After four decades of grazing sheep on his family's Belmont Station at Silverton near Broken Hill, John Blore says the golden fleece of merinos have become something akin to fool's gold.
Now he's poised to do the once unthinkable and abandon farming merino sheep entirely to concentrate on rearing rangeland goats.
"Goats were once considered worthless pests but we've been riding on the goat's back out here in the western division for five or six years," he says. "Revenue from goats has been the only positive income for most landholders in this part of the state."
Freely roaming feral or "rangeland" goats, as the industry prefers to call them, are a common sight for travellers beside highways and roads in western NSW.
Yet despite their ubiquity, few visitors to the outback are aware of their value in a goat export meat market, worth $182 million to the Australian economy.
For many on the land, goats have been an unlikely godsend. Beset by a prolonged drought, which has only recently been alleviated by some welcome rain, poor prices for sheep meat and wool, the impact of the pandemic and poor export prospect with China, the sale of goats has helped fund vital deliveries of hay to keep other livestock alive.
Indeed, John Blore, who one morning sent 500 rangeland goats from his Silverton "goat depot" to an abattoir in Victoria, says goat meat earns between $9 and $9.30 a kilo compared with $7 for a kilogram of lamb and as little as $5 a kilo for other types of sheep meat.
The US, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Caribbean are among the principal export markets for Australian goat producers. Goat meat's main advantage is the fact that the price, unlike for sheep meat, is not dependent on the age of the animal.
Meat & Livestock Australia says goat meat has a unique role in religious and traditional family events in many cultures and is considered suitable for slow, wet cooking methods like curries associated with Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese cuisines. In Australia, the domestic demand for goat meat remains modest.
Graziers operate on a kind of "finders' keepers" basis with free-ranging goats effectively becoming the property of the owner of land they wander onto. The goats feed on foliage from fibre-rich, low-level shrubs.
But the rangeland goat population has declined in recent times, and Blore says farmers are choosing not to muster them in order for nannies to rear their kids so that the population can be increased.
John Blore is willing to wait, confident that there's a far more golden future in goats rather than the golden fleece.
"It's going to take a good three years for wool to recover," he says. "In the meantime I'm looking to use this time to do more fencing and start breeding goats instead of merino sheep."
Anthony Dennis and James Brickwood travelled courtesy of Destination NSW. See visitnsw.com