Dairy goat milk processors, looking to increase their supplier numbers, are helping to drive interest among farmers in New Zealand’s growing goat milk industry.
One answer to why there are not more farmed goats is that modern commercial management can change attitudes to goats from hate to tolerance to love.
NZ leads the world in our pastoral systems and pastoral goat farming is now a long way from the small flocks and associated control, feet and worm problems of the 1980s. Garrick Batten explains.
The key message is to keep it simple.
Use goats’ intelligence, adaptability and complementarity and accept the need to acquire new knowledge.
Remember goats are not sheep.
Use a low goat stocking rate, specific feeding to suit the farm situation and goat objective – as well as specific techniques for weed control and meat production. Focus on one objective only for this multi-purpose animal using suitable goats.
Goats are very adaptable, even to non-suitable situations, but farming them means understanding and responding to their needs. There are some fundamental new skills to learn in their management that are not high-tech or sexy.
Goats are browsers not grazers like sheep. They eat pasture from the top down with intake and production falling as height decreases below 7cm. Goats can eat 15 more plant species than sheep and prefer daily variety and range over distances, while trying to avoid soiled and damaged pasture.
Goats can be simple to feed so simple systems can be used, and initially the proportion to other stock will be low. The choices are to either spread them out over as big an area as possible or graze ahead of other stock on rotation with frequent shifts. KPI for a breeding herd is percentage of kids weaned – therefore special management may be needed around kidding time.
Higher pasture heights reduce worm intake to even eliminate drenching. Well-fed goats have minimal health problems. Foot problems have been reduced with suitable genetics such as Kikonui™ developed especially for hill country.
It is far easier and cheaper to goat proof a large block of several paddocks or even the whole farm. Roaming goats can learn gateways, water sources, camping sites and mustering routes. Once trained, goats can be readily and cheaply controlled by electric fencing. Therefore, a specific training area is needed for any new goats and electricity must be maintained. An electrified outrigger on a standard or even sub-standard fence can be sufficient.
Goats not only eat differently to sheep but they handle differently. However, they will not need much under simple systems.
• Garrick Batten is a commercial goat farming expert and published author.