Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) announced last week their $3.7 million investment into the Australian goat industry's largest ever research project.
The five-year project will focus on improving reproductive performance, with the aim of increasing the productivity and profitability of the Australian goat herd.
Funded by the MLA Donor Company, the project will be run in partnership with the University of Queensland and a number of commercial goat producers.
Research will be conducted in conjunction with at least 15 commercial herds and 15,000 animals, the data of which will be used to determine necessary changes within the industry to achieve ultimate productivity.
The project will also feature three focus groups to ensure contributions from a range of producers representing the three different production system types: extensive, semi-extensive and intensive.
MLA Group Manager for Productivity and Animal Wellbeing Dr David Beatty said the project aims to capitalise on the versatility of goats, and make improvements to ensure the continued growth of the booming industry.
"We've seen changes to many grassland and pastoral systems resulting in increased shrubs and woody regrowth, and goats are primed to take advantage of these environmental changes because of their unique abilities to digest and thrive on low quality diets containing high levels of fibre and anti-nutritional factors," Dr Beatty said.
"Through this research, the industry will benefit from developing reproductive benchmarks for different production systems, investigating the impact that different management strategies have on reproduction performance and gaining insights into what causes kid losses among goats."
Various issues surrounding reproductive performance will be assessed throughout five seasons to establish where improvements can be made, including pregnancy rates and kid survival, as will commercial herd management.
One of the producers involved in the project, Pieter van Jaarsveld, said the project will be beneficial for exisiting goat producers such as himself, as well as those looking to get into the growing industry.
"The main reason we got involved in this project is that we would like to see how we can improve our management practices and improve our kids survivability rates, which is one of the biggest challenges for us," he said.
"Working with the university, we hope to achieve better results for ourselves, but also for others through participating and sharing that information with other farmers.
"For us that's quite important, as is gaining the scientific backup to say that you are doing the right thing with your animals."
Mr Van Jaarsveld will be one of the producers exhibiting data from a semi-intensive operation, where he runs 2000 goats at his property at Gore, and already uses NLIS technology to track each animal, something that he hopes other producers may look into following the project.
"We hope to learn and also motivate others to look at technology that can actually help improve your bottom line in the long term. That's one of the key drivers for us," he said.
"We're hoping to see a difference when we do preg-scanning to make sure we can economically decide which animals to keep and which ones to let go.
"We'll also work with a nutritionist to help us design additional feed depending on the seasons.
"What we find is that our worm burdens go up if we don't get sufficient nutritional food into them, and that of course impacts on your kid survivability rates and so on."
While improving pregnancy and kid survivability rates are top priorities for Mr van Jaarsveld, so too is improving the meat quality of his product, which he hopes to explore further with the help of the UQ team during the course of the project.
"So in meat standards, Rangelands are mostly known for being chopped up in curries and stews," he said.
"We believe with the cross of other meat breeds, we can actually improve the quality of meat, which we have proven on farm but we have not been able to take that further yet.
"That will hopefully be one of the improvements that we can make over our time working with the university."
As well as assisting individual producers, Mr Van Jaarsveld said he hopes that the project will help the goat industry, in particular an increase in knowledge around management practices.
"At the moment, there's a lot of questions in the goat industry where everybody's trying to do something that they believe is good, but there's no current research to back that up," he said.
"The excellent move from MLA to work on a five year project will give us exactly that information that is required."
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