Meat goats

24.05.17

Goat meat is the most widely consumed meat in the world. It is an integral part of many Hindu, Muslim and Jewish traditions and rituals. Goat meat is widely consumed in Africa, parts of Asia, China, the Middle East, Central and South America, and is both a common meat and a delicacy in many European countries.

Overview

Around 95% of Australia’s goat meat production is exported. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of goat meat and live goats. The United States and Taiwan were the largest export markets for Australian goat meat, while Malaysia has been the largest market for Australian live goats for over a decade.

The vast bulk of Australia’s goat meat production is derived from feral populations of Rangeland goats. During the last ten years Australia has doubled its goat meat production to more than 31,000 tonnes. Prices for goat meat and mutton on the world market are closely linked and price varies with the exchange rate. The total value of goat meat exports from Australia has averaged AUD$220 million per year in the last five years, while live goats have declined to AUD$2 million.

There is a range of detailed information available on producing goats in Australia. A comprehensive resource is ‘Going into goats’, which is available to download in convenient topic based modules. An easy to access website focusing on producing goats in the rangelands has also been published by Meat & Livestock Australia, the research & development (R&D) and marketing body for the goat industry in Australia.

Facts and figures

  • It is estimated that there were between 4-6 million feral Rangeland goats in Australia and around 200,000 farmed meat goats
  • Around 2 million goats are slaughtered yearly in Australia, producing more than 31,000 tonnes of meat
  • Generally over 95% of goat meat produced is exported
  • Domestic consumption of goat meat in Australia was estimated at just under 3,000 tonnes per year but is increasing due to changing ethnic demographics
  • The main export markets for Australian goat meat are the United States and Taiwan, followed by South Korean, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago

Production status

Goat producers vary from extensive rangeland farmers to those with small herds on ‘lifestyle’ properties. Goat meat is also produced as a by-product of fibre and dairy production.

Most goats used in meat production are raised in the rangeland areas of Australia. Feral goats are commonly referred to as ‘Rangeland goats’ and have historically been unmanaged and simply harvested through ‘wild capture’, but many producers are now moving away from a purely opportunistic system to one in which the goat population is partially managed. This includes growing out smaller, unmarketable stock and reducing the number of bucks within the mob to only retain or introduce quality bucks to improve genetic quality. Inferior does may also be culled if there are sufficient numbers

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Goats can be grown for meat, dairy and fibre. For more information on dairy goats see the Dairy Goats page.

Rangeland (or feral) goat meat is mostly used in wet-cooked dishes such as stews, casseroles and curries due to its low fat content.

Farmed goat meat is mostly used for roasting and grilling as, if it is sourced from a goat meat breed such as a Boer, it has higher fat content and can be more suited to these cooking methods.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

The vast majority of Australia’s goat production involves capture or semi-management of feral or Rangeland goats. These animals are located mainly in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

There is little information available on the distribution and size of goat farms outside the rangelands in Australia.

Goats can tolerate a range of climatic conditions so are not limited by environment. However, they require more careful management in some climates. They have less insulation than sheep and therefore cope less well in very cold conditions unless provided with good shelter. In waterlogged conditions, goats can suffer from health issues such as parasitism and foot problems. Wild dogs can have a significant impact on goat herds. Areas of high, uncontrolled dog activity may be unsuitable for the production of meat goats.

Climate

Goats are found in all climates including arid regions.

Housing

Under Australian conditions, goats are almost never housed, however providing options for shelter such as trees and shrubs is important. Because of their low body fat and lack of insulation, goats are susceptible to inclement weather and when allowed to roam freely, will seek out shade and shelter among trees, low shrubs and rocky outcrops as required. Ensuring the availability of shelter is important, especially for kidding does, to provide general protection against weather and predation, whether roaming, confined or yarded.

Feed requirements

Goats are generalist herbivores. They have a broad diet with a high browse component and will therefore maintain their condition when more palatable species are depleted by adjusting their diet. They are more selective feeders than sheep or cattle and will not thrive on poor quality feed.

In Australia, most goat production systems are forage based where goats generally have access to shrubs and green pasture. This provides a good balance of energy, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. The amount of feed available may be the limiting factor. The amount of feed that goats need depends on their performance level and expectations, class of animal, age, level of activity and climatic conditions. More feed is required for growing, pregnant and lactating animals, where animals travel long distances each day (e.g. in arid rangelands) or to maintain body weight when the climate is cold.

Detailed information on the requirements of goats for energy, protein, roughage and other dietary components is provided in the Meat & Livestock Australia guide Going into goats.

When changing diet, there will be an adjustment period (2-4 weeks) as the goats become accustomed to the taste and smell of the new foods. During the transition time, the goat’s gut flora and feeding habits change. Sudden changes in diet (for example, introduction to grain) or nutritional stress can predispose the animal to conditions such as ruminal acidosis, enterotoxaemia or pregnancy toxaemia.

