The Kimberley’s biggest flock of goats and lambs has been very busy keeping multi-million dollar Indian sandalwood plantations free of invasive weeds in the Ord Irrigation Scheme this wet season.
- Silvopasturalism is the practice of integrating forestry with the grazing of livestock
- A Kimberley sandalwood producer has traded in weed pesticides for hungry goats
- Santanol hopes the trial can be expanded to cater for up to 5,000 goats
Silvopasturalism – the practice of integrating forestry with the grazing of livestock – is not a new concept in agribusiness.
But Santanol’s trial is thought to be a first for the Australian sandalwood industry and has helped to drastically reduce chemical usage, as well as delivering significant savings for the company.
“In mahogany they often use cattle, but obviously cattle are a bit too big for our smaller trees, so we’ve got the goats in here doing the same job,” operations manager Mitch Firth said.
“It has been 15 months without any herbicide or insecticides in these paddocks.
“We’re finding there’s some real benefits other than weed control — we’re able to irrigate more regularly, and it’s also meaning we’re getting healthier trees which are more resilient to pest and disease attack.”
No holidays, no overtime
Mr Firth said the 650 goats, kids and lambs that grazed the plantations every afternoon played a crucial role protecting the company’s valuable forestry assets from being smothered by damaging vines.
“We’ve had some recent rain, so the weeds are growing really rapidly,” he said.
“If the vine is left there for a long period, it will actually kill the tree.
“If we can’t get a tractor in there over the wet, we’re putting people into some pretty weedy plantations, so it’s a safety benefit as well.
“These guys work on public holidays, no overtime, the induction process is very quick we don’t have to put high-vis on them either.
Unusual Kimberley livestock
Kununurra’s cutest farmhands belong to a flock owned by Kimberley goat breeder Barry Lerch.
Mr Lerch initially started with a flock of less than 24 stud goats and has slowly built up his numbers.
“Originally in 2003 I bought some goats up from Perth, which are very different to the goats I work with today,” he said.
“There’s not many of them around — I’ve picked up all that I can across the whole of the Kimberley, I’ve driven as far as Derby to pick up around 20 goats.
“This herd is only as big as it is today because they’re constantly having kids.
Mr Lerch said he had started breeding and training guardian dogs to protect his goats and lambs from dingoes.
He said the maremma breed, with its natural instinct to protect small livestock, acted as a live-in nanny for the flock.
Silvopastoral trial to expand
Mr Firth said Santanol had been running the trial across several of the company’s plantations in Kununurra for three years.
“We’re ready to expand, but it’s quite difficult to source animals,” he said.
“There’s no small animal industry in the north-west, so we’re sort of pushing into new ground here,” he said.
“We might try to source more animals, probably out of the Carnarvon region — it really is just a bit of a trial at the moment.
“We need to extend this out to make some significant difference.”
Santanol is the world’s second biggest producer of Indian sandalwood and completed its biggest commercial harvest in Kununurra last year.
The oil from the 2020 harvest will be distilled and refined over the next 12 months at the company’s facility in Perth.
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