Goats serve up a tasty idea on Gascoyne’s Meedo Station
Meedo Station in WA’s lies within the Gascoyne region of WA, a is a vast 180,750sqkm square area that features rugged ranges and broad, flat valleys with open mulga low woodlands overlaying expanses of red dirt and native grasses that are grazed by sheep, cattle — and goats.
The “heritage” rangeland goats that were once considered a nuisance are now a lifeline for many pastoralists making a living off the ranges, with proceeds from the sale of the goats combining with that of the cattle and sheep they manage.
At Meedo, the role of the goats on the property has become something of a legend — in WA’s food scene, at least.
The meat from the hardy animals, once considered a pest, has helped lift the profile of Gascoyne produce and producers, pleasing the palates of some of Australia’s finest chefs along the way.
Run alongside a flock of about 3500 Merino sheep, between 6000 to 7000 nanny goats are a living resource that pastoralists Tim and Chris Higham value highly on their 147,000ha station.
The couple moved to Meedo in 2006, for a 12-month trial period; a short-term stint intended to give them insight into the management of the property before they delegated its day-to-day management to someone else.
“We were here for 12 months — and we’re still here,” Mrs Higham says, laughing about the long-term nature of their short-term stay.
In 2008 life took a dramatic turn for the couple when their 15-year-old son Lachlan was killed in a sheep mustering accident near their home.
The tragedy, with all the ramifications that come with losing a child, forced the family to “take time to breathe”, to focus and heal.
“After the accident, the compelling need to work towards getting a rescue helicopter for the region gave us a positive focus, and I was surrounded by a great group of people who started to work on this quest — the “Desert Diamonds,” Mrs Higham said.
The quest is ongoing, and Mrs Higham said the need for such a service is made even more pressing by the number of people traversing through the region.
“It is already essential when you consider the welfare of the permanent population of the area, but even more justifiable because of the 220,000-plus people who travel though the area as tourists, in addition to the trucks and other traffic on the highway,” she said.
As the family worked its way through the healing process following Lachlan’s accident, the standard agricultural perils culminated in a few tough years on the station. This forced further resilience in a family already proving its strength, and the income from the goats assumed a new level of importance.
“I found myself thinking, 80 per cent of the red meat consumers in the world eat goat meat: why not capitalise on this opportunity?” Mrs Higham said.
“At around this time, the station next door, Wooramel, opened its campground and we started doing meals. I really had no idea what we were getting into, but we did it.”
Using mostly produce from the Gascoyne, including goat, the couple came up with a range of products for the camp fire dinners ... then for the Gascoyne Growers Market, and then further afield as some of the signature dishes became legendary in the area. Homestead Hampers was born.
“We used a Sunbeam pie-maker and put our produce in a pie,” said Mrs Higham, chuckling as she considers the naïve approach they had to food production ... and the fact that it worked.
The homemade pies gained recognition when they were dished up at the Gascoyne Food Festival and food critic and writer Rob Broadfield was one of the samplers.
Mrs Higham admits that her heart sank when she heard that he had asked to know who had made “this pie”. She admits that her first thought was that the pies were burnt; an assumption arrived at because she had burned the first batch destined for the festival, and the ones on offer were the second attempt for the day.
“Then my daughter piped up ‘My Mum’ ... apparently it was the best pie he had ever tasted,” Mrs Higham said.
Since then, the outback pies have featured at the summer markets in Stirling and Manning, and at the Gascoyne Food Festival every year.
The pies are made exclusively from the young stock, with older goats destined for Beaufort Meats.
Younger animals are custom slaughtered at the Hagan Bros abattoir at Greenough and then cut to specs at Gearing Butchers in Geraldton.
Though Mrs Higham speaks fondly of her foray into the world of fine food production, she admits that the early days of commercial cookery were a “nightmare” as she negotiated her way around permits and regulatory requirements.
“I was just a farmer’s wife who has had to cook for lots of people,” she said.
The pleasure involved in value adding their own produce, combined with the fact that few people were selling goat meat, meant that the process has been rewarding.
As she continues to promote goat meat, Mrs Higham has not lost sight of the need for an emergency helicopter in the region.
“I am hoping that we will soon be able to market Pies with Purpose, with a portion of the proceeds from sales dedicated towards the eventual purchase of an emergency helicopter,” she said.
Mrs Higham said that by encouraging local input, matched by other funding sources such as government and industry, and supported by in-kind contributions and assistance from others keen to help, such a service would be more secure. “I think this should be a national funding strategy, one where a degree of local ownership ensures continuation of essential services,” she said.
Meanwhile, the goat meat continues to provide inspiration for the creation of a range of dishes, providing a healthy alternative to standard meat fare.
“We use it in sausages, burgers — anything I can dream up. It’s a versatile and healthy meat, low in saturated fats and a perfect alternative to other red meats,” she said.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails