Tuckurimba goat dairy in business
There are 150 goats (plus kids) at the Wicked Goat Dairy and Louise Woolbank knows every one by name.
“Some people give their goats fancy names but all ours have girls' names - Gladys, Ingrid, Holly - because it makes them easy to remember,” Louise said. “Our first goat here was called Tracey. One of our oldest milkers is Sharon and then her daughters are Shari, Sharon, Sarah and Sophie. You stay with the Ss because then it makes their pedigree obvious. Someone comes to the farm to buy a kid and I can point out its mother and its grandmother.”
Louise and her husband Terry have been farming goats at their Tuckurimba property for 11 years but her love of the animals began much earlier.
In the eighties, before she met Terry, her next door neighbour got a goat.
“They're contagious, it's like leprosy,” she said. “I do just love them. They're very intelligent... it goes humans, pigs, dogs then goats.
“We called it Wicked Goat because they are sometimes. The kids can be very naughty, like jumping on your back when you're trying to feed them.
“But they play and they're just beautiful. They've got their own personalities. This one here is called Camilla - she thinks she's a princess because she used to be a big Show goat.”
Australia has a long history of goat farming, with the first goats coming out on the First Fleet, along with dairy cows, for milk. The cows all died. The goats survived.
“Years ago in Queensland out west, with no refrigeration, everyone had a milking goat because dairy cows couldn't survive in the heat and drought but the goats could,” Terry said.
Terry and Louise have both worked on cow dairies but now prefer goats.
“Apart from anything else, if you do get kicked, it's not a serious injury,” Terry said while milking. He does, however, have some injuries from horns.
Wicked Goat now debuds (removes the horns) from the kids.
Louise and Terry's son Connor, 11, also works on the dairy and has his own business selling goat poo at the markets.
“It's called Poo to You. I'm saving up for ACDC tickets,” Connor said.
Milking at the dairy is done twice a day, normally by all three family members. In February Terry had a heart attack and bypass surgery, leaving him unable to do physical activity for months.
When the floods came in May Louise and Connor faced an interesting problem. The goats were fine and dry in their shed on high ground but it's 20 metres from the milking shed.
“We put them in a boat and got them to the milking shed that way,” Connor said.
The Wicked Goat flock is made up of Saanen (a white Swiss breed), Melaan (a new black Australian breed), Toggenburg (also Swiss and multi-coloured) and crosses.
They used to also have British Alpine goats but “the buggers used to jump the fences” so they were bred out.
Louise said, just like a cow dairy, the best milkers are the first cross breeds. A good milker can regularly provide 4-5 litres a day, with the younger goats on their first lactation delivering probably less than one litre.
“It just depends,” Louise said. “One of our first goats gave 10 litres a day but she milked herself to death by the time she was six. Most of our goats give milk until they're 12.”
The milk is bottled straight away and sold at the farm, along with fresh goat's cheese. They also have a distributor who markets to health food shops. Louise and Connor also sell at the Lismore Farmers' Markets at the Lismore Showground on Saturdays.
They also export kids, many of them to Malaysia, where goat's milk is a premium product.
Louise said, although Wicked Goat isn't a certified organic farm, they operate on organic principles, not using pesticides and making their own specific goat feed from lucerne, cottonseed meal, molasses, dolomite and copper sulphate.
“We worm them, so we couldn't get the organic status,” Louise said. “We recycle the boxes when we send the milk and cheese away.
“It's not like we're mad greenies or anything, we just like to be a little bit sustainable and goats are a sustainable farming business if they're managed properly.
“If you let them run wild, they will decimate everything.”
The goats roam the paddocks, which Louise said aren't ideal for them because river plains are too flat. Goats are browsers, rather than grazers like cattle, and eat grass, weeds and trees. They love climbing and are at home in a hilly, rocky environment.
“Ideally goats are better without fences, they roam and eat all the weeds,” Louise said. “When we first moved in here there were Scotch thistles and coral trees; the goats took care of all of them. They're an environmentally sound option for weed control.”
One of the reasons Louise and Terry got into goat farming is that Connor is lactose intolerant. Goats milk is low in lactose, high in A2 proteins, has one third of the amount of fat as regular cows milk and twice the amount of calcium.
“A lot of people have preconceived ideas about goats, mainly from American TV,” Louise said. “They're on the feral animals list, along with rabbits and foxes. It's my big crusade to get them off the feral animals list.
“Not a lot of studies have been done into goats in Australia because it's mainly hobby farmers who keep them. We've learned a lot through trial and error.
“One of the reasons we mix our own food for them is that you know exactly what goes in it. Our goats don't get sick. One time we gave them goats pellets and they got the worst diarrhoea you've ever seen.”
Wicked Goat has people coming to buy goats for weed control, milk and pets.
“An old farmer who had 100 acres out at The Channon came to get some goats off us because he didn't want to keep sitting on his tractor all the time and slashing the paddocks. The goats were cheaper and he didn't have to spend all that time,” Louise said. “But most people come to us to get pets.
“Goats can be very sooky and of course they're cute. They're very winning.”