Results from the MLA goat enterprise benchmarking project showed the three-year average labour cost for rangeland goats was $11.34 per dry sheep equivalent.
Further costs in labour related expenses added a further $11 per dry sheep equivalent, bringing a combined cost of labour and labour related expenses to $22.34 per dry sheep equivalent. This represents 69 per cent of the total operating costs associated with managing goats in the rangelands.
Labour efficiency is one of the main strengths of Sam and Phoebe Maroulis' goat enterprise in the rangelands of north-west NSW. The couple discovered this using comparative data from the recent MLA goat enterprise benchmarking project.
The Maroulis' goat enterprise was a standout performer during the benchmarking project, achieving average labour efficiency levels of over 18,000 DSE per labour unit over three years from 2016 to 2018.
Labour costs in the Maroulis' goat enterprise equated to just 32pc of the average operational costs, while the combination of labour and labour related expenses equated to only 22pc of the average.
Water management appears to be the single biggest area where labour efficiency gains are achieved. Sam and Phoebe have implemented water monitoring technology which allows them to remotely monitor water flow rates and tank levels using sensors. This information is complemented by camera technology located at a number of watering points. The water flow rate and tank sensor level information is sent via UHF radio to a point with mobile phone reception which then relays the information to Sam and Phoebe's mobile phones.
The monitoring system consists of a single flow meter, three tank water level sensors and two remote cameras. A decision was made to fit water level sensors to only three of eight tanks on the farm. Two of these are located in different paddocks to indicate water supply for each paddock. The other tank sensor is located on the last tank on the water line. The reason being, if the tank at the furthest watering point is full and the water flow rate is as expected then this indicates there should be no supply issues in between.
Data from the flow meter located near the pump site, is used to monitor daily flow. Flow rates change according to water demand which is seasonally driven, however large deviations usually indicate problems with either supply or delivery.
The remote cameras are located at two different trap yards and help Sam and Phoebe monitor livestock movements on water, time of day of livestock watering and feral animal pressure. These also allow for monitoring of water levels.
At the very least the monitoring technology gives Sam the time to rectify the situation as he knows at any point in time how much water is being used and how much supply there is. The key benefit of the technology however is the reduction in labour required to physically monitor water supply.
Does the investment pay?
The total investment in the remote sensing technology was approximately $9000.
In addition to this are the ongoing costs of approximately $30/month for the SIM card required to relay the information using the mobile phone network.
Sam estimates the time it takes him to monitor livestock water supply has reduced his need to physically monitor waters by 90pc. Resulting in a marginal labour saving of 140 hours over the shoulder and peak water supply months.
At a rate of $40/hour inclusive of on costs, this equates to an annual labour saving of $5658.
The analysis shows the return on investment into the water monitoring and camera technology is 56pc, breaking even in three years.