Goat pioneer takes bull by the horns

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

When Keros Keynes and his wife, Simone, decided to leave the family’s pastoral property, they wanted to remain connected to the industry in some way.

The couple had been running cattle, Merinos and trapping rangeland goats as a sideline on Curbur station in the Murchison, but when the family moved to the Chapman Valley, it was the goats they chose to take with them.

For the last two years the Keynes have run a goat feedlot, taking rangeland capretto — young goats of 15–25kg — and fattening them for the domestic market.

It’s the State’s only commercial feedlot for domestic consumption, a surprising fact considering demand for goat meat in WA far outstrips supply.

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Rangeland goats, once considered feral by many in the agricultural industry, are now a valuable resource and one Keros and his son, Preston, believe offer them a bright future.

Keros said more than 75 per cent of the world’s population ate goat meat, it had no religious barriers and was considered a healthy protein source.

“We had seen there was a lot of interest in goats and with those criteria, we saw an opportunity, ” he said.

“We buy in rangeland capretto, then we put them on pellets and hay to value-add the carcase for a domestic butcher or restaurant.”

The goats spend a minimum of six weeks in the feedlot, putting on between 80 and 120g a day and are sold on at 24–25kg live weight.

Keros said they hoped to turn out up to 5000 finished goats annually, but they were also involved in breeding their own goats.

“We’ve got about 650 does at the moment that we’re mating to Boers to make Boer-crosses, which are a slightly better carcase type for the domestic market, ” he said.

“I think as a breeder we feel that the rangeland product is a very easy-care animal and if we put a Boer buck over that doe and get that first cross or second cross that’s probably as far as we want to go because of the easy-care factor.

“Rangeland goats are a pretty good doer and — you get that hybrid vigour as well with the cross-breeding.”

But if there’s one thorn in Keros’ side it’s the number of goats in WA — there are simply not enough to go around.

He fields plenty of inquiries from the consumption side of the industry, but broadacre farmers have been slow to introduce goats into their system and wild dogs continue to decimate the rangeland population.

“Wild dogs were on the top of our list as a threat to our business and I think it will maintain that top listing unfortunately until something is done with the situation in the rangelands, ” Keros said.

“If this business doesn’t make it, it will be because of the wild dogs — there’s just not enough goats in the agricultural area behind wire that we can draw from for the domestic market. It’s a real problem.”

Keros believes it’s the stigma attached to goats that deters farmers from running them in a managed sense, but it’s an option he said was worth considering.

“You mention the word goat and people immediately think their fencing is going to be destroyed, ” he said.

“We can prove otherwise — they’re no different from the exotic breeds of sheep that have come into Australia over the last few years as far as fencing is concerned. We feel with normal stock management you can run goats without any dramas at all.”

Keros can foresee potential for farmers with stubble to buy in store goats from pastoral areas and background them which happens with the cattle industry.

“I think goats offer a real alternative, ” he said. “Farmers can buy them in at more realistic prices than sheep and turn those goats over or value add them for themselves.”

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