WHETHER rangeland goat numbers have been decimated or displaced changes with who you talk to.
But while hefty prices have undoubtedly fuelled eager harvesting in the West over an increasingly dry 18 months, producers are getting onto goat in a different way - with farmed rangeland-cross animals shaping up as a restocking option for when the rains come.
Those already putting Boer or Kalahari Red-rangeland crosses behind fences licking their lips as over-the-hook prices continue to rise, hitting 560c/kg average carcase weight this week and edging towards extraordinary 2016-17 levels.
“There is a tremendous opportunity here, both domestically, and for export,” says Gourmet Goat Lady owner and Boer-cross farmer Jo Stewart, Collie.
“And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We are lucky the sheep industry has done as much as they have, we can take those learnings and see if they can be adapted to the goat industry”.
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A number of NSW producers - including Goat Industry Council president Rick Gates, Burndoo Station near Wilcannia - say say farmers only need to look to Queensland, where many are making the most of fences they’ve already got up for wild dogs and kangaroos.
“The viable alternative to restocking is goats - when we do get some rain you’re going to see numbers explode,” he said.
The resilient nature of goats, and the ability for weed control without flogging a pasture has proved popular for many during hard conditions. One eye is also being kept on the small livestock abattoirs under development at Mildura and Bourke.
MLA’s goat expert Julie Petty said she was seeing a spike in goat farming inquires on the back of an 18-month push by industry to build sophistication, quality and stability by getting more behind fences.
“The drought is no doubt hard, but the silver lining is if you are concerned about what is happening with rangeland numbers it probably means haven’t gone and put your stock behind wire, haven’t got your set number in, that you can manage,” she said.
“There is absolutely a place for rangeland harvesting in the industry, but what we are seeing is more and more people asking questions, and asking different questions about goats.
“It is now ‘what do I need to do to do this long term’ or ‘what stocking rates are sustainable’ or how they go about genetic improvements. It’s a complete transformation in the way people are thinking in comparison to previous years”.
Pastoralists’ Association of West Darling president Lachlan Gall said rangeland harvesting in the state’s had always been a big generator of cashflow and employment, helping a number of families get through tough times in western NSW.
However, he agreed with anecdotal reports that drought and overharvesting had severely reduced wild goat numbers.
Ultimately, you’ll see goat numbers rebuild when this drought breaks. While that will take time. I don’t forsee any major reduction in the value of goats.
“People are getting what they can while prices are high, they can afford to muster with aircraft and get more animals,” he said.
“Ultimately, you’ll see goat numbers rebuild when this drought breaks. While that will take time. I don’t forsee any major reduction in the value of goats.”
Meanwhile stock agent Joe Portelli, PT Lord Dakin, Dubbo, said he’s expecting about 2000 head at the quarterly goat sale next week, down from the 4000-5000 mark seen over the previous three years. He said high prices weren’t the only reason for increased harvesting.
“People have been going hard and making money but if you're out Cobar way and you’ve got sheep or cattle, you might also have goats eating your feed… so you’d be pretty keen to move them on,” Mr Portelli said.
MLA continues to work with the Goat Council and DPI on a population modelling project to help with rangeland goat supply forecasting. The project is in its second year and Ms Petty said it was a crucial element to get a better read on how the industry can develop.
OEH figures showed the goat population in the five most western kangaroo management zones dropped from about 4.1m in 2016 to 2.3m in 2017.
“But while we are seeing those reports of population decline, it is really not as clear cut,” Ms Petty said. “Aerial surveys show a bit of a dip, but it is important to consider the trend because that is what matters over time. It also very much depends on where you’re located. It makes me wonder whether the goats are still are around or if they’ve moved to a neighbors’ place, or to other regions.
“The one thing that is sure is the population of goats is causing a lot of confusion and concern and we don’t really know the answer. What we need to identify is the number out there, the number harvested, and whatever that is sustainable.”
Push to preserve female herd
Ultimately, Ms Petty is buoyed by signs more NSW producers were moving towards a husbandry approach with goats. Presently, preserving the female herd was a priority, she said.
“The main thing we are trying to get across to people at the moment is if you don’t have to, don’t slaughter your nannies”.
“Sell them by all means, but think about whether you want to sell to someone who is trying to build up numbers instead of straight to slaughter. Also, we’re telling people, if you’re putting in cluster fencing for wild dogs - why not put your goats behind them too?
One couple reveling in the switch over to goats is Jo and Craig Stewart.
They’ve dabbled in goats out at Collie since 2009 but started destocking their cattle and for goats about six years ago. They’ve currently got about 800 females, who are about to kid.
“There’s a few people doing it now, putting the fences up and breeding a better carcase,” Jo said.
“You’ve obviously got to look into it and see if it works for you, but we got a lot of inquiries out at Nyngan (Field Days). I think it is a case of not just telling people to get into it, but breaking it down and showing them how it can work.”