Due to the rangeland nature of much of the Australian goat industry, the size of the national herd is largely an estimate. The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Agricultural Commodities survey (2015-16 fiscal year) estimates that the number of managed goats totalled 424,913 head. Meanwhile, Australian goat slaughter for the same financial year totalled 2.16 million head, while 2016-17 totalled 2.08 million head – indicating just how much of Australian production is rangelands based.
Majority of goats consigned to abattoirs are sourced from NSW (68%), with the western and central regions of the state considered the largest producing regions. NSW Department of Primary Industry’s (DPI) annual aerial survey of western and central NSW recorded an estimated 5.8 million head of goats* in the monitoring zone in 2016 – covering some 450,000km2. This figure has been steadily increasing from 1999.
The most recent forecasts from the NSW DPI and MLA joint forecasting committee estimate that this growth will continue. Modelling suggests that approximately 6 million head of goats may be in the survey area in 2017, resulting in projected slaughter to remain steady or increase slightly, to somewhere between 2 and 2.25 million head in 2017-18.
Supporting this growth is a number of factors, the most influential being the increased management of the goat population. A lift in investments made in infrastructure across western NSW has resulted in a growing proportion of goats being semi-managed. This has also given rise to selection pressure being applied to goat herds by producers, such as underweight goats or does being released or retained. Other management actions, such as control programs for wild dogs, are also expected to benefit the goat population. During aerial surveying it has been observed that goat herds are expanding into new areas.
On the demand side, sustained growth in the US (Australia’s largest goatmeat export market) and improved economic conditions in some goat importing countries have underpinned the increase in over-the-hook prices being paid domestically.
There are, however, some factors that may hamper growth in the Australian goat population, such as dry seasonal conditions, localised over-harvesting or harvesting stock before reproducing.
In a survey conducted by the NSW DPI, producers identified that the main factor impacting goat harvest is the number of goats on their property, with high prices incentivising turn-off. Short term seasonal factors also have an impact such as mustering and trapping conditions, rain events or a wet winter.
The survey also identified that the intention of producers was predominantly to continue to turn-off a similar number year-on-year (42% of producers surveyed), while fewer producers expected to turn-off a lower number of goats (14% of producers stating less and 24% expected to turn-off substantially less).
*Please note, NSW DPI aerial survey does not differentiate between managed and rangeland goats.