Goats have been used for milk production for at least 9,000 years, but in New Zealand dairy goats are a relatively recent introduction.
Top farms produce more meat and fibre per hectare with better production. But per animal increases made in the last 30 years will be more difficult to match in the future, even with a higher reproductive rate, consequent lamb and ewe deaths, plus increased feed and management costs.
However, adding goats has a key role in improving profitability now, especially on hill country. Garrick Batten reports.
OPINION: A question must be, why are there not more goats on pastoral farms now?
In part, the industry has not appreciated improved goat farming knowledge, or how to compare goats with other stock. That can be measured not only by added meat income, but also by their pasture improvement role that enhances clover, reduced biological weed control costs and associated inputs – plus lower animal husbandry and management costs.
Goats can reduce hill country negatives and increase bottom line and personal values. Improved clover content in mixed pasture has a direct quality benefit, reflected in improved growth rates of other stock, but how to credit that to goats in the accounts? Their lower labour costs are difficult to measure when provided by farmer and family.
Each farm will have different weed problems that need particular assessment of both direct and indirect costs, plus evaluating intangibles such as effects on production, health and safety. Profitability from associated goat benefits is easy to forget until balance date.
Economists, academics and consultants use stock units to compare enterprises’ profitability, but goats as stock units are misleading as goat size and diet varies on each farm.
What is a goat? There are significant differences between breeds, and even in a typical hill country herd range, a 40kg animal is much bigger than a 25kg animal. A major SU cost is feed and the standard uses animals fully fed on sheep/cattle type pasture.
A wider goat diet can include an unknown intake of non-pasture such as weeds, plus ungrazed flowering and seedhead pasture plants, and grazing wasted pasture between tracks, not eaten by sheep and cattle – so reduced feed cost. Gross margin analysis assumes that labour and capital costs per SU are similar between various enterprises, but goat costs can be significantly lower.
It is difficult to evaluate goats using traditional analytical tools. Goat profitability should not be compared on the basis of kg DM or SU.
A better system is to measure and compare biological efficiencies based on saleable product. RMPP KPI benchmarking guidelines have ewe efficiency at 40 -70% with sector mean at 57%, and breeding cow efficiency in the 25-40% range with sector mean of 33%. The minimum for pastoral goats is 75% with 100% achievable. Using another measure, hill country ewe efficiency factor is 2.4 compared with a pastoral doe herd of 3.5.
• Garrick Batten is a lifetime commercial goat industry expert and published author. More information: www.caprinexnz.com