First Bushfire then Weeds, Now Money from Mohair and Meat

Following the 2003 bushfires in the Victorian High Country, Justine Hall was contacted by the consultant who was involved in the management of Hinnomunji Station near Omeo in Victoria.

The purpose of the contact was to find a producer who would be interested in running goats on the weed regrowth that had occurred following the bushfires. This section of the property had not been grazed prior to the fires because the weeds and regrowth were so dense. 

Justine took up the offer and the owners fenced “The Block” with wild dog proof fences. The boundary adjoins public land and wild dogs are prevalent in the high country.

The northerly boundary is the Mitta Mitta river, which was almost inaccessible because of Blackberry and English Broom infestation.

Maremma Shepherd dogs were also used to manage predators. 

The consultant had used goats previously for weed control at Adelong in NSW, and was familiar with what goats could do in such rugged terrain as “The Block”.

 The cost and ability to effectively control the weeds with herbicides was not attractive.

Weeds and regrowth on” the Block”, which is approximately 350ha included, Saffron and Scotch thistles, English Broom, Blackberry, Sweet Briar, Prickly box, Horehound, St Johns wort, spear grass and wattles.  

1200 angora goats were introduced by Sept 2004, most being either in short fleece or recently shorn. Shelter sheds were built to protect them from rain and wind off shears. Rain had not been prevalent in the area since the angoras arrived. During 2005-2006 the two dams dried up so the river became the only source of water. 

In December 2005 a fence was built dividing the block in two, to isolate the dams and prevent soil erosion on the highest section of the block. 

Goats tend to camp on the highest point of paddock and travelling over the area below the peak led to damage of the ground cover.

The fence also forced the goats to graze the lower slopes and created more pressure on the weeds by the river. 

Goats are a sustainable method for controlling weeds

By the end of 2006 the number of goats was reduced to 600, as the supply of weeds reduced dramatically and the lack of rain had not allowed pasture to grow.

 2007 saw the number further reduced between 300 and 400.

It was planned, for when it rained, to run cattle on the areas ahead of the goats so that they would gain the benefit of the pasture and the goats could clean up what they left behind.

In October 2007 ABC TV “Landline” made a film on “the Block” to demonstrate the impact the goats had on the weeds over the previous 3 years.

Saffron Thistle before the angora goats
Saffron Thistle one week after the arrival of the angoras (no flowers)

Justine had run angoras in East Gippsland on various properties over the prior 30 years and is familiar with the problems associated with running angoras extensively (without close supervision and regular hand feeding), so was not surprised to see how some angoras purchased coped or did not cope with this grazing environment.

Justine recommends running angoras that:

  • Are a minimum of 2 years (4-tooth) old or animals that have been born and raised amongst weed and hill country.
  • Are in short fleece or off shears, when introduced to blackberries, briar and thorn bushes for the first time. 
  • Are preferably wethers, but if they are does, calculate in your budget on them as wethers, as weaning percentages can be low if crows and eagles are present in the area. Foxes, wild dogs and pigs are also predators if vermin proof fences are not installed.
  • Are animals from a similar region, if possible, as angoras can take at least 1 year to become fully acclimatized to a different environment.

 Note:

Justine recommends that kids that survive in this type of management system should be retained in the herd as they will have been taught how to survive by their mothers, and keep their mothers as long as you can.

This “survivability” factor is present in the Australian Rangeland goat, which lives and breeds in an environment that has all of the predators mentioned (Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” has applied).

The behaviour pattern of the rangeland goat was observed by Justine when she used 600 rangeland goats (ex Cobar NSW) as recipients in the embryo transplant program, using angora does as donors, from 1979-1983. The angora kids behaved in the same way as their surrogate mothers did. 

Having the benefit of the above knowledge, the enterprise was financially rewarding for both parties.  The reduction of weed burden, opening up of access to the river and steep terrain and most importantly no chemical or labour costs to clean up the country has been a success. 

Sweet Briar before and after the angora goats ringbarked it

“The Block” runs down to the Mitta Mitta River which is in the catchment area for the Murray river. 

The owners were pleased with the impact on the weeds and no herbicide costs would certainly have been beneficial to the project. Justine said the dollar returns from the sale of the mohair and goatmeat also created significant income from the weeds and regrowth thereof.

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