Tuesday, April 07, 2015

GOATS - from feral pest to financial gain – the west Australian story past and present.

The state of Western Australia is vast and isolated. It’s over three times the size of Texas but has a population of only 2.5 million as against Texas’s 27.5 million. It includes several diverse geographical regions and apart from sheep and cattle, it has the highest number of feral goats in any state of Australia.
Feral (not wild) goats have ranged over vast tracts of Western Australia for several hundred years. From as early as the 1600s when Dutch, French and British maritime traders and adventurers set foot on the unexplored southern continent, they purposely left goats to provide food for any unfortunate wretches who might be shipwrecked there at a later date.
Then, in the early 1800s, the early British settlers brought dairy goats to the west. They were later spread by miners and railway gangs who used them as a source of milk, butter, meat and leather. Some goats were intentionally released while others escaped. The result was that the goats thrived, bred and the numbers quickly multiplied until 1928 when they were declared vermin.

By 1982 there were estimated to be 1,000,000 feral goats roaming unchecked in the west. A similar situation applied in the eastern states. Having easily adapted to the inhospitable, hot, harsh and dry environments of the outback, the goats had become resilient and hardy animals.
As the pastoralists extended their boundaries to graze sheep and cattle, the feral pests were trapped, poisoned or shot either from the ground or from helicopters in very costly eradication programs. Other control methods included using Judas goats to locate herds in order to muster them. Those that escaped extermination were pushed deeper into the outback.

With the goat problem impossible to control yet too large to ignore, some pastoralists realized money could be made from trapping the goats and marketing them rather than shooting them and leaving the carcases to rot. With live-sheep shipping facilities already well-established and huge livestock vehicles on the highways capable of carrying 600-800 head of livestock to the ports, and with a ready market for the meat in Asia – just across the water, a few astute farmers quietly developed a lucrative trade in goats. In the early days few outback farmers admitted that goat sales made up the biggest part of their income.

For example, one farmer had thousands of them running wild on his 350,000 acre property, competing for feed with his sheep. Realizing the potential to farm goats for the meat market was staring him in the face, 6000 goats a year were mustered from several nearby properties. Once mustered, the goats were driven into a feedlot where they received supplementary feed and served the required three months behind a 2 meter fence after which time they were classed as domesticated. This process involves training the goats to respect plain wire electric fences in a compound. From there, they are released into a larger grazing paddock with electric fence barriers. 

Installing approved fencing was the most expensive item on large pastoral holdings where fences run for hundreds of kilometres. (Currently the requirements are for a 5 line fence consisting of 2 hot, 3 cold.)
With a 10-year contract to supply the Sabah government with breeding does, over 20,000 goats were supplied in the next few years until Sabah was almost self-sufficient. From there the markets were expanded to the Middle East, and Brunei – a wealthy country with its own shipping line.
Another example comes from two adjoining pastoral stations in the Goldfields region covering an area of 700,000 acres. Despite traditionally running sheep, the station manager admitted there was no money in sheep. Being thick with Mulga (a woody bush very palatable to goats), the country was ideal for goats.
Convinced of the potential, the pastoralist fenced a paddock of 170,000 acres. The 5-line fence running for 170kms. The area included 13 trap yards. Starting with approximately 4500 breeding does, 140 pure South African Boer bucks were purchased to go over them. 

Location and Transport target markets
Western Australia’s geographical position and proximity to Asia are significant advantages for the live shipping trade. Live goat exports were able to “piggy-back” on the sheep ships heading to the Middle East.  Managed goats (taken from the feedlots) travel far better on the ships than the pure ferals that suffer greater shipboard losses.

Apart from the live meat trade, abattoirs licenced for export and Halal killing provide for frozen exports. Markets in both U.S.A. and Canada consist of both skin-on and skin-off carcases which are required during the northern winter, while Australia’s nearest neighbours – Malaysia and Singapore require skin-off goats all year round. However, the biggest market by far for frozen goat meat from Western Australia is Taiwan which requires skin-on carcases weighing 14-16 kgs, the peak period being October to February. In all cases the markets want carcases to be Class1 fat score. The overseas markets do not want fat goats.
Goat prices best ever (January 2015)
According to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, goat producers in Western Australia's rangelands are receiving the highest prices for their livestock for about 30 years. This is partially the result of unseasonal dry conditions and increased wild dog attacks which have greatly reduced the number of feral goats roaming wild. Some farmers are receiving between $50 and $70-a-head to farmers. This represents double the prices seen in 2014.

Most of Australia’s processed goat’s meat goes to America.
In the north of Western Australia rangeland goats are mainly processed through Geraldton Meat Exports (GME) which has been Western Australia’s largest exporter of Rangeland Goat for more than 10 years exporting worldwide to USA, Taiwan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Canada, Jamaica and Trinidad.
Processing Goat meat in eastern Australia is undertaken by Western Meat Exporters in Queensland (see Goat Meat – part 2 – Chevon/Mutton)

Note: While I approached GME to get permission to use some to the abattoirs photos on their website, I could not get a response. To see images of the processing line in operation, go to website at: http://www.gmexports.com.au/
Carcase images used here were taken at a smaller local abattoir.

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