The objective in rearing goats for meat production alone, has been seen as the need to contain costs as much as possible.
Previous management systems ensured costs were kept to a minimum where the goats utilised feed rejected by sheep and/or cattle, and were stocked at a rate which did not require any lessening of sheep or cattle numbers.
Under this management system sheep and cattle received priority, though some consideration was of necessity given to the goats during critical feed periods.
Today, however, sheep and cattle do not warrant the same priority. The returns for goat meat place goats at least on an equal footing. The competition comes from fiber-producing goats and it is for this reason, rather than from consideration of sheep and cattle needs, that meat production from goats must continue to have regard for a low level of capital input.
Garrick Batten, one of the pioneers of goat farming in New Zealand, and certainly one of the few who has taken any interest in the goat as a meat producer, has developed a simple grazing management system which he refers to as `the Big Block System’.
This involves goat-proofing a substantial area and set-stocking the goats in it. Normal sub-divisional fences allow the sheep and/or cattle to be rotationally grazed. While the sheep or cattle are in their allotted paddock, goats have free-range of the remaining paddocks. Although goats will, under this system, take some pasture, they will also graze unwanted species, rank growth, etc., so that sheep grazing is improved.
Again we should make the point that, in view of the trend in returns from sheep, and the potential for improvement in goat meat returns, higher priority for goats at the expense of sheep may well now be warranted. It is a shifting situation that will require continual monitoring.
Under the Big Block method, sheep and/or cattle move from one paddock to the next that has been closed up for them, while goats have free range over the rest of the area. They can be let into a paddock prior to sheep to take off anything running to seedhead, and weed growth, and they can be brought in after the sheep have grazed an area to clean it up if worm burdens are not too serious a problem.
Management of the goats will require having the Big Block divided into a minimum of two main paddocks by goat-proof fencing so that young females can be separated off at mating, and so that some spelling for goats can be under¬taken.
A paddock in which bucks can be held at certain times of the year is necessary, as is a goat-proof area in which kids can be held once they are weaned.
Young goats need protein to grow, so must be given access to highly nutritious green pasture and green browse. Adult goats (other than lactating does) can get by on gorse and suchlike, and rough pasture, but young goats need better feed if they are to gain weight rapidly.
The actual stocking rate for goats under this system might be as low as 10 percent of sheep numbers on comparatively clean hill country, if sheep numbers are to maintained.
But it could be considerably higher where there is a major weed problem or reversion, or when goat meat returns to the farmer prove better than lamb and wool returns.
In the final analysis farmers will make their own decision as to how many goats they can run, more or less on ‘gut feeling’, and will amend the rate in the light of experience. As a rough guide it is worth noting that one goat per hectare is a low stocking rate, and that one hectare of edible scrub vegetation can support about six goat equivalents.