Snowing in New Mexico

I’m now in Taos New Mexico with a couple of free days to explore and make my way up to Denver Colorado.
My visit with Bud and Eunice Williams in Bowie Texas was one of those landmarks in my life I guess. I went with them to the Waurika cattle sales in Oklahoma (tick another state off) where they bought about 60 head of cattle that were sent onto Kansas for either calving out or feeding. Bud is 78 this year and as he says, “we got no bisiness doing this, but it gets us outta’ the house.” Got to love them. I visited with them to learn more about keeping our goats in a mob to help with moving paddocks, and when I left, Bud said to remember one thing, “it is possible.” I know he was talking about a whole lot more than working livestock and it was just what I needed to hear at the moment.
From Bowie I drove over to New Mexico and visited the Corona Range and Livestock Research Centre with Andres Ciblis and Dean Anderson. Dean has been working on Directional Virtual Fencing and multi species bonding. He has spent a bit of time in Australia working on virtual fencing and I think would come back at the drop of a hat. Rather than relying on shocks for a virtual fence, Dean has gone towards voice cues that after some training enable calling the livestock home when needed, I could use that at home! Andres is an associate professor in animal and range sciences with New Mexico State University and a native of Argentina. He has been working on targeted grazing of small ruminants to control juniper encroachment in rangelands and has some really interesting results, the main thing that stood out to me though was the compounding production increase achieved through high intensity small ruminant grazing combined with rest and large ruminant grazing as compared to herbicide application to eradicate juniper. They were terrific hosts and I’m grateful for their  willingness to share their time and knowledge with me.
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My next stop was due to be Colorado but that meeting has fallen through so I have a few days to explore the area before I fly out to LA on Monday.
I drove up to Santa Fe and stayed at the Silver Saddle Motel, it was a great little place and a welcome break from the soul less motel chains I’ve been staying in. Santa Fe is really beautiful, all adobe Mexican style buildings set down in an arid valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I drove up to the ski area this morning and walked for miles through the snow which helped to clear my head a bit.
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I drove up to Taos this arvo via the backroads which my GPS didn’t even recognize, but it was a great trip through snowy pine forests and cold little villages of crumbling mud brick buildings. It’s snowing now here in Taos and I’m hoping the road will be OK for me to get out tomorrow. I’m enjoying this going where the wind blows after weeks of scheduled meetings and booked accommodation.

Bigger than Texas?

The trouble with being a born mimic is that it is very hard to contain, however, it has its advantages and allows me to pass as a local when I need to. Darwin worked out that it was the individuals that could adapt that survived. I’m surviving in Texas.

I’ve had a terrific host here at San Angelo in John Walker from the Texas A & M University. He has organised a great tour of the area for me and lined up visits with really interesting people. I like the term “visiting” which means meeting and discussing something of interest to both parties. In Australia, we don’t really have a similar term but might say; “meet up and have a chat” which is not nearly as efficient as “visiting,” think I might hang onto that term.

John’s current project at A & M is the development of a genetically selected “Super Juniper Eating Goat.” Juniper or Cedar (Juniperus Ashei) is a problem woody weed here in Texas, it’s an evergreen plant that reminds me a little of our White Cypress that gives producers around Nyngan and Cobar such a hard time. It can dominate a landscape and sap all the water and nutrient, turning productive grasslands into thick scrublands. Goats will eat the new growth on Juniper plants and suppress its growth. The Super Juniper Eating Goat experiment has used Faecal NIRS (the analysis of faeces using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy) to identify goats that consume a large proportion of cedar and those that consume smaller amounts. These have been selectively mated and continued Faecal NIRS will determine if that trait is genetically passed onto the offspring or if diet selection is a learned behaviour. Pretty interesting stuff to those of us faced with woody scrub encroachment on our grasslands.

Faecal NIRS is becoming more commonly used in northern Australia to better time feeding of mineral supplements for cattle. It has the potential to make fodder utilisation more efficient and save producers money by avoiding feeding out supplements when it’s not necessary. It’s not available for goats yet in Australia but is starting to be talked about in the sheep industry. It’s just one more way we can increase our efficiency by moving from subjective to objective measurement and management.

Gee that was boring for all of you not interested in livestock management.

