“We have fenced an area of 400,000 acres which is roughly 110 km long to 50 km wide. It takes quite a while to drive around the boundary. So far we have put in 480 kilometers of fencing.”
One hundred years ago Kookynie was a thriving gold-rush town in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. In 1907 the town had a population of well over 3,500 people, a public swimming pool, eleven hotels and received four trains a day from Kalgoorlie.
In 2010, Kookynie was a ghost town with a population of only thirteen. However, the area has, for decades, been populated by feral goats – thousands of them.
The combined pastoral leases of Kookynie, Melita and Jeedamya, make up a total of one and a half million acres. Across part of these combined stations, the largest commercial goat farming enterprise in Western Australia is operating.
Traditionally these pastoral stations ran merino sheep. And although the country is harsh and the climate unforgiving, it was well-suited to wool production. Vegetation is dominated by mulga with cottonbush and other low scrub.
For many years goats roamed the Goldfields area and were regarded as feral pests competing with the sheep for the little grazing that was available. Enforced eradication of goats through mustering or shooting was the only way to reduce their numbers. But for many years some pastoralists quietly maintained an existence from harvesting and selling the rangeland goats, though few admitted publically that goats provided them with a source of income.
With the downturn in the wool industry in the 1990s, the viability of producing wool declined but on recognizing the potential in goats that could survive and thrive in that environment, four business partners decided to farm the goats commercially.
It sounds straightforward, but it was not as simple as introducing the Boer bucks to the rangeland goats and leaving them to it. Goats have to be farmed and controlled as you would on any type of livestock.
So the first requirement was fencing. To conform to Agriculture Protection Board requirements fencing, consisting of two hot wires and three cold, had to be erected around the area to confine the goats.
“We have fenced an area of 400,000 acres which is roughly 110 km long to 50 km wide,” said one of the partners in 2000. “It takes quite a while to drive around the boundary. So far we have put in 480 km of fencing. The internal fencing is in a grid-like pattern dividing the area into smaller paddocks of 25,000 acres. Where four of the paddocks join, a trap yard is constructed at the water hole.”
The distance between waterholes is about 15 kilometers. Here sub-artesian water is pumped from bores to the surface from a depth of about 25 meters. With low rainfall and no natural surface water, the goats must come into the trap yards to drink. To pump the underground water, the old windmills were replaced with solar power units.
Because the land is covered in low scrub, mustering is extremely difficult by motorbike while helicopter mustering is both difficult and expensive. Trap yards are the most cost-effective way of controlling goats in this type of country.
After the feral goats were mustered, the females were drafted off to retain as base breeding stock. The bucks are trucked away on 6-deckers to either Perth airport or the docks at Fremantle 800 kilometers away.
Once most of the goats from one pastoral station were reduced in number, ferals were bought in from other outlying stations, some coming from as far as Yalgoo – 1000 kilometers to the north-west.”
At the time, orders for goats came from various countries in South East Asia and each had its own market requirement. While some buyers demanded specific weights, others wanted males still entire. Some wanted white goats only. Some wanted all-black animals. Occasionally there were orders for feral does to be used for breeding purposes not meat.
With Melita/Kookynie station running 9000 breeding does, the partners aim was to improve the feral stock by introducing South African Boer goat genetics by using both live mating and frozen genetics to achieve this.
|Young Boer buck|
In 1998 they took delivery of 200 pure Boer bucks from various sources in Western Australia and South Australia to put over the feral rangeland goats. These sires were run at a mating rate of 4% because of the distances the animals covered. Since then a major program has been embarked on with frozen embryos to increase the pool of genetic material.
While both programs have proved successful some problems arose which had not been anticipated.
South African Boer bucks are big animals with a docile temperament particularly if raised on a quarantine station or stud farm. By comparison, however, the size and aggressive nature of the male bush goats raised in the station country is amazing. Some of the full grown bucks weigh 150 kgs. They were so big they intimidated the Boer bucks forcing them to congregate on their own away from the herd. The dominant feral bucks with wide a span of horns were known to rip open the testicles of the young Boer sires rendering them infertile. The short horns of the Boer bucks were no match for them.
Fencing too was a problem in the early years.
“These wild bucks would either jump the fences or come straight through the electric wires. Despite being zapped, they would push through and once in the paddock they would head straight for the does. It appeared that the fences were not only keeping the domesticated goats in, but allowing the ferals in to join them.”
To keep the aggressive bush Billys away from the does at mating time, the does were brought into smaller areas for mating with the pure Boers. The mating yard consists of a 200-acre paddock constructed with mesh fencing around. About 500 does are introduced at a time after being scanned for pregnancy. Does that were found to be pregnant to the rangeland bucks had their pregnancy terminated.
In those early years, the rangeland goats domesticated quickly in the training yards. They soon got used to the electric fencing and to people – the station being run by a manager and 3 stockmen – and the newly introduced Boer genetics quickly improved the meat quality, quantity and temperament of the rangeland ferals.
2015 - Sequel to the Melita Station story
Only a few years after the establishment of the Boers on the pastoral stations of the goldfields, a large agricultural company – running 95,000 head of cattle plus sheep in Western Australia took up the Melita operation along with several other large scale farming enterprises in the outback. This company is Yeeda.
Today, Yeeda runs a 5,000 herd of goats on properties which include Melita, Jeedamya, and Kookynie Stations. The herd consist of both ferals and Boer goats. Yeeda continues to introduce higher quality genetics in order to produce a heavier, higher meat quality animal. Boers and Boer crosses breed throughout the year reaching sexual maturity at 5 months of age. Multiple births are common and a 200% kid drop is achievable in managed herds.
Overview: January 2015 - Goat producers in Western Australia's rangelands received the highest prices for their goats for about 30 years. This was due to the reduced number of animals available. Supplies had been reduced by wild dog attacks and also climatic conditions (drought) throughout the rangelands. Goats are now selling for between $50 and $70 per head – double the price achieved a year earlier.
One abattoir manager said he could not get enough goats to meet his orders. He said the industry was receiving its greatest demand came from America, followed by Malaysia, Taiwan and smaller markets in Mauritius and the West Indies.
Most Australian goatmeat, however, is exported to North America where it is the red meat preferred by Latin Americans.
2015: the Year of the Goat
According to Chinese astrology, February 19th will herald in the Year of the Goat. It also sees a time of increased interest from China in rangeland goats.
Following a visit in 2014 from the Chinese consul and his delegation, it is obvious they want to get their hands on as many goats as possible.
Recently, the amount of Australian goat meat exported to China has skyrocketed. In 2012, China imported 500-tonnes of Australian goat meat. A year later the trade was had increased to 5000-tonnes.
It appears that business is booming for the goat meat industry in Western Australia.
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The greater part of this article, published under the title, Running Goats on the Range – first appeared in The Goat Farmer magazine in 2000. While I have been unable to speak to anyone from Yeeda recently, I have sourced this latest (2015) information from their website plus the January 2015 update from: www.abc.net.au (that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation).