“These storms could put a bit of a spanner in the works if we get surface water lying around,” Gary says as he surveys the looming storm clouds building up above a canopy of mulga on the horizon. But for now the weather is perfect for trapping goats off the waters – it’s hot and humid and by midday every goat within cooee has made a beeline for the closest turkey-nest dam to get a drink.
In the minutes that follow, Gary drops the gears and through a film of red dust reverses ‘Goat Dog’ up to nearby Lloyd’s yard and lowers the loading ramp that butts up against the portable race. Will has started unloading the sturdy steel panels that will become a wing and force pen to load the saleable goats back to the main yards at Wynyangoo homestead. The construction of the temporary yard runs like clockwork as Gary and Will slip into that wordless manual rhythm that typifies men who have spent years working together.
The three Scott properties that stretch over 387,200 hectares in the lower Murchison have 70 yards of the same design constructed around their waters to control the movement of the Wynyangoo goat herd that replaced the sheep flock a decade ago. Will and Gary were two of the first pastoralists to embark on a managed goat operation on such a large scale in Australia. Their entire flock of 25,000 Merinos was sold in 2000 and it was without regret that they loaded the wool truck for the last time. The brothers now turn off an average of 10,000 head of goats annually, the majority of which are exported live by air freight to a hungry, goat-loving Malaysian market.
“I estimated that running sheep cost us $100,000 a year and after 10 years we got sick of that and decided enough was enough,” Will says as he wipes the sweat from his brow and glances over the sappy, multi-coloured goats that are about to be drafted.
Gary chains up the final panels as the Southern Cross windmill turns in the stifling heat. The goats are curious but clearly unaffected by the human activity around them. They move leisurely, drinking the cool, clean water from the dam that shimmers like a mirage – they have been handled before and know what to expect.
In small mobs the goats are herded into the wing and up the draft so they don’t squash up. The distinct lack of labour on the ground is obvious but not a coincidence. In a flash of faded navy blue, Gary runs the goats up towards the race while Will drafts those that are saleable from those that are undersize. It’s a job that two people could handle – a calculated management outcome that underpins a changing approach to orthodox pastoralism in the heart of what was once Merino country in the West Australian rangelands. “The goat industry is a wonderful industry to be in because I don’t need staff,” Will says as he reaches for his notebook. “I estimate my running costs have been reduced by 75 percent since converting from sheep to goats.” The last saleable goat runs onto the truck and the undersize nannies and kids are counted and released back to the country they have roamed since birth. These hardy, territorial animals will be back tomorrow to drink at the dam at first light. The figures of 107 sale goats and 180 released are pencilled in columns of Will’s notebook while Gary is headlong into dismantling the portable panels, red-hot under hardened hands.
Seconds later, Gary fires Goat Dog into life. With a wave of a hand, a smile and a rolled smoke he’s gone in a cloud of dust. Not a word is uttered, but Will knows Gary’s on his way to Wynyangoo’s Hall’s windmill, where the next trap yard is set. Each knows what the other is going to do and when it’s going to happen, well before it does.