HELEN Darlington always knew she would wind up working with animals, but it wasn't until she was charged with the welfare of a small flock of goats at Gatton's University of Queensland campus that she finally found her calling.
Mrs Darlington grew up on a grain and cattle farm in Millmerran before her parents picked up and moved to Highfields, downsizing their enterprise.
These days they all work together between the Highfields block and Yarrabee, a 200ha farm comprised of a boer goat stud, dorper sheep and about 90 head of cattle.
Like many farmers these days, Mrs Darlington decided diversifying was the key to having enough flexibility to keep things running even during lean times.
She said this season had been one of the most challenging for some time.
After downsizing the herd due to the incredibly hot and dry summer season, the rains finally came and a gamble to get some spring lambs ready luckily paid off.
She said it was the kind of season that had you shaking your head in despair one moment and then cheering your good luck the next, but fortunately it had all worked out for the best.
"At the moment we run about 350 sheep and goats, but that number will double with kidding and lambing." she said.
"These are all pure dorpers for the breeding stock side of it, but we also have cross breeds for meat.
"With the goats we have red and standard and we breed them separately."
She said the only reason the boer goat stud survived through years of lean times was her love of the herd, which she couldn't bear to part with.
She fell in love with them when they were still relatively new in Australia back in 1996 and started up her stud soon after, while demand was outstripping production in Australia.
But soon enough, like with many booming agricultural enterprises, lean times hit and many growers sold their flocks.
Between predators and poor prices, the lack of producers looking for breeding stock was all but dried up
Mrs Darlington just about reached the end of her tether when it came to the Yarrabee boers, but after a night of soul searching decided she couldn't live without her precious flock and would do what she had to in order to keep it.
She branched out into dorpers to keep the coffers ticking over and maintained her little goat flock.
It was another gamble that more than paid off for Yarrabee, with recent prices for good goat meat well outstripping lamb.
She said between a growing demand in the domestic immigrant market coupled with a growing acceptance of more traditional Australian residents for good goat meat and a never-ending export demand for it, people were now prepared to pay more.
"Boers went through a bit of a lull for a while because people didn't care so much about quality or weight and there were plenty of ferals around," Mrs Darlington said.
"But now people are wanting to get the extra weight on them.
"Feral goat was better than no goat, but now it's better with the heavier goats because an extra 5kg can be worth nearly $40, which is nearly what you would have got for an entire goat a few years ago."
So with end prices up, demand for breeding stock went up as well and the little flock was once again a profitable part of the farm ledger.
She said predators were still an issue, but less so since they bought two maremmas to guard the flock.
The rollout of cluster fencing out west also increased demand for breeding stock, with many producers finally feeling confident enough to rebuild their herds after extensive losses.
Soon enough, maremma breeding turned into its own sideline enterprise and Mrs Darlington said her sheep and goat customers quite often ended up walking away with a puppy or two.
If that wasn't enough in the way of diversification, Mrs Darlington also runs sheep and goat courses for producers wanting to learn a bit before buying their own flock.
She said it was one of the clearest indicators of the growing demand for goat meat.
"The demand for information now is phenomenal," Mrs Darlington said.
"The dairy here turns into a classroom two or three weekends a year, and we do the theory in there and then come out here for the practical.
"They're paying clients and the demand for that is an example of how the industry has boomed.
"Back In 2013 I got three people for this course and wondered whether it was worth doing it, but the course I have coming up at the end of the month has 13 people booked and a waiting list as well."
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