Posted May 24, 2014
Goats, like many other introduced species, arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. Nineteen were brought out with the first settlers to provide milk and meat and by 1790 there were nearly 2000 of them in the colonies. In the ensuing decades many were set free primarily to ensure an emergency suppy of food. Unfortunately, as has been the case with so many domestic species that were 'set free' with good intentions at the time of release, they flourished in the wild and became a serious environmental and economic pest. They have also become a threat to some native species of fauna like the Yellow-footed and Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies because of the overlap in diet and habitat.
The modern Australian Feral goat is now a mixture of a number of breeds including Angora, Cashmere, Anglo-Nubian, British Alpine, Saanen and Toggenburg. Both sexes have distinctive curved or corkscrew shaped horns and their coats vary widely in colour, pattern and hair type depending on just what breeds the individual has in it. An adult typically weighs around 40 - 60 kilos with the males being heavier and larger than the females.
They are found right across mainland Australia and in Tasmania although they are not as common in the humid and tropical north of the country. They thrive better on arid and semi-arid rangelands where sheep and cattle farmers have provided an ideal environment for them. There are now so many of them that their commercial exploitation is now a $29 million dollar industry with many pastoralists earning a good part of their income from the capture and sale of their resident feral goat populations. Meat for export is the primary product of the industry with goat skins being an important by-product.
Because the Australian Feral Goat is quite a heavy, hardy and robust animal it is a useful cross with breeds like the South African Boer goat to produce a heavier animal for the meat market. Live goats have also been exported to improve domestic breeding herds in other countries and they have been crossed with small goat breeds to produce the Australian Miniature Goat.
Feral goats have also become part of a biological weed control campaign throughout parts of Australia that are either inaccessible to humans or in environmental areas where the use of herbicides is not appropriate.
Goats in general make ideal pets and the Australian Feral Goat is no exception. They are easy enough to come by because they are regularly rounded up for market on many outback stations and I suspect many a cute little kid has been removed from the pen before the trucks arrived. Certainly that is how Patrick arrived in my life. Their biggest drawback, especially around children and other pets, is their rather large horns.