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

Case Study: John and Donna Paynter

Name of producer: John and Donna Paynter
Property name: Wando
Property location: 50km east of Winton, Queensland
Property size (in ha): 12,140ha
Avg. turn off annually: 900 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Low input breeding system
Target market: Live export (wethers and young does) and supplies Western Meat Exporters (goatmeat for export)
Other farm enterprises: Beef and sheep

Controlling prickly acacia in the rangelands using goats

John and Donna Paynter’s ongoing battle against prickly acacia began with the purchase of ‘Wando’, east of Winton in Queensland in 1979. In December 2000, John recalls the prickly acacia being so thick “You couldn’t get the sheep out of the paddock and you were unable to ride a motorbike through it. A friend suggested instead of thinking of prickly acacia as a pest, think of it as a resource and try using it as forage for goats.”

John’s first step was to build a goat paddock by installing a goat-proof fence and watering points in the country affected by prickly acacia. After introducing the goats, it didn’t take long for their positive influence to become apparent and, since then, goat paddocks have become a feature on Wando.

What goats will eat and when

John has found that while goats eat prickly acacia all year round, they really attack the plant in early summer when the does are typically lactating. Mature trees will often be ring barked by the goats and regrowth kept at bay.

John’s first goat paddock is over 1,000ha and holds 900 does joined to 15 Boer bucks along with their followers. At this stocking density, it has taken 10 years for the goats to bring the prickly acacia under control to the extent that grasses are starting to proliferate and visibility through the prickly acacia has increased from practically zero to a couple of hundred metres.

Provision of supplements

John’s goat paddocks are designed to contain goats and allow goats to be run at higher densities than they otherwise would. This is to encourage the intensive grazing of the target species required to achieve control.

In such circumstances it is, however, important that the condition of the animals be monitored and supplements provided when required. John begins providing supplements to his goats six months after the last beneficial rain.

He starts his goats on a dry mix containing 10 percent urea, increasing this gradually to 15 percent and finally 20 percent once their rumens have had a chance to adapt to the dietary change.

The gradual introduction of urea is critical; a sudden introduction can be fatal. John uses the same dry mix for goats as he does for his sheep flock.

Producers are reminded that under some circumstances urea can be toxic to goats. It is recommended that producers consult their local veterinarian or feed supplier before feeding any urea as part of a feed mix to goats.

Fencing requirements

Wando’s goat fences have a barb on top and a single wire stand-off with electricity.

[insert image of fence, to be provided by DEEDI]

Following his experience John now recommends producers go with a double stand-off and electrifying them both. Another suggestion is to replace the wooden angled post supports with pipe as goats will climb the wooden supports.

The role watering points play

John has found that in his country, goats water far more effectively from troughs rather than dams. Dams have a tendency to become boggy, especially if they are being used by cattle, and this can cause issues with goats. John recommends fencing dams off and installing tanks and troughs for the goats.

Use of herbicide in conjunction with grazing

John has also used herbicides to control prickly acacia and while this has been effective, it is very labour intensive and expensive. When John first started on Wando he was quoted around $50,000 to spray the prickly acacia in his goat paddock. Goats have controlled and reduced the trees for nothing and this calendar year alone he has made around $50,000 of revenue from goats.

Words of advice

John advises not to be frightened about "having a go with goats". The only experience he had with goats, prior to using them for weed control on Wando, was through the sights of a rifle. Now they’re making him money and increasing the productive potential and value of his property.

For those considering moving into the controlled grazing of goats, John recommends being prepared for them before they arrive. “Make sure the fences and watering points are up to the task before the goats arrive. This will mean that they stay where you want them and will save time and money in the long run.”

In John’s area, goats were considered pests when he first looked into managing them so the decision to actually buy goats in may not have been popular with neighbours.

Every now and then, John’s goats do stray onto his neighbours properties. When this happens, John suggests that you “drop everything” and get the goats back as quickly as possible to minimise the inconvenience to your neighbours. This will not only assist neighbour relations but will also assist with the acceptance of goats in the district.

The positive effect John’s goats have had in helping to reduce the impact of prickly acacia has not gone unnoticed and discussions with neighbours now increasingly turn to management options involving goats.

Key points
  • Goats can be used to crash graze woody weeds such as prickly acacia.
  • While intensive grazing can be a very effective and even profitable weed control measure, as with any intensive farming enterprise, the goats and the environment need to be monitored closely to ensure that negative side effects of the enterprise are kept in check.
  • Urea can be a useful supplement for ruminants grazing high roughage diets; however, urea can be poisonous and should be administered on the advice of a nutritionist.