EXCLUSION fencing has given one Queensland couple the confidence to expand their meat goat enterprise, but it is also resulting in long-term pasture and biodiversity benefits.
Anita Dennis and Joe Taylor operate “Coolagh” at Blackall running a Kalahari and Aussie Red seedstock enterprise and 8000 rangeland does behind 180km of exclusion fencing.
When wild dogs decimated their sheep flock around 15 years ago, the couple turned to cattle as a solution, but walked straight into a 10-year drought.
“We live in an arid area more suited to smaller livestock and we knew cattle weren’t going to be sustainable, so we evaluated our most profitable country (sandy loam and Buffel grass) to give us the best return,” Anita said.
A gross analysis on the erection of exclusion fencing around a 2024ha portion was completed based on scenarios of meat goats, Merino wethers and dual purpose sheep.
“That gave us the confidence to fence that paddock with 25km of exclusion fencing and stock it with trade wethers.
“This further encouraged us to fence the remainder of the property out of the flood zone the following year,” she said.
“We had a total of 8907ha behind wire and last year we fenced one of our river paddocks as a trial.”
The property is on the junction of two river systems, Alice and Barcoo, with 1619ha of flood out country, 2024ha sandy loam Buffel grass country and 7692ha of Boree Mitchell grass.
“Our first exclusion fence was laminated 1.5m onto an existing fence (plus a 30mm lap) and have since gone with a single barb on top to give it extra height.
“If we do have a breach, we find the dogs are going underneath,” Anita said.
The establishment costs were $3000 per km excluding labour.
“We were interested in land management and looked at our regrowth control so initially incorporated the goats as a land management tool.
“We complete a return on assets on each of our enterprises annually and the goats looked more lucrative, so we have moved to a 100 percent goat operation,” she said.
Whilst neighbouring properties have now created an exclusion fencing cluster, Joe regularly monitors the fence line and carries out strategic trapping on Coolagh.
The couple is also looking at using Maremma dogs as a sustainable control option.
The goats are processed by Western Meat Exporters at Charleville at 18kg dressed weight and destined for skin-on export markets.
“Since completing the exclusion fencing, one paddock which was mainly Buffel grass now contains 18 different grass species, multitudes of forbs, an increase in our ground-dwelling birds and small reptiles,” Anita said.
“If we have a breach, the first 48 hours is the key as the wild dog will want to get out. After that time the dog starts making the new area its territory.
“Using the internal exclusion fencing, we isolate the dog back to one water point and deploy either trapping or shooting.”
Anita encourages landholders to embrace exclusion fencing and the huge potential within the goat industry.
“However, the exclusion fence remains a tool in conjunction with trapping – it is not the be-all and end-all as there will still be breaches within that fence.
“Just because the fence is up, it does not mean you can walk away – there is still maintenance.
“We are conscious of that and at least once every two to four weeks we do a maintenance run, especially after a rain event when holes can appear.”
Anita’s advice for anyone contemplating exclusion fencing would be to complete a budget on expected returns from their chosen category of livestock behind wire.
“Through good land management you will see the numbers you can sustainably run will slowly increase,” she said.
Fencing encourages transition into managed herds
Goat Industry Council of Australia vice president Katie Davies said exclusion fencing encouraged landholders to transition into semi-managed herds rather than opportunistic harvest herd.
“The Queensland goat industry would not have happened without exclusion fencing. We have gone from zero goat population to the point where processors have increased their kill of Queensland goats from 10 to 60pc,” Ms Davies said.
“Queensland has become the poster child for the industry.
“Total grazing pressure fencing for wild dogs results in completely different landscapes with an increase in biodiversity and total regeneration,” she said.
“There is also the comfort of knowing there are no wild dogs.”
Ms Davies said exclusion fencing would underpin the goat industry strategic plan with continuity of supply, stabilising the price troughs and peaks.
“Having those vermin cells in Western Australia will be fantastic – it will give producers export options as the goat industry only supports short haul not long haul.”
Queensland’s sheep and goat meat strategy, underpinned by the state government’s $60.75 million investment (to 2021) in wild dog exclusion fencing, aims to double goat numbers by 2025 and increase in goat meat production from 11 million to 18.7 million kilograms.
Farmed goat numbers are forecast to reach 250,000 head in the state by 2026, as traditional cattle and sheep producers seek to diversify their income, better match grazing systems to available feed and take advantage of record goat meat prices.
In central western Queensland, meat sheep and rangeland goat enterprises produce the greatest rate of return on total capital (3.85pc and 3.74pc respectively). According to Maree Bowen et al., this analysis was based on the property already having protection from wild dogs with suitable fencing.
Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries extension officer Jed Sommerfield said large areas of Queensland are looking to restock and many producers are evaluating goats off the back of good seasons.
“For most, this opportunity is only available because they have a managed wild dog population as a result of an exclusion fence.
“Goats typically required fewer inputs compared to other enterprises and can offer higher returns, especially on marginal country,” Mr Sommerfield said.
“They are also more suited to the arid and semi-arid zones of western Queensland and NSW where there are large quantities of shrubs and small trees to browse which is their preferred method of grazing.
“Opportunistic harvesting has evolved into managed and semi-managed flocks and as goats become managed it can lead to new challenges and learnings,” he said.
“Exclusion fencing is one of many wild dog management techniques available to producers.
“For effective management of the wild dog population, you need to use more than one tool in the toolbox, a combination of monitoring, baiting, fencing, trapping and shooting will deliver the best results.”
For information on wild dog management click here.