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Bales Goats Exclusive: Official Interview with Garrick Batten

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  • 27 min read

Lucas Bales: There. hey, there! How are you doing today.

Garrick Batten: Doing good today.

Bales: Good! Good! Alright.

Batten: How’s the summer treating you?

Bales: Oh, it’s been good just I got back to college for the semester. And so we’re just getting cranked up with that over here. I go to school up here in more middle Tennessee.


Batten: Okay. okay. Well, do you know much about New Zealand farming?

Bales: I do not.


Batten: Okay. Let me let me give you a little rundown, because it’s like it’s important to understand that to understand about Kiko goats. New Zealand farmers are unsubsidized for a start. So the whole farming business is based around minimizing costs because we’re an we’re an export nation. We produce enough food for 40 million people. But there’s only 5 million here. So we’re entirely dependent on the prices we can get for products. meat and fiber and dairy products in other markets. And they they can be. They’re influenced by all sorts of other factors that are outside air control. So the whole driver of New Zealand farming decision making is all about reducing costs. So we we developed Kiko goats, not as a meat goat but as a weed control goat. And that’s what it’s which is.

Bales: So for you, they aren’t meat?


Batten: Yeah. So we call them in New Zealand. We call them pastoral goats. And they’re there to eat weeds, which reduces the cost of chemicals we control and the environmental aspects and the health and safety aspects of putting on chemicals on hill country, because we’re dealing with hill country right? So this is this is land that you can’t get a tractor on. And that’s 60% of New Zealand farms lay. Farmland is land. You can’t get a tractor on. So this is the area that the goats were developed for, just as as it was on their own farm. And so the goats were developed to do that. And to also help the pasture control, because because the goats were eating from the top. Down in a pasture they eat the grass tops and leaves the clover. The clover helps produce the nitrogen to grow the grass. So that’s what that’s about. And and at the end point is meat. It’s not a meat goat. The the end point is meat. And the point here is that we get. I’m trying to put this into US. Dollar terms. But we get about $2 American a kilogram for carcass meat. So let’s say about $4, $4.20 a kilo, a kilogram live rate. So it’s about $9 a pound live right?

Bales: Yeah, see, that’s what is the difference between like you said, you develop them as brush goats there, but then like, here, we look at them, and we think the Kiko breed, is just a meat goat. Here, that’s what it is. Here. It’s just a hardy meat goat is what it’s used for primarily.


Batten: And that’s what the guys who bought the herd and took them to Americas sold it as, a meat goat because they recognized the market wasn’t as a weed control goat. Back in the 1990s it was as a meat goat, and it was also going to appeal to the American structure of the goat industry, which is largely small farms interested in shows and pedigrees, and all that sort of stuff which doesn’t apply in New Zealand. We don’t show goats. We don’t have breed societies. It’s all about dollars at the gate. And and that’s what drives it. So as long as you understand, that was the background to developing the goats. And that’s why we focused on animals which didn’t need their feet trimmed, which didn’t need as much drenching, at least, which had a high reproductive rate. But to make the meat aspect wasn’t important. It didn’t matter, because we get the same price for goats, which is 8 kg to 20 kg, carcass weight. So whatever that is and found terms. Yeah, so it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether small ones or big ones, the same price, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re fat or thin. Animals that you would call feeder goats, we get the same price. As for grade, when prime, goats go on the market, so that’s not the focus. The focus is animals which eat weeds and produce lots of kids and survive. So that’s what it’s about.


Bales: That’s really cool. Yeah, very interesting. Cause like, I’ve read up on kinda the whole deal and different articles about how your Kiko breed was developed. And it’s so funny because the way it is on your website, which is obviously going to be more accurate because it’s from the direct source. But these other articles I read it almost sounds like you did and made it hunger games, basically. But then, like reading like your process online and stuff, there’s a lot more care to it than the way a lot of these people make it sound and it’s just it’s a lot more organized then they make it sound. And it’s really cool kind of seeing the different perspectives on it.


Batten: That’s right. That’s right. And I went to the to the American Kiko Goat Association Conference in 1989 to talk about how we developed Kiko goats and I was rubbish out of the room because they refuse to believe what I’ve just told you because it didn’t fit what they wanted. They wanted a pedigree based system that they could believe in. And the fact is, they shouldn’t have. But they did. But that’s okay. That’s America. Okay.

Bales: You know what we’re doing so, hey? It looked like it worked out for you. So I mean, I trust how you all do it pretty well. Where I live in Tennessee, here it’s a little more redneck part of Tennessee. So we’re not that worried about it in my area as far as pedigrees and stuff we look at more similarly to how you described it. But then, like you go most places in the United States, it’s just like you said. It’s there’s all about those pedigrees. And that means there’s more money to be made with the pedigrees, if I like. Because I’m getting into the registered LaManchas a little bit. That temperament and that breed, and I know somebody who raises them. And so I can get some good stock that I just know what I’m buying pretty much with them. But then on the other hand, like, I really don’t like for me personally, I could care less if it’s registered. I use it for brush goats, kind of like, how you guys do.

Batten: Okay, well, that’s interesting that these 2 systems are just so different. But I get to get Rancher Magazine every month, and I look at the prices that people are getting and the prices they sel for semen and and the prices that go. And I just think if only.

Bales: yeah, it’s it’s wild to see how much like people ask for some of these goats. And like you said, especially like the semen alone. Tt’s crazy to think about.


Batten: Yeah. But there’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, that’s your way to make money. Well, you know, go for it and make it work for you. But yeah, so I wanted to explain you where we came from and what we’re still doing. Because that’s what our market is. It’s it’s not the meat market.

Bales: Yeah.

Batten: Okay, so we get this program. The moon shiners in New Zealand on television. You familiar with that?


Bales: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen some episodes.

Batten: Yeah. So that’s that’s the sort of country that you’re in. Is that right?

Bales: Yeah. So some of those episodes were not like that far from my area. It’s like one county over something like that. So it’s like, within 2 hours of me.


Batten: Okay. yeah. Well, the only other part I’m familiar with is, I spent some time with Anne Pichell in West Tennessee, so I’m familiar with that here. So what what got you started in this business of yours?

Bales: Yeah. So it’s kind of funny. So we’ve got an animal shelter near us that, like the county and my dad, he was on the like county government. So he was on the County Commission, and they put them on all these different like boards. And so one of them was the animal control oversight board. Well, that gets him in with the animal shelter and all that. So he took a little bit of part in, just like the organizational side of that, as far as the legality type stuff, and also he’s lived in the area his whole life, and he’s kinda got his name for himself as far as living on a farm. He’s primarily got cows is what he mainly works with. But they had a bottle baby goat that they had just somehow ended up with it. And they’re not really supposed to handle livestock. And so they kind of ask them, they’re like, Hey, could you take this goat? And he’s like, yeah, yeah, let me talk with my wife over dinner tonight. And so we were sitting there eating dinner, and he asked my mom, and he was like, what would you do if we got a goat? And she was like, I mean, we have all these other animals, like it’s one more animal. And then my dad, the next thing he said was good. She’s in the trailer outside, and pretty quickly I started taking care of the goat, and we get a couple more goats just to kind of keep it company, just because, as I’m sure you know, they’re very social animals. And my dad was like, hey, we should get a buck, so we can try to make a little bit of our money back on these goats, and then so we got a buck. We had worked it out with somebody he had done some work for to just get a buck just to use for a little bit. He bred those goats and we got some kids. And then I started looking to other ways to make money with goats, and that led me to the brush clearing, and that’s pretty much how it got started there in nutshell.


Batten: