IMG_7306Long-time Gingin goat farmers, Gary and Theresa Harley appreciate the benefits of dairy goats as an attractive small farm livestock agribusiness.

In 2004 Gary had 700 does and enjoyed the beginnings of a promising small agribusiness supplying Malaysian markets with 100 dairy does per year, valued at around $35,000. Gary was understandably optimistic.

Markets were steady and together, Gary & Theresa had plans for tourism, producing Goats cheese and more.

There is also significant motivation to meet the demand for goat meat which makes up 65 percent of the red meat consumed globally. Goat meat is naturally lean which means it is much lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than other meats. Goat meat is also the most nutritious red meat you can ingest. This produces an avenue for surplus bucks and whethers.

Before you race off and start your goat farm, Gary warns goats are not easy.

He offers some hard lessons they have experienced firsthand.

“Foxes will crawl over broken glass for kid goats. We work around the clock during kidding season to protect the newborns from foxes and eagles.”

Another challenge is that goats don’t do well in cold and wet conditions, have a very fragile digestive system and don’t manage changes in diet well. Unlike sheep which graze, goats are browsers and contrary to popular believe create less damage to the environment if not overstocked.

Having worked through these many issues the Harleys were devastated with the most recent threat to their business, the stable fly.

“When I first heard about them, I wondered how bad can they be? It’s just a fly” says Gary. “It was very depressing to watch our animals driven into the ground by stable fly.”

When an animal is attacked by multiple biting flies, it is literally bitten to distraction. They use all their energy trying to escape and consequently they begin to lose condition. This is a huge problem, especially after kidding when the does need all their reserves to focus on their progeny. The stable fly problem is not unique to the Harleys but the inherent issue for goats is that they need to gain condition over the summer months to sustain them through the cold and damp winter. The fly problem puts this at risk. Whilst the stable fly problem is minimal at the moment, it still presents enough risk that Gary and Theresa have changed tack.

Gary has reduced his mob of mainly Sanaan type animals to about 150 dairy goats and has shifted towards the multi colored Nubians which appear to be less attractive to stable flies.

Never one to give up – Gary’s latest pursuit is miniature dwarf goats a herd which began with young dwarf doe he was given. Gary’s young dwarf bucks are now working hard to achieve the target of over 50 dwarf goats and it’s easy to see how these cute and playful animals could take off as pets.