EXPORT goat meat prices are staying strong, but export tonnages have been falling – so is farmed goat Australian production growing quick enough to help keep pace with overseas demand?
With strong export demand for goat meat and over-the-hook prices equalling lamb rates, organisations like MLA and the Goat Industry Council of Australia could expect to see production growth on farms.
MLA’s goat industry project manager, Julie Petty said the goat meat industry was continuing to attract attention from producers as prices remained buoyant.
“In early January 2017, the over-the-hooks export goat indicators are remaining very strong, with 12kg to 16kg carcase weight (cwt) goats averaging 608c/kg and peaking at 700c/kg.
“Solid demand and growing investment in the industry continue to strengthen the goat market both overseas and in Australia,” she said.
But GICA president Rick Gates still believed not enough people were enquiring about farming goats and not enough farmers were going into the industry. He said even in lower rainfall areas where goat management can be easier and more profitable, there is not a big movement to goats. About 90pc of Australia’s goats for export meat production come from rangeland areas, mainly via feral goat harvesting.
Mr Gates would like to know how much of New South Wales’ Western Division is fenced for goats, but reckoned it might be less than five percent of the land area. He hoped a new project would help show where goats are being farmed and where they were moving to.
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Goat meat export tonnages are falling
Mr Gates said goat meat export tonnages had declined 25 per cent in the three years. In 2014, Australia exported 35,780 tonnes of goat meat, in 2015 this dropped to 29,965 tonnes, and in 2016 26,794 tonnes was exported.
“From what I am seeing on the ground, I think that trend will continue,” he said.
Mr Gates believed livestock tradition continued to be a factor in the decision to farm goats.
“I just think it is tradition – we are all the same, we don’t like change.
“People are traditional and they are also careful, and that is the reason they are still on the land, because they don’t make rash decisions and move into something that doesn’t pay,” he said.
“I’m convinced there is no problem, but you’ve got to convince people to spend a lot of money on infrastructure.”
Mr Gates said the goat meat market had strengthened in the past 2.5 years, but has had a pretty chequered history.
“I think if we see another couple of years of these strong prices, more people will be convinced.
Mr Gates said GICA was urging MLA to promote the farming of goats, but many of the goats slaughtered for export were joinable feral does that could be farmed for meat production.
“They are; we’re doing that ourselves, we’re sending out two loads a week, and we are only a small cog in the wheel.
“But what can we do with them, we’ve got all our country stocked at sensible rates,” he said.
“The land is there it is just a case of encouraging people to do it.
“I think it is slowly happening, because we are buying more billies than nannies, so people are holding back (does for breeding) – not at a great rate, but it is happening.”
Goats mean careful infrastructure assessment
With demand for Australian goat meat likely to remain strong in 2017, the MLA today reminded producers looking to diversify into goat production or expand their operations to carefully assess their on-farm infrastructure requirements.
Ms Petty said it was critical for producers to have suitable fencing in place before the next kidding started in autumn or new stock are brought on to a property, to help manage herds and protect stock from predators.
“Weaners from the upcoming autumn kidding will be a cost effective restocking option for many producers with per head prices significantly lower than some other species,” Ms Petty said.
“Now is the right time to make sure your on-farm infrastructure is in good working order so those paddocks are ready to go and you can make the most of your semi-managed goat herd.
“Goats require different infrastructure to cattle and sheep, although existing infrastructure can be modified easily enough to support a goat enterprise,” Ms Petty said.
“There are many options depending on your personal preference. A fence built to contain meat sheep breeds would certainly be suitable for goats,” she said.
“Goats are not as difficult to contain as you might think and I would encourage producers considering expanding into goats to speak with someone who has already been down that road and still has goats and can give you some practical advice about how they trained their animals.”
Ms Petty said it was important to understand the behaviour of goats when considering fencing options.
“Goats are agile and can climb, crawl and jump. Unless appropriately trained in small holding paddocks to learn to respect the fences, they will test them and are quickly alert to irregularities such as gaps, open gates or broken panels,” Ms Petty said.
“The bottom third of the fence needs to be particularly secure to help prevent goats and kangaroos crawling under it.
“The goat’s climbing nature also means that they will readily use rocks and branches as ramps to help them over a fence. For that reason it’s best to avoid the use of angle stays on the inside of goat fences and keep fence lines clear of objects that can be used as ramps.”
Mr Gates supported livestock producers planning to ensure they had suitable fencing and yards for goats. Producers looking to run goats in high rainfall country also needed to carefully consider internal and external parasite control options.
“The lack of registered chemicals is quite a big issue.”
To help producers address different aspects of the goat production system including on-farm infrastructure like fencing, MLA has produced a Going into Goats Guide which is filled with practical information and producer case studies. The guide was written for producers, by producers.
The guide is a free online resource comprising 11 modules and is available here: https://www.mla.com.au/extension-training-and-tools/going-into-goats/