John took me to visit with Llano River goat producer David Whitworth. This was a terrific visit, David is a straight talking mountain of a man with a good sense of humour and a likely immigrant to Australia after discussing land prices. He breeds Spanish Blood Goats which are much like our rangeland goats, and were once America’s feral goat so probably have a similar genetic background. David has taken over the breeding operation from his uncle and aunt Robert and Doris Kensing. We visited with Robert and Doris and I was really impressed with the fantastic state of their pasture. When I asked Robert the secret he said that it was not having to make a living out of the pasture.


Essentially that seems to be the case everywhere I’ve gone in Texas. Around here ranchers typically derive more than half their gross income from hunting and oil and gas production. In my view this has let to inefficiencies in their livestock production systems that we wouldn’t get away with in our part of the world. On average I estimate that they gross around three times as much for their goats as what we do, our herd sizes are probably 20 times as large on average (at a guess) and our inputs are probably less/herd. In other words, their production costs almost eat up all of their gross and this is buffered by outside income. Visiting with another producer yesterday, he made the comment that ranch life as they know it is probably nearing the end of it’s life, and I’d have to agree, but the danger of change is that it well may push people out of rural areas.

A highlight of my visit has been visiting with Dr Charles (Butch) Taylor at the AgriLife Research  Station at Sonora. Butch is a wealth of knowledge on range management and prescribed goat grazing in semi arid lands. I could follow him around for a month pestering him with questions and still only scratch the surface of his knowledge. He is an advocate of burning of scrublands followed by goat grazing to control brush regrowth. This is something I’ve been turning over for a while and always worried about the loss of precious organic matter from the soil surface so it was great to see the high retention of organic matter in burned areas here at the research station.
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I really loved Sonora, reminded me of Bourke but with traffic lights. It was 70 degrees one day and 30 the next following a hail storm that left ice banked up on roof tops and the side of roads up on the plateau.

I head over to Bowie Texas tomorrow to visit with Bud and Eunice Williams and travel with them to a cattle auction in Oklahoma. They’ve done a lot of work with stockmanship, marketing and herding and I’m hoping they have a high tolerance for questions.

From there it’s over to New Mexico then up to Colorado. Driving is certainly a challenge and I’ve banned myself from night time driving after 3 episodes that found me on the wrong side of the road, I guess it’s all part of the experience.
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Conference, Pennsylvania and Tennessee

Just arrived in Texas to some sunshine.


The Nuffield contemporary scholars conference was a lot of fun (God bless the Irish.) There were some interesting and some controversial speakers there, thankfully interspersed with some farm visits to keep us grounded. Visiting with both an Amish farmer and an intensive dairy provided some variety to say the least. Seeing calves penned up unable to run and kick up their heels left me with a stone in my guts though, guess I just don’t have the stomach for much more than extensive agriculture.

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We were invited to visit the Canadian embassy where a “proper flash” feed was put on, bit of a relief (particularly for the French contingent) after a diet of fat, cheese and sugar. The bison was a hit, as was the beer.


After the conference I flew down to Nashville Tennessee and stayed with renown American Kiko goat producer Dr An Peischel. An lives about an hour out of Nashville in a fantastic house made of huge slabs of timber in the late 1800’s I think.  Upon arriving she told me the house rules, “if you don’t know where it is, find it. If you still can’t find it, try harder.” Her goats were kidding and it was an experience to see another side of production with data being collected on each animal. While I was there An’s 30,000th kid was born which was cause for some celebration. An breeds registered breeding animals and has collected data for 25 years. The Kiko goat was established in New Zealand and looks very much like our feral goat, to be honest, I would have struggled to tell them apart, which tells us something about the quality of Australia’s feral goat herd and the merits of natural selection. An’s hospitality was nothing short of amazing, welcoming a strange Aussie into her home and sitting up into the wee hours with me talking goats and land regeneration.  Hopefully I’ll be able to return the favour one day.

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I had a day with Dr Richard Browning at Tennessee State University. Richard has been doing some work testing goat breeds for productivity and had some surprising results. One that would interest most goat people is that even though the Boer goat and subsequent crosses scored highly in the visual muscle score, they actually scored the lowest in actual carcass yield.

According to Richard the US goat industry has grown by 627% over the past 20 years with a corresponding increase in goat meat imports, mainly from Australia. Richard and his wife Maria took me to a Jamaican restaurant for lunch, yep, Australian curried goat. We also found some bags of skin on, bone in, cubed goat meat from Western Exporters, an abattoir not far from home, selling in a local ethnic supermarket for $8/kg.