Goats need to be provided with a good quality water supply and will consume between 4L (weaner) and 10L (lactating doe) per day. These quantities should be doubled where temperatures exceed 40oC. The water should not be excessively saline. Goats may adapt to levels of >5000 mg/L but generally prefer <2,000 mg/L. Water testing may be required and can be performed by many government departments or water authorities.

Breeds and breeding

All breeds of goat can be used to produce meat. The specialist meat breeds in Australia are the Boer and to a lesser extent the Kalahari Red. Rangeland goats constitute approximately 90% of goat meat production due to their numbers and availability.

The Boer goat is recognised as the world’s premier meat goat. Hybrid vigour can be achieved by cross breeding. Compared to Rangeland and dairy breeds, Boers are heavier, have a higher dressing percentage and are quicker to reach slaughter weights. They also have high fertility.

The Rangeland goat is a composite breed (previously identified as simply ‘feral’) that has become naturalised throughout Australia. These goats are hardy, thriving and maintain high fertility in dry conditions. In extensive farming conditions they require only low maintenance and are suitable for meat and the live goat trade. Crossing Rangeland goats with other goat breeds also results in hybrid vigour.

The Kalahari Red is a meat goat breed which originated from the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. The colour of this breed helps provide camouflage from eagles and dingo predation. Kalahari Reds are also known for their mothering ability, hardiness and productiveness.

Sourcing stock

Rangeland goats are often introduced in the first instance by opportunistic harvesting of previously unmanaged goats. This allows for the establishment of a managed herd and the application of selective culling and/or cross-breeding to improve performance.

Goats can also be purchased directly from producers or through agents. Some online selling or advertising systems that include goats are:

When purchasing any livestock, including goats, it is important to comply with the relevant provisions of the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) and any other regulations concerning livestock movements.

Once established, stock numbers can be built or maintained through on-farm breeding.

Health care & pests and diseases

State and Territory governments are responsible for animal production and welfare laws and their enforcement. The States and Territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through animal welfare or ‘prevention of cruelty to animals’ legislation. For Australia’s livestock industries, the Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (Model Codes) establish an agreed set of principles and practices. Codes of Practice may differ slightly between States and Territories.

Animal Health Australia and the Goat Industry Council of Australia have developed he Australian Industry Standards and Guidelines for Goats.

There are applicable Codes for both goats and feral livestock and these should be obtained from the relevant State or Territory government authority (usually the Department of Primary Industries).

Rangeland goats are run in relatively low densities in lower rainfall climates. They have also undergone generations of natural selection favouring disease resistance. Disease is therefore not a major issue for extensive farming systems.

Animal health becomes a greater concern when rangeland goats are captured and/or more intensively managed. Goats are susceptible to internal parasites (including worms and coccidiosis). Intensive grazing rather than browsing further increases this susceptibility. Goats can also suffer from lice, pregnancy toxaemia and ketosis, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases such as tetanus. Goats are also sensitive to a range of weeds. For more information refer to The palatability, and potential toxicity of Australian weeds to goats.

Goats should be given appropriate preventative treatment for disease common to the area of production. This typically includes vaccination against enterotoxaemia (pulpy kidney) and tetanus. Worm control can be challenging, as goats are less resistant than sheep or cattle and there are far fewer registered drenches available. Veterinary assistance should be sought to design an appropriate disease control program. Good biosecurity should also be practised – including controls over the movement of people, animals, vehicles and equipment onto the farm. More detailed information is available from the FarmBiosecurity website.

Further information on common health disorders of goats can be found in Husbandry Toolkit 6 of Going into goats.

Infrastructure Requirements

Secure stock-proof fences will be required where goats are farmed or semi-managed in the rangelands. In a pure wild-harvest enterprise there may be only limited fencing. Secure traps and several yards with loading ramps might be all that is required for this operation. Goat-proof fences may be built around a water source and then a number of one way gates or ramps placed to trap the goats.

Goat handling facilities can be purpose-built or adapted from sheep or cattle yards. As with all stock, feral Rangeland goats are easier and safer to manage in well-designed yards.

Other facilities such as a goat handler and three-way draft will allow for improved animal handling and management.

It is becoming common for goat enterprises to have a set of scales. Weighing facilities allow mobs to be drafted into lines to maximise profit in the market.

Harvesting & Processing

Rangeland goats are typically harvested by using traps located at water supplies or by mustering. There are relatively few agents dealing with goats so producers generally deal direct with a processor or buyer. This means that new entrants to goat production need to develop their own contacts in the goat supply chain, depending on location – for example, nearby depots, processors and buyers for the live trade market.

Recent years have seen the development of ‘depots’, particularly in western New South Wales and south-west Queensland, in areas where feral and managed goat populations are high. Depots are owned privately. They purchase goats from other producers, aggregate and draft them into various lines to best meet market requirements, and either sell or retain them for growing out.

