some degree of dietary overlap, sheep and goats do tend to favour different vegetation at different times making them ideal complementary grazing companions.

One of the great advantages of complementary grazing is that it facilitates increased pasture utilisation and therefore allows for a higher stocking rate. With this increased stocking rate comes a particular need to monitor vegetation as this is the best way to ensure that the fragile environment is not coming under excessive grazing pressure.

Plant types as grazing triggers
Garry keeps a close eye on various plant species for indications of whether the country is stocked too heavily or whether it could hold more stock. Different indicator plants tell different stories; some plants are the first to be grazed while others are not grazed until others are depleted.

Keeping an eye on which plants are grazed in a particular area at which times can be a valuable means of understanding how the country is responding to the stocking rate.

I’ll watch the bushes and shrubs for the goats and the grasses and bushes for the sheep to make sure I get the balance right,” Garry says. “If there is too much pressure, I can quickly destock the goats to the local depot or decrease my sheep numbers.

Trigger plants vary in different regions at Churinga and include harlequin fuchsia, bladder saltbush and narrow leaf hop bush.

Use of supplements
Garry does not use nutritional supplements on his property. He finds that the diversity of vegetation and careful management of his stocking rates provide the livestock access to all the nutrients they need. He finds supplementary feeding has the potential to allow for artificially high stocking rates which can place excessive pressure on the environment.

Leveraging the grazing habits of rangeland goats

Garry is in tune with his environment, always taking careful note of the vegetation before deciding how to stock country. He insists “some country will only take sheep; the goats would put to much pressure on it. In the fenced country you have to be guided by the available vegetation and land type - study the vegetation first, not the condition of your animals,” he says. “In fact I have fenced some of my country to exclude goats because the vegetation couldn’t handle them.

When the vegetation allows, Garry will use rangeland goats to maximise its utilisation through complementary grazing with his sheep.

Words of advice
  • Study the vegetation, not the condition of your animals
    Garry insists that graziers should “study the vegetation, not the condition of your animals and stock accordingly. Through doing this your stock will always be in reasonable condition. It’s a win-win.”

  • Err on the side of conservative stocking
    If in doubt, err on the side of conservative stocking, particularly in fragile rangeland country. This is especially the case if you are just getting to know a new property or area.

  • Understand your areas trigger plants
    Understand what the best trigger plants are in your area. These can tell you when you should adjust your stocking rate and often vary from land class to land class and area to area; get to know what works on your country.

  • Remember, meat sheep and goats 'breed like rabbits'
    Both goats and meat sheep are prolific breeders. Your stocking rate may triple once offspring start to graze.

Key points
  • Goats grazed with sheep can increase pasture utilisation.
  • Best practice in running goats varies from property to property and even within properties according to land class; it is not a case of one size fits all.