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

Case Study: Fiona and Andy McLeod

Name of producer: Fiona and Andy McLeod
Property name: Coombah Station
Property location: 125km south of Broken Hill, New South Wales
Property size (in ha): 80,000ha
Avg. turn off annually: 6,000-7,000 goats
Rangeland enterprise type: Harvest and hold
Target market: Boxed meat exported to USA
Other farm enterprises: Trade cattle opportunistically, 3,000 Merinos, 500 Dorpers. After flood, opportunistic cropping in lake bed.

Structural fencing for rangeland goat production

'Coombah Station', New South Wales, was originally fenced for sheep but the McLeods have gradually changed some of the fencing to allow for the effective management of rangeland goats.

Effective fencing for goats

There are many theories surrounding effective fencing for rangeland goats, but the McLeods have found a type of fence that works for them.

The colloquially known 'ten wire fence' provides the answer to their needs. The basis of the ten wire fence is a regular sheep fence with four plain high tensile wires and two high tensile barbed wires running along the top of the fence. Four additional high tensile plain wires are added to this fence along with droppers spaced as closely as the budget will allow. On Coombah Station, the McLeods have found a star post every 12m with two droppers in between is effective.

Andy does not deny that there is a significant amount of work involved in constructing a ten wire fence for goats but maintains that it is worth the effort. “It is very time consuming and a major effort,” he admits, “but once it is in, it’s in for good and it lasts. It’s worth the time and money.”

Critical elements of an effective fence

Maintenance of fences is critical to ensuring their effectiveness. “Obviously if you have holes in your fences you’ll lose goats, so it’s worth spending the time checking them.”

The McLeods check the fences around their goat paddock regularly if goats are in. The rest of the property, over 80,000ha, is checked less regularly and paddock corners are the focus as they are subjected to the most pressure.

Age of fence
The McLeods explain that the newer the fence the better, but if an older fence is in good condition then modifying it shouldn’t be a problem. If modifying an existing sheep fence to a ten wire fence, the sheep fence should be no older than five to ten years, depending on its condition. Andy’s son Alex explains “you are better off ripping it out and starting again if it’s not in good nick.”

Dropper and post spacing
Another rule of thumb - the closer the droppers and posts, the more effective the fence.

The McLeods recommend that the droppers be spaced as closely as is practical and affordable to ensure the fence is as effective as possible. A 12m post spacing with two droppers in between works well on Coombah and also seems to increase the life span of the fence by reducing the amount that the wire stretches.

Training goats with fences

Andy believes that if the fences are in good enough shape then there is little advantage in training goats. “We may lose the odd goat through a fence but certainly not big numbers,” he says.

The McLeods have strategically constructed permanent reinforced wings in a V shape running away from their yards. Each wing can be up to 400m long, the longer the better according to Andy, and is designed to assist in directing the goats in the right direction. These wings help minimise pressure on standard fences and reduce stress by making the goats easier to work.

Words of advice

Keep fences well maintained to minimise any goat losses.

Keep chipping away
Andy believes that the best way to go is to start small and work out from there - you don’t need to fence the whole property at the one time. He maintains that you should properly fence a paddock every few years, as time and budgets permit.

Key points
  • Goats can be harvested and held in goat paddocks for marketing when prices improve during the cooler months.
  • Pre-existing sheep fences can often be modified to make good goat fences.
  • In general, structural fences still require maintenance although not as regularly as electric fences.
  • Training goats to structural fences is not as important as it is when using electric fences.