Richard was also performing what he called an extreme stress test, which I don’t think the animal welfare authorities would let us get away with in Australia. Basically the goats are run in a wet area and data collected on parasite infestations and foot rot incidences, enabling goats to be selected for genetic traits that enable them to live in a cold wet climate. The natural attrition rate was pretty high, particularly among the Boers, so much so that he was needing to source more goats.

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At the university they had some of the famous “fainting goats” (myotonic.) These goats go into a state of paralysis under stress, resulting in muscle stimulation that increases muscle size and density. They are tiny little goats though and quite a sad looking animal, wouldn’t last too long at Wanaaring.


I had a great day yesterday visiting with a couple of Tennessee farmers Bill Legg and Greg Brann. We had a look around Greg’s farm and like a true Aussie I was most impressed with his water supply. It’s wet country when you can push a piece of PVC pipe into the side of a hill with a spring in it and feed a water trough, unbelievable. Greg has a spring fed “blue pond” on his place. Water travels under pressure through limestone rock layers from a creek to bubble up in a spring at the rate of 30,000 to 50,000 gallons/minute. Ahh the water…

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I kick off my Texas tour tomorrow with a visit to the A & M University at San Angelo, was supposed to go this arvo but need a catch up 1/2 day to get in contact with everyone at home where things are not as good as they could be. Keeping in contact has certainly been difficult with time zone differences, phone and internet problems and a schedule as only Colonel Geltch could deliver.



My thoughts have been with everyone back in Wanaaring who’ve had the Paroo River come and visit big time, thank you Queensland! I wish I was there to see it, make sure you take plenty of photos for me. wanaaring-flood1.jpg

Washington DC

I’ve had a few days here in the capitol before the conference gets underway. I’ve walked around the whitehouse, capitol hill and the pentagon not to mention spent a heap of time amongst the Smithsonian Museums. Everywhere I go the people are incredibly friendly and polite, and we could learn a bit from them. Actually I reckon we could exchange skills; Americans could teach us about hospitality and we could teach them about beverages, (coffee, tea and most importantly BEER!)

This is certainly a place where people take themselves very seriously which, as a generally apathetic Aussie I really noticed. It’s obvious in the grandeur of the buildings on Capitol Hill, the heavy security presence at the Capitol and the enthusiastic rendition of the American Anthem at the ice hockey game tonight. We really are a fairly cruisey lot.

Nuffield Contemporary Scholars Conference kicks off tomorrow. I’m very jetlagged and haven’t slept for more than 2 hours at a time in the last 4 days so hoping I can pull my head together tomorrow.
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Pinch Me!!!

OK, here goes the first post of my travels. I better just clarify the reasoning behind the name of this blog site. In my final interview for the Nuffield scholarship after eloquently describing my industry, study topic and business, I blundered around and dug a big hole with a heap of mumblings when asked about myself. Desperately trying to dig my way out I said, “We’re just a mob of bloody goat catchers.” OMG! Truth comes out under pressure apparently. (for those that don’t know, I’m talking about mustering feral goats.)

I’m in Washington DC after flying from Adelaide, a distance of 16,745 sky kilometres. I’m meeting up with the other scholars on Saturday for the Contemporary Scholars Conference where we’ll chew the fat on global agricultural issues and visit some farms in Pennsylvania. Then I’ll spend a few weeks touring research stations, universities, producers and importers across Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Los Angeles.

Then it’s back home to do some work before heading off again for 6 weeks in September/October to circumnavigate the globe with 5 other scholars, then back again until early next year when I really get into the nitty gritty of it and go to China, Africa and the USA again. In between all that, I’m taking a flight to Malaysia with some goats and hopefully travelling in Mongolia helping with rangeland monitoring and interviewing herders of goats and sheep in the Gobi desert.

The flight from LA to DC today was fantastic with really good visibility until Kansas (Toto are we still in Kansas?) It was amazing to see the snow on the edge of the desert, fly over the Rio Grande and that arid Arizona and New Mexico country. I will be driving from Texas up through New Mexico to Denver Colorado in a few weeks, I hope there is still some snow about then. There was plenty here in DC tonight on the side of the road and pushed up in mounds at the airport. That biting cold wind was refreshing after being cooped up on a plane.

I’ve got a meeting with Meat and Livestock Australia’s North American branch tomorrow so I better get some shut-eye. Here’s a few pics of the family get together in Adelaide before I left, the great season at home, more rain shots Dunc just emailed through from today and one iPhone shot from out of my window in New Mexico I think.

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