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

Case Study: Jim and Trish McKenzie

Name of producer: Jim and Trish McKenzie
Property name: Gamarren
Property location: 98km south east of Cunnamulla, Queensland
Property size (in ha): 26,630ha
Avg. turn off annually: 3,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Pure wild harvest and low input breeding system
Target market: Slaughter - meat for export - supplying T&R Pastoral
Other farm enterprises: Sheep and cattle

Controlling weeds in the rangelands using goats

Goat production began for the Mckenzies when they purchased 'Gamarren', a property around 100km south west of Cunnamulla in Queensland. Gamarren had sandy areas of woody weed encroachment and goats.

Following discussions with neighbours and friends, the McKenzies decided to use the goats to help control the woody weeds, predominantly hopbush and false sandlewood, and the results have been better than they expected. Paddocks that were impassable and unproductive because of the weeds and regrowth are now manageable and useable. 

Trish states that “The goats were so effective in the first paddock that we used them in that we invested in more fencing to contain goats in other problem paddocks and had similar success.”

What goats will eat and when

Trish has observed goats eating all the major shrub and tree species in their area with the proportion of their diet made up from browse estimated to be around 70 percent. Only about 30 percent of their diet has been observed to be derived from grasses in the McKenzies area. Grasses are now starting to re-emerge where the goats have thinned or eradicated the hopbush and false sandlewood, increasing the amount of valuable pasture available to the sheep and cattle and generally improving the condition of the land.

This grass biomass is also used as a tool against the woody weeds to both compete with regrowth and, more importantly, to provide fuel for fire. The combination of strategic grazing with goats to allow grass biomass to accumulate and then strategic burning of that biomass has proved very successful on Gamarren.

Grazing pressure demonstrated on woody weeds

Controlling stocking density and the difference this makes

To achieve the desired woody weed control, the fences around the affected paddocks were made goat proof and goats were introduced at a high stocking rate to encourage crash grazing of the target weeds. Some paddocks were subdivided to allow for heavy grazing.

Once the density of the weeds was reduced, so too was the stocking rate reduced although a residual population of goats was kept in the paddock to control regrowth.

Provision of supplements

Lick blocks and loose licks have been provided to the goats in the weed-affected paddocks and while this has not been supplied to correct any one particular dietary imbalance, the licks have been popular with the goats. The decision of which lick to use has generally been determined by price and availability.

Fencing requirements

In Trish’s experience, training the goats is as important as the fence itself when it comes to electric fencing. At the start of the weed control program, Trish initially utilised whatever fence was there with the addition of a poly outrigger and electrified wire. Old telephone lines were used and worked well when it was dry; however, these did lose their effectiveness in the rain.

All goats on Gamarren initially go into a training yard which is electrified. Trish considers this to be an important step and thinks as a result you may only need to turn the electricity on once a month as they have learnt to be wary of fences.

The value of using goats to control weeds

In short Trish knows goats have added value to their operation. “Originally we couldn’t use some of the paddocks on Gamarren as they were thick with woody weeds; now these paddocks are useful, all thanks to the goats.

We have found goats much more effective than other conventional woody weed control methods such as spraying, which is expensive, and clearing using a bulldozer which is again expensive and disturbs the earth encouraging woody weed regrowth.

There is minimal cost associated with goats, the regrowth is controlled and, at the end of the day, you have a product you can sell.

Words of advice
  • Careful management
    If you plan to use goats in high densities to control weeds, careful management is required to make sure that the welfare of the goats is maintained and the environment is not negatively impacted by the high stocking rates.

  • Maintain body condition
    Some weeds may not provide all of the nutrients required by the goats. Ensure that the goats have access to additional feed or supplements to maintain body condition.

Key points
  • Goats can play an important role in the strategic control of woody weeds by reducing the canopy density and allowing more light through to ground level. This promotes the growth of grass which then provides fuel for fire; another important tool in controlling woody weeds in some areas.
  • Once woody weeds have been removed from a paddock, it is advisable to retain a small mob of goats to graze regrowth.
  • Careful monitoring of land and goat condition is required when goats are grazed ant high densities to control woody weeds.