A decision years before government subsidies became available to invest in exclusion fencing and concentrate on running small animals has paid off for Blackall couple, Joe Taylor and Anita Dennis.
When they first calculated gross margins on putting up a fence, in 2011, they realised cattle weren’t going to cut the mustard.
They’d been running cattle only at Coolagh, 86km north west of Blackall at the junction of the Barcoo and Alice Rivers, having been forced out of sheep by wild dog attacks two years earlier.
It was an unusual position for a property that was once a ram depot for the NSW Boonoke stud to be in.
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While goats weren’t worth an outstanding amount in 2010 – they’d been receiving $3 a kilogram at the export works at Charleville for feral goats they’d harvest at random – Joe and Anita were keen to invest in them for their regrowth potential.
“We used to get quite a few goats coming down through the channels and Joe and I had used that as our surplus income,” Anita explained. “So we started putting them behind the wire, and we saw that the regrowth control was there, and we started getting a bit of cash from them.”
The latest price from Western Meat Exporters at the start of 2019 was $6.50/kg, for feral goats.
The flock of 2000 nannies and 2300 little billies is running alongside trade Merinos that Joe and Anita have been able to return to the 8900 hectares fenced off.
Cattle are confined to the 2400 hectares of river country that remain unfenced and which wild dogs still use as a highway.
As well as the original 84km of feral fencing erected, Joe and Anita are now internally fencing for the dual purpose of control mating and managing the country.
Coolagh has a variety of country types, from sandy loam to coolibah floodout to improved gidyea to downs, and it’s the better parts, the gidyea and downs that’s been fenced.
Twelve months after goats were introduced, all the gidyea under a metre had been chewed. Nowadays the country has been completely opened up for vision at mustering time.
”That made us quite optimistic, so we then fenced another portion of our property,” Anita said.
They plan to undertake three joinings in two years, six weeks at a time.
With uncontrolled matings they’ve been averaging 180pc of kids, and they expect that to increase once they manage joinings.
“The more you put into them the more you get out, like any livestock,” Joe said. “The more management the better the returns.”
All the young progeny get a NLIS tag. While it’s not yet a legal requirement, Joe and Anita do it for identification purposes.
They are leaving the bucks entires so they get a better growth rate, to enable them turn an article off sooner.
While drought has been biting, that’s been between 14 and 18 months and Joe said he didn’t want to go any longer.
“The ideal weight would be 20kg dressed, but that's going to be seasonal, depending how long you want to risk and gamble,” he said.
As rain has failed to materialise and as regrowth gets under control, they’ve had to cut back on the number of goats they’re running.
Some supplements have gone out but no loads of cottonseed.
While they weren’t thinking of drought when they invested so heavily in fencing – their last decent season was only six months out the back window in 2011 – it’s paid dividends in that they’ve not needed to invest in feed and they’re still receiving an income.
In 2017 Coolagh measured 150mm and in 2018 the property had 200mm.
“We’ve basically had 10 years of that,” Joe said. “Our timing was just luck but it's working pretty well at the moment.”
Aussie Reds being trialled
Aussie Reds – red types of Boer goats mated with Kalahari Red goats – have been introduced at Coolagh, along with Kalahari Red genetics, for their weight gain and growth rates, coupled with hardiness.
Joe and Anita have a trial of their own underway with two separate mobs, one of which has had Aussie Reds put over them, and the other in a wild harvest state, to see which will do the best on the property.
Joe expects the wild harvested one to either be not far behind or even in the lead.
“The ones we harvest have had 200 years of adaptation,” he said. “I don’t think they grow as big as a Boer or a Kalahari but they have other traits.”
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Sourcing red billies has been challenging in a fledgling industry. Some came from Warwick and others from west of Helidon.
An MLA-sponsored day at Coolagh in December attracted 40 interested people, from as far away as Hughenden and Blackwater, to the astonishment of organisers.
“Another 40 said they couldn’t make it,” Anita said. “Everybody's interested at the moment, because the money's up. It's a profitable way of dealing with regrowth too.”
According to Joe, a lot of the interest is from cattle breeders and properties where sheep once ran but where sheep and shearing facilities are no longer there.
He said there was a sizeable market for young goats, showing the desire people had to get into the industry.
”There's people buying males just for backgrounders – we've had a lot of enquiry.
”You don't need a half million dollar shearing shed or a half million dollar set of quarters. A lot of that's fallen down or been dozed in the last 20 years.”
They’ve been dealing solely with Western Meat Exporters at Charleville and say they plan to continue to do so.
“They’re paying the best money and it's close,” said Joe. “And you've got to look after the people out here.”
He said they were good to deal with and a far cry from the days when they sent sheep on 14 to 16 hour road train trips to meatworks at Dubbo, where they’d arrive “half the size”.
Charleville is just 400km away for them.
Read more: Charleville goats full bore