Twenty-two years would be considered giving something a good, hard go in anyone’s books. After more than two decades in sheep and cattle farming, central-western Queensland farmers Mike and Sue Pratt would agree, and have decided to move on to a more suitable option for the harsh conditions of their region: goat farming.
Over their years in operation, Mike and his wife Sue have had to send their cattle for agistment at least ten times, due to the challenging conditions on their land. While this is fairly standard practice for many farmers, it’s reached the point for the Pratts at which they’ve had to question the sustainability of such an approach.
“We sort of finally came to the realisation that maybe that enterprise isn’t ideally suited for this environment,” says Mr Pratt.
Goats are more suited to the dry conditions of the Stonehenge region, on which the Pratts run their farm. Where cattle often require destocking in drought, the Pratts are hoping they’ll be able to run a number of goats and control the regrowth in their pasture lands. And they’re not the only ones who’ve taken this approach. Neighbouring farms have also made the move to goat farming, and the relative affordability of goat stock has played no small part in making the transition possible.
Purchasing 900 goats for just $50 per head, from Bourke in NSW, the Pratts have begun their goat farming enterprise in earnest, with the hopes for high returns and ease of management. At $7.40 per kilo, the latest goat prices are encouraging for anyone considering a similar venture, and as Mr Pratt enthuses, “there will never be an oversupply of goat meat.”
“[We’ve got] a lot of improved gidgee country there that we would like to maintain or at least be able to control the regrowth. We’ll be able to do that with the goats and also get a reasonably good return on them. Hopefully when it does get really dry we’ll be able to maintain a certain number of goats here, whereas with sheep and cattle we just had to totally destock in this last drought.”
With the international demand for goat meat growing, as well as the increase in popularity of goat milk, farmers from other Queensland regions are experimenting with the unlikely breed. A trial of supplementing goat feed in order to increase growth rates is underway in south-western Queensland, with farmers hoping to maximise their returns by breeding bigger goats, more quickly.
Nic Perkins of Dirranbandi is a third-generation cattle farmer who is taking part in the trial. Previously farming feral goats on a needs-only basis, he is now making concerted efforts to make headway in goat farming, and hopes the trial will prove profitable and represent a long-term solution for his farm. Increased meat quantity is not all he, and the other trial participants are hoping for. The impact on grazing land is another factor which may see positive results from the trial.
“We’re seeing if the goats without the supplement are putting more pressure on our pastures,” Mr Perkins said. “It could be another benefit to the supplement, as well as the weight gain, but also not as much pressure on the precious pastures out here.”
If the trial is successful, we may see more farms trading in their cattle for goats over coming years. It’s unclear thus far, what impact this will have on global beef supplies, however with the increasing unpredictability of droughts in Australia, it may just be what keeps some of them in the black.