Producers with large enough consignments may deal direct with a live export buyer or processor. AuctionsPlus, an electronic online auction for the sale of livestock by description, also has goat sales. It allows direct consignment to the abattoir or buyer.

A list of goat processors and buyers is provided in Marketing Toolkit 8 of Going into goats.

It is important to ensure that any livestock intended for transporting are fit to make the journey. Meat and Livestock Australia publishes information about Animal Welfare and the Livestock Production Assurance program (LPA).

For live exports, the Australian Government introduced a new regulatory framework, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS), from October 2011. Under ESCAS, the exporter must provide evidence of compliance right through the supply chain before being issued with approval by the Department of Agriculture.

Markets & Marketing

When establishing any new livestock enterprise, it is important to understand what markets are available and which one(s) will be targeted. The optimum production system, genetics, husbandry and handling will all be affected by this basic decision.

The domestic market is mainly for premium goat meat to high-end food service outlets, including restaurants, butchers, farmers markets and food festivals. Goat meat sold domestically is often purchased from culture-based markets. The types of goat meat purchased are mainly ‘capretto’ (unweaned kids of dairy or specialty meat breeds), ‘chevon’ (farmed Boer bloodlines, no more than two permanent incisor teeth) and smallgoods made from goat meat.

The export market consists of live animals and both skin-on and skin-off whole carcases or cuts. A skin-on carcass or cut is a product with the skin left intact and the hair removed.

Malaysia is the major market for live goats. It buys young female red-headed Boers for breeding and young Boer, Boer-cross or rangeland (red-headed) goats of 30-40kg liveweight for slaughter.

In contrast to sheep and cattle, there are limited selling options open to goat producers. Meat and Livestock Australia lists the following:

  • Saleyard auction – livestock are transported to central saleyards and sold to the highest bidder. Prices reflect supply and demand in the market on the day. Few saleyards, however, support goat sales.
  • Paddock sales – livestock are inspected on the vendor’s property by a buyer or agent and sold from the paddock. Large numbers of goats are sold through depots. These are holding areas for goats purchased from surrounding producers and brought together for consolidation and drafting of lines to meet different market specifications before transport to slaughter, export or other businesses.

AuctionsPlus, an electronic online auction for the sale of livestock by description, also has goat sales. It allows direct consignment to the abattoir or buyer.

A detailed description of current market specifications can be found in Module 8 – Marketing, of Going into goats.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

Like any primary production enterprise there are a range of risks associated with commercial production of goats. These include the weather, disease and pests, input prices and the price of products sold. Often these risks will be outside of a producer’s control, notably price, and goat meat markets are price-sensitive. Rangeland goat systems offer the advantage of low input costs.

Predation is a risk in some areas and has become more commonly recognised as a significant problem. Predators include wild dogs, foxes, wild pigs, eagles and dingo and dingo crosses. The majority of losses are seen in kids where losses of 30% have been reported, however dogs will target adult goats as well. Such losses may have a serious impact on the goat herd.

Regulatory considerations

Prior to beginning a new enterprise it is important to ensure that it will comply with local planning requirements. Some local governments have rules and regulations in regard to goat farming and any specific restrictions or special conditions need to be met. Regulatory requirements also vary between individual States and Territories. The relevant state department, local government or authority should be consulted to determine any rules and regulations that apply.

A nationwide requirement is that all goat properties must have a property identification code (PIC), issued by a Department of Primary Industries or equivalent authority. A national vendor declaration (NVD) must accompany any goats moving off-property and any farmed goats must have an ear tag prior to leaving the property. Any consignments that have goats from multiple properties must have all the PIC’s recorded on the NVD to allow tracking of the origin of all goats in the consignment. Exempt from tagging requirements are goats sold directly from the farm for slaughter, and harvested, unmanaged Rangeland goats, however they must still be accompanied by an NVD. State or Territory authorities should be consulted for specific requirements.

The policy treatment of Rangeland goats varies between States and this has implications for producers. For example, in South Australia, it is illegal to release captured Rangeland  (referred to as ‘feral’ in the policy) goats back into the wild, which producers in other states do when goats are too small or there are too few to sell. In South Australia any goats that are captured must be disposed of within six weeks and so cannot be held in yards for growing out.

The relevant authority should be consulted to determine any policies relating to the treatment of rangelands goats in a particular area.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

Going into goats – Meat & Livestock Australia

FAQs about Boer goats – Boer Goat Breeders Association

Goat health – keeping the herd disease-free – New South Wales Department of Primary Industries

Goats – Animal Health Australia

NLIS Information – National Livestock Identification System

Moving Goats – Queensland

NLIS Sheep and goats – New South Wales

Livestock Management – Australian Capital Territory

NLIS (Sheep and Goats) – Victoria

Livestock movements – Tasmania

Goat movement – South Australia

Livestock movements – Western Australia

Livestock movements – Northern Territory

Other resources

Australian Farm Institute

National Farmers Federation (NFF)

Image Gallery

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Boer goat kid ready for harvest

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Raw Goat meat