Gus's Musings

July 4, 2014

Why feral goats can never be just a resource

Goats are a major component of the total grazing pressure (TGP) in most of southern rangelands of Australia.  For that reason they are also a valuable resource that has helped many pastoralists through some very tough low rainfall years, turning the numerous goats into a very lucrative business.  The goats are fantastic at looking after themselves in dry periods, they breed like, well goats, the only costs are mustering, handling and freight to abattoirs, they are “pennies from heaven”,….or are they?  When it comes to returns from feral goats, they are fantastic for cashflow, long term they will always take out more than you receive. 


This feral rangeland goat business comes at a very significant cost to the environment, due to the lack of management of them, by this I mean not treating them as livestock or pests.  There are pastoralists our there that manage their goats as livestock and they have really great businesses going due to how well adapted to our harsh landscape that goats are.  So when I’m talking about feral rangeland goats I’m clearly talking about unmarked/untagged goats that roam around making their own arrangements as to where they will graze regardless of paddock or boundary fences. 


Goats are so well adapted to harsh environments, they can survive and even thrive when other livestock like sheep, cattle and even our wildlife can not.  They can do this due to their ability to graze down to a low level and stand on their hind legs to browse, so their food zone is significant.  They even enjoy climbing trees, playing on the limbs as well as eating their way along the branches.


Understanding the way animals graze helps us to manage them, now goats love short fresh growth, so you tend to find they stay in areas (sedentary grazing) where they can keep the growth short, this is when they cause landscape degradation.  They just go back to the same tasty plants day after day until they die, then moving on to the next tastiest plants.  Mind you sheep, cattle, rabbits and even kangaroos can do the same, this is the result of herbivores being very comfortable in their environment   While sedentary grazing is best for the livestock, the land suffers through loss of biodiversity, balancing this is where management comes in.  Usually the smaller the grazing animal the less plant diversity they encourage, that is one of the main reasons that goats [along with rabbits!] need to be managed. 


The productive capacity of the landscape is constantly being reduced by feral goats, this happens insidiously over time so is difficult to cost, therefore acknowledge.  Without doubt the biggest threat to the southern rangelands of Australia is unmanaged TGP, also not something that is easily addressed.  Some of those options to manage the TGP in the southern rangelands of Australia are: Wild dogs (though not that livestock friendly!).  Some landholders are putting in fences to keep goats (as well as other livestock & wildlife) out or in whatever is their choice, either way they have control.  Strategic shooting of goats can send a very strong message to them to keep moving and stopping sedentary grazing. 


I know that goats are only part of the TGP issue and all components need acknowledgement and respective management.  I’m seeing at the moment society’s acceptance of the resource of “feral goats” due to its ability to provide cash to pastoralists, especially in tough times.  The whole community needs to take responsibility for the health and wellbeing of a very large part of Australia, we need to value our precious rangelands. With the western division of NSW losing carrying capacity after every significant drought since it was settled, I worry that we will lose many more people, flora & fauna before change happens.


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