Felicity McLeod grew up at Coombah Station, a property between Broken Hill and Wentworth in Western NSW where her parents ran a Merino sheep and cattle enterprise.
“As kids we were always involved in stock work and I loved working with the livestock,” says Felicity. “My younger brother and sister and I spent a lot of time out in the paddocks as kids. We were part of the workforce, so we didn’t have a choice really.”
Today, Felicity oversees Tor Downs, a 40,000-hectare property on the banks of the Great Darling Anabranch. The station is adjacent to Coombah, and is one of three family-owned operations. Her family have always also trapped and mustered rangeland goats – and in April this year, Felicity stepped up as chair of NSW Farmers’ Goat Committee.
“My parents first started selling goats more than 30 years ago,” she says. “Goats bring in extra income and controlling numbers helps maintain grazing pressure. They have always been part of the business. Thirty years ago, one goat could fetch a couple of dollars. Today they are selling for nearly $8/kg [at the time, now fetching over $9] which is the highest price goats have ever been.”
Goat meat is increasing in popularity in Australia and around the world. Credit: Samara Harris.
Finding new ways to supplement income and use land is not new for Felicity. In 2017, she won a Nuffield Australia farming scholarship
sponsored by Australian Wool Innovation
. It allowed her to travel to countries including India, Qatar, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and the United States, to study on-farm techniques on a global scale.
“Being a Nuffield scholar was definitely an eye-opening experience,” she says. “I saw firsthand how all aspects of food and fibre production fit together globally.” Felicity visited a coffee plantation high up in the mountains of India. “Farmers there were growing trees and herbs within the plantation that could be harvested at different times to supplement their income,” she says.
In Qatar, she visited a farm in the middle of an arid desert where they used centre pivots to grow hay for livestock. “I was able to meet some amazing people who were so giving of their time and knowledge. I could then compare different techniques and strategies, as well as failures. I came home with all these different ideas about how to do, and how not to do things.”
Going for growth with goats
Where is the live sheep export trade headed next?
Felicity says the biggest challenge right now for goat producers is lack of rainfall.
“It’s bone dry and that’s having a huge effect on livestock numbers. Some people have run out of water and that will have a flow-on effect across sheep and cattle as well as goats.”
The Goat Committee aims to help industry continue to move forward on all aspects, including maintaining good welfare standards and lobbying government on policy. “I’ve always been passionate about agricultural industries. I guess it’s in my blood. For me, it’s about maintaining best practices so we can all move forward in ways that will deliver the best outcomes for farmers in NSW and across the country.”
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Fast Facts about the goat meat industry:
- In 2017 the Australian goat meat industry was worth over $257M, with approximately 2.07 million head slaughtered.
- Malaysia is Australia’s second largest mutton market, in 2017-18 it was worth $310 million. It accounts for 3% of Australia’s total red meat and livestock exports.
- Most goat meat is exported, particularly to parts of Asia and the Middle East, North Africa as well as Hispanic populations across the United States of America.
- A 2017 feasibility study into opportunities to encourage goat meat consumption in Australia identified that value-adding could increase demand and potentially generate $13 million for the industry annually.