Integrated feral goat control
Under the CALP Act, all landowners have a responsibility to prevent the spread of and, as far as possible, eradicate established pest animals on their land.
Feral goats cause considerable environmental damage in Victoria by competing with native wildlife and livestock for resources, damaging habitat by overgrazing, and selectively grazing more palatable species often leading to erosion and weed invasion.
Feral goats also impact agriculture by grazing pastures and crops , competing with livestock and damaging infrastructure.
Additionally, feral goats pose a biosecurity risk, acting as potential vectors for many livestock diseases such as foot and mouth disease.
Feral goat biology and behaviour
Before designing your feral goat control program, it is important to understand feral goat behaviour and ecology. The following should be considered when designing your program:
- Feral goats are browsers that eat a range of vegetable material.
- Feral goats are highly intelligent and capable of adapting their behaviours to live in a wide range of habitats.
- Feral goats may change location and behaviour according to seasonal conditions.
- Feral goats require a reliable and adequate supply of water, food and shelter.
- Breeding can occur throughout the year in good conditions.
- Feral goats can travel long distances to find food or water or to escape hunting pressure.
See goat (feral or wild) for more information about their characteristics and behaviour.
Managing feral goats on your property
Points to remember:
- Control feral goats before they cause damage.
- Ensure your feral goat control program doesn't affect native wildlife.
- If you are planning to use traps to control feral goats – the trap specifications, trap checking times, provision of food, water and shade, and humane destruction of trapped feral goats must be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) and associated regulations. Trapping has several animal welfare implications and anyone considering trapping should read Humane Vertebrate Pest Control.
- If you are planning to use dogs for feral goat control, be mindful that there are specific requirements for the use of dogs for hunting. Under Section 28 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, a person must not set or urge a dog to attack, bite, rush at or chase any animal except when hunting in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA).
Planning your program
Good planning is essential for maximising the effectiveness of your feral goat control program, while minimising impacts on other animals. Consider goat density, distribution and the habitat to determine what control actions are most appropriate. The following steps will help in planning.
Coordinate with your neighbours
Best results are achieved when neighbours work together to control feral goats across the landscape, rather than just on individual properties.. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a plan for coordinated action.
Identify feral goat feeding and shelter areas on your property. Map these areas for future reference. Feral goats are often found around:
- rocky outcrops,
- steep slopes,
- thick vegetation,
They also frequent waterholes for drinking in hot/dry climates and are most active during the day. At night they will rest in high or difficult-to-access areas.
Feral goats can be monitored by measuring tracks and scats, using motion sensor cameras and visual counts particularly at water points in dry areas. Aerial counts can also be used in some broad-scale infestations.
Assess the risks to non-target animals when implementing shooting and trapping.
Establish a benchmark of feral goat numbers and damage before undertaking feral goat control. This will help measure the effectiveness of your control programs at a later date.
Use the information you have gained from monitoring to:
- target your control effort
- monitor the progress and success of your control program
- adapt and improve your program.
It is important to continue to monitor feral goat numbers/damage after you program has finished so you can treat any re-infestation of your property.
Aim to be feral goat free
Create a detailed feral goat management plan that has a specific aim and time-bound objectives. Eradication may not be possible in all areas, so ongoing monitoring and management is often required.
Use all the tools
Effective feral goat management requires the use of all control tools that are suited to your property. Every individual feral goat should be exposed to as many different control tools as possible to ensure those missed with one are accounted for with another. Making your property a feral goat unfriendly environment will also help prevent re-invasion and population recovery.
You must consider seasonal movements of feral goats when developing a feral goat management plan. Feral goat home ranges can vary considerably depending on resource availability. In drier times, feral goats often congregate around water making mustering, trapping or shooting more efficient.
Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program using the same methods that you used to monitor prior to undertaking any control. This will help ensure that the results are comparable and that they are an accurate representation of damage/density declines.
- Are feral goats still present?
- Are you still experiencing damage caused by feral goats?
- Is the impact of feral goats above/below acceptable thresholds?
- What is working well?
- What could be improved?
- Do you need to change your plan?
- Have you managed all the risks?
Continue to monitor feral goat numbers and damage after your control program. When you see signs of feral goat activity again, implement control actions immediately.
Remember, feral goat control is time-consuming and there is no quick-fix solution.
An integrated management approach requires the use of a number of management techniques. Some effective techniques appear below.
Exclusion fencing involves constructing a barrier around feral goat sensitive areas on your property.
Exclusion fencing is a non-lethal way of protecting high-value areas from feral goats. However, it is expensive and not practical at a large scale. Fences must be strong and high enough to exclude agile animals like feral goats that are excellent climbers and jumpers.
Unfortunately, very few fences will provide complete protection from feral goats. Fences need to be regularly checked and maintained so they can be fixed as soon as breakthrough occurs, otherwise the fence becomes ineffective.
It is best to have fences erected by experienced or professional fencers.
While shooting is the most target-specific and humane form of feral goat control, it rarely provides population level control unless it is used as part of an integrated management approach. Due to the high reproductive capacity of feral goats, their populations s can quickly recover to original densities only a few years following most shooting campaigns.
Ground shooting is highly labour intensive and usually opportunistic. However, where small, isolated populations of feral goats occur, coordinated ground shooting may be useful.
Aerial shooting of feral goats from a helicopter is also popular for managing feral goats as it is suitable for covering large areas that are often inaccessible. It is also highly target-specific, humane and cost effective where goats can be seen and when it is carried out by appropriately trained and skilled operators.
Aerial shooting is not cost-effective when feral goat numbers are low due to the difficulty in finding widely distributed animals. Its effectiveness is also reduced in habitats with closed tree canopies.
The use of firearms to control feral goats must conform to relevant firearm legislation and be integrated with other control methods.
Mustering feral goats with dogs, motorbikes, helicopters or traps around waterholes is popular for managing feral goats Because mustered feral goats are often sold to recoup lost production costs. In isolation, mustering will not provide long-term feral goat control, as populations will quickly recover.
The value of feral goats sold from muster is generally less than the lost production resulting from a feral goat infestation. Managing feral goats as a resource doesn't manage impacts, such as overgrazing and erosion.
Trapping is an effective method for managing feral goats in hot/dry climates as their numbers are often concentrated around permanent water. Trapped feral goats may then be transported for sale or humanely destroyed on site.
Feral goat traps typically allow the goats to enter but prevent them from leaving. While there are a range of trap designs, traps generally consist of a high sturdy fence around permanent water and they can have one-way entrances, ramps or both.
The climbing and jumping ability of feral goats is exploited by the ramp entrance which allows goats climb or jump into the trap to access water. Trapping requires considerable time and cost for construction and ongoing maintenance of traps.
To comply with animal welfare legislation, traps must be checked every 48 hours to minimise the time trapped feral goats or non-target species are held.
Trapping has several animal welfare implications. Anyone considering trapping should read Humane Vertebrate Pest Control.
There are a range of parasites and diseases that may provide some small level of feral goat population control in Australia. However, they do not provide any significant benefit. New biological control agents are unlikely to be released for the control of feral goats as they would also likely impact the domestic goat industry.
Other management techniques
Feral goats rely on stock watering points in drier parts of Australia. Restricting feral goats access to water (when water is not required by stock) can be an effective way to control feral goat populations as part of an integrated management approach.
Figure 1 courtesy of Neil Schultz
Figures 3, 4 and 5 courtesy of Jason Wishart