Integrated feral goat control
In Victoria feral or wild populations of goats (Capra hircus) are declared as established pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994.
Under the 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.
Feral goats adversely affect pastures, crops and native vegetation by overgrazing. Overgrazing often leads to erosion and results in the sedimentation of waterways.
Feral goats also pose a biosecurity risk, acting as potential vectors for many livestock diseases.
Before designing your feral goat control program, it is important to understand feral goat behaviour and characteristics.
Managing feral goats on your property
Points to remember:
- Control feral goats before they cause pasture or crop losses and vegetation 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
Planning can maximise the effectiveness of feral goat control while minimising damage to other animals. Consider goat density, distribution and the habitat in which the feral goats are living as this will determine what actions are appropriate. The following steps will help in planning.
Coordinate with your neighbours
The best results are achieved where neighbours conduct simultaneous feral goat control across a landscape, rather than just on individual properties. Work on your property can be undermined by the inactivity of your neighbours. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group to work out a plan for coordinated action.
- Identify feral goat feeding and refuge areas in and around your property. Map these areas for future reference. Feral goats are often found on rocky outcrops, steep slopes, thick vegetation, gullies and ravines. They are most active during the day and rest at night in high or difficult-to-access areas. Goats can also be found in rangeland country.
- 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 the impact of feral goats on your property. This will be used to measure the effectiveness of your control programs against those impacts 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 monitoring on an ongoing basis to detect and 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 to meet that aim. Eradication may not be possible in all areas and feral goats will require ongoing maintenance to manage the population at low levels.
Use all the tools
Effective feral goat management utilises all the available control measures that are suitable on your property. Every individual feral goat should be exposed to as many different control measures as possible. making your property a feral goat unfriendly environment.
You will need to consider seasonal movements of feral goats and access to areas where feral goats are feeding and living. Feral goat home ranges can vary from one square kilometre when water and food are abundant to 600 square kilometres where resources are scarce. In drier times, feral goats often congregate around water sources making mustering, trapping or shooting more efficient.
Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program.
- 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 monitoring on an ongoing basis. When you see signs of feral goat activity, implement control actions immediately.
Remember, feral goat control is time-consuming and there is no quick-fix solution.
There are a range of parasites and diseases that may provide some small level of feral goat population control in Australia. However, these control agents do not have a large enough effect to provide any significant benefit. New biological control agents are unlikely to be released for the control of feral goats.
This involves constructing a fence 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 as once a breakthrough occurs, a 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 long-term, broad-scale control unless it is used as part of an integrated management approach. Due to the high reproductive capacity of feral goats, population numbers are likely to recover to original densities after only a few years following most shooting campaigns.
Ground shooting of feral goats is the most common form of shooting. However, it is highly labour intensive and is usually opportunistic and uncoordinated. Ground shooting is unlikely to reduce the goat population enough to reduce their impacts unless the shooting is carried out in a coordinated fashion at a landscape scale. Where small isolated populations of feral goats exist, a coordinated ground shooting campaign may provide a useful management tool.
Aerial shooting of feral goats from a helicopter has become a common population control technique as feral goats often live in steep rocky terrain. Shooting feral goats from the air is suitable for covering large areas where feral goat densities are high. It is also highly target-specific, humane and cost effective where the terrain is suitable to detect and target goats and when shooting is carried out by an appropriately trained and skilled operator.
Aerial shooting is not cost-effective in low-density infestations due to the difficulty in finding widely distributed animals, nor is it suitable for areas 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 the aid of dogs, motorbikes, helicopters or from traps placed around waterholes has become a popular way of managing feral goats. Mustering is only effective in range-land situations with a high goat density.
Mustered feral goats can then be commercially sold to recoup lost production due to feral goat impacts and the cost of muster. 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 when their numbers are concentrated around water points. Trapped feral goats may then be transported for sale or humanely destroyed on site.
Well-designed traps can be feral goat-specific, allowing access by feral goats but preventing access to non-target species. While there are a range of trap designs, traps generally consist of a high sturdy fence around a water supply that has a one-way entrance or ramps.
The climbing and jumping ability of feral goats can be exploited by constructing a trap entrance that requires feral goats to climb or jump into the trap and are then unable to escape. Trapping requires considerable time and cost for construction and ongoing maintenance of traps.
To comply with animal welfare legislation, traps must be checked at a maximum interval of 48 hours to minimise the time that trapped feral goats or non-target species are held.
Trapping has several animal welfare implications. Anyone considering trapping should read Humane Vertebrate Pest Control.
Other management techniques
Feral goats rely on stock watering points in many drier parts of Australia. Restricting feral goats from gaining 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