Paul faced a variety of challenges when starting his new life on a rundown dairy farm. One of the ongoing problems was how to address the substantial weed problem whilst avoiding the use of chemical sprays.
The obvious solution was a biological control, and this came in the form of Elisabeth Larsen, goat herder and enviromental management consultant, and her goats. The goats were ideal for use on the farm as they were able to access the steep gullies and rocky areas more efficiently than a human labourer.
The majority of the goats used on the farm were Boer goats, a hardy breed originally from South Africa and traditionally raised for meat. They are large, robust, drought resistant animals making them well suited to Australian conditions. The majority of the animals were de-sexed male goats known as ‘Wethers’. Elisabeth prefers them to Bucks or Billy Goats which can have a pungent smell. De-sexing also improves their temperament and makes them easier to handle. There were a few female goats amongst the herd however they are smaller and eat less, and therefore consume the weeds slower than the larger males. There were also a small number of pale coated Angora goats amongst the herd - these were animals which had been abandoned pets and were taken on by Elisabeth in order to provide them with a home. They have long coats which require regular shearing and are more prone to getting stuck in thorns, re-enforcing the Boers as the more suitable breed.
The primary weed species on the farm are Blackberry, Stinging Nettle, Lantana and Fireweed. The goats were used in an area of the farm that was overgrown primarily with Blackberry, though Fireweed and Lantana were present along with other miscellaneous weeds. It should be noted that the use of goats for clearing Lantana should be done on a case by case basis as some forms can cause toxic shock. When Goats clear these weeds their gut has the ability to breakdown and destroy the seeds of the plant meaning they do not pass through the animals system and re-germinate in their dung. This also eliminates the danger of seeds being spread between properties.
Whilst the goats consume most of the Blackberry plant they do not eat the root stock or the very thick woody stems of the plant. As such Elisabeth removes these by hand and also helps the goats by opening up the very thick tangles to allow them access to more vegetation.
The re-planting of the gully is one of the first steps in reclaiming the natural watercourse and re-establishing the native plant life. This will encourage wildlife back to the property and improve its overall long term health and productivity.