There is strong international demand for goat products but any possible growth in the New Zealand goat farming sector will be coming off a small production base. Country editor Jody Robb looks at the three main areas of the goat industry – dairy, fibre and meat.

Goat farming has largely hovered in the shadow of traditional dairy, sheep and beef within New Zealand’s pastoral farming arena.

Realistically, there is a long way to go in this country before goat farming becomes a sustainable and profitable sector on par with dairy or sheep and beef farming. However, encouraging signs are emerging.

Environmental and commodity market constraints currently impacting the more traditional pastoral sectors in New Zealand, open the farm gate for the goat industry to get a stronger foothold in the country’s farming fabric.

As a representative body, Federated Farmers has been involved in advocating for the goat farming industry on resource management matters for more than a decade. It has maintained that regulators are not in step with current goat farming practices and techniques.

Federated Farmers has lobbied to get the message out to environmentalists – and farmers in other sectors – that goat farming is inherently no different from farming other livestock and in fact, has upside given goats control weed growth.

In 2008, Meat & Wool New Zealand (now Beef + Lamb New Zealand) undertook a goat monitoring project to gather information and to encourage sheep, beef, dairy or deer farmers to consider integrating goats with their other livestock operations.

Farming goats, it says, provides competitive gross margins – particularly for fibre, an ability to better control pasture quality and weeds, and an opportunity for diversification.

With a good animal health plan in place, goats and other stock types can be run together successfully. Goats are browsers and are adept at controlling the likes of gorse, blackberry, broom, thistles and ragwort.

According to the most recent Statistics New Zealand data, there were almost 80,000 farmed goats in New Zealand in 2013. Around 75 percent of these were in the North Island with the largest populations in the Waikato region. It estimates that two thirds of goats were on commercial sheep and beef farms.

Global Demand for Goat Milk Products

The nutritional benefits of goat’s milk are being lauded as it has a different composition to cow’s milk and, while not strictly hypo-allergenic, tends not to trigger allergic reactions in those who cannot tolerate cow’s milk.

Goat milk has more taurine, free amino acids and beta-casein than cow’s milk but less alpha s1-casein meaning it has a softer curd and is more easily digested.

The dairy goat sector in New Zealand is being championed as having immense growth potential and is the subject of research underway in the Waikato aimed at growing the supply of dairy goat milk through improved forage supply and superior animal welfare practices.

AgResearch has a new facility at Ruakura, Hamilton where trials are taking place to look at bedding preferences for dairy kids, forage preferences and environment enrichment. The research trials are being funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Dairy Goat Co-operative (DGC).

AgResearch partnership and portfolios director, Dr Greg Murison says the dairy goat industry is a great example of science making a difference right across the value chain. AgResearch’s work has supported DGC in establishing and growing their business.

DGC was formed in 1984 and has successfully developed and commercialised goat milk formula products. It has established export markets in around 20 countries and has its own integrated production facilities in the Waikato. The co-operative has 69 supplying shareholders milking around 44,000 goats with an annual milk supply in the vicinity of 26,000,000 litres.

DGC general manager strategy and commercial, David Hemara told Country that DGC’s market-led business model means that it is unlikely to be taking on new suppliers for the foreseeable future.

In Auckland, New Image Group – a supplier of natural health products and nutritionals – has also embraced the dairy goat sector.

New Image Group general manager, Guy Wills says its subsidiary NIG Nutritionals, originally expanded into the sector after research showed there was a growing global market for goat milk-based products as an alternative to cows’ milk.

“Strategically, NIG Nutritionals identified the goat milk segment as one it could be a global leader in and our main initiatives are in markets where goats are a major part of the food chain such as China, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Middle East,” he says.

“Goat milk infant formula accounted for over seven percent of New Zealand’s infant formula exports in 2014/15 and significant future growth is predicted. Demand in markets such as China has more than doubled each year.”

"NIG Nutritionals identi ed the goat milk segment as one it could be a global leader in and our main initiatives are in markets where goats are a major part of the food chain."

New Image Group general manager, Guy Wills

Wills says that realising supply into these growing markets will need a close alignment of milk supply and processing capacity.

New Image Group has a supply partnership with Oete Farms at Patumahoe, south of Auckland which, when it grows from 2,400 to 3,000 goats this season, will be the biggest goat farm in New Zealand.

“Oete provides us with top grade goat milk, which we then process at our nearby plant and convert into milk powder and nutritional products such as infant formula,” Wills explains.

NIG Nutritionals also takes goat milk from other farms around the Auckland region, but Oete Farms is its largest exclusive partner. NIG will continue to seek out farmers who understand the global opportunities that exist and whose farming operations meet the standards required to deliver high quality milk.

Fine Fibre

Federated Farmers’ Goats Industry Group is currently focusing on the Angora goat sector and the valuable mohair it produces.

Mohair New Zealand (Inc.) is a major partner in this group and its chair, Lynne Milne, says following a recent goat/ mohair conference in New Zealand, a number of ideas for future initiatives have been identified.

“In particular, GT Ferreira, a world- renowned mohair producer who made his mark as a top Angora goat farmer in South Africa – regarded as the world’s best producer of high-quality mohair – gave us plenty to think about,” says Milne.

“He highlighted the commercial opportunities available for New Zealand mohair producers and we now need to communicate these to our members and to other goat farmers.”

Mohair New Zealand is currently part-funding a Sustainable Farming Fund project being carried out by AgResearch Ltd on addressing key goat industry issues of parasites and lameness.

It has also launched the Mohair Producers New Zealand website aimed at growing the New Zealand mohair industry with information for new and existing goat farmers.

According to the website, during the early 1980s, Mohair Producers Inc. was comprised of mohair enthusiasts who ran eld days and an Angora goat-quality inspection system.

“It was a boom time for the industry — the market price for mohair rose from an average of $8 per kg to $18 per kg, and there were extremely generous tax incentives for anyone wishing to get involved.

"A world-renowned mohair producer who made his mark as a top Angora goat farmer in South Africa – regarded as the world’s best producer of high-quality mohair – gave us plenty to think about."

Mohair New Zealand chair, Lynne Milne

As a result, an Angora buck could sell for between $40,000 and $60,000 with the top price reaching a staggering $120,000. And due to the tax incentives, a goat producer could buy a goat for $60,000 and write it down in their books for as little as $6.

It wasn’t long before corporate investors got involved causing producer numbers to surge from 50 to 3,000.
The mohair industry changed virtually overnight, however, in the early 1990s when New Zealand opened its doors to allow goats to be imported from Australia. This greatly increased the level of stock available, and the Government adjusted the tax laws accordingly, causing the value of goats to plummet.

Since then, the New Zealand mohair industry has shrunk, and there are currently only 153 mohair producers left.”

The international market for mohair is now greatly undersupplied meaning that potentially high returns can be made by those entering the industry.

Meat the goats

With a major proportion of the world’s population very familiar with goat meat, there is an open window of opportunity for New Zealand to grow its goat meat production and exports.

For the year ended September 2014, New Zealand goat exports totalled $6.4 million – excluding goat dairy products – with $5.8 million attributed to goat meat.

Ex-Taupo farmer Alan Mitchell has been involved with the New Zealand goat industry for more than 25 years. He set up his private trading company GoatNZ Limited full-time in 2003 to supply goat meat to overseas consumers who value a high quality, well-farmed product.

Mitchell worked closely with stock agents around New Zealand to procure quality livestock and has killing agreements with fully-approved and export-licenced facilities.

“There is insatiable demand world- wide for goat meat and the outlook is fantastically good,” says Mitchell.
“Very good prices are attainable – equivalent to top lamb prices or even better. But it doesn’t seem to t with New Zealand farmers’ psyche to farm goats.”

Mitchell says that although securing good breeding stock is a challenge, goat farming is very complementary to other grassland farming.

“Goats tend to graze above the ground and love thistles and gorse. They can clean up a block of blackberry like you wouldn’t believe.

"There is insatiable demand world-wide for goat meat and the outlook is fantastically good.

GoatNZ Limited owner, Amy Mitchell

“They’re incredibly low input animals – just make sure the fencing is up to scratch as they’ll strip your vegetable garden if you’re not careful and you might find a doe knocking on your door.”

Goats are naturally very productive and farmers can kid them three times in two years. The kids are susceptible to the cold and they do not like having wet feet.

“They’re traditionally a dry country animal and love open spaces. As far as breeding stock is concerned – any goat’s a good goat in my book,” says Mitchell.

Farming goats for meat is far less labour intensive than for fibre as there is no shearing involved and they can graze ruthlessly on weeds without worry of fleeces being affected.

Mitchell says goats are best farmed in conjunction with cattle or sheep and can graze rougher country making them an ideal diversification option.

Goat meat is very lean and ideal for health conscious consumers.

“It adequately meets adult dietary amino acid needs and its vitamin content compares well with other meats, with an iron content similar to beef and higher than lamb,” says Mitchell.

“Aged, quality goat meat is very similar in taste and texture to lamb.”

New Zealand exports around 110,000 goats per year to markets all around the world including China, Canada and the United States.

“These are mostly as whole carcasses or as a six-way cut. Goats are very small and are bone heavy so it’s dif cult to export premium cuts like the back strap, for example.”

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of goat meat and Mitchell says farmers in that country understand the benefits. There are large numbers of Australian farmers converting their operations to accommodate goat farming.

“There’s no embarrassment for them to be goat farmers. The returns are nothing to be ashamed of, that’s for sure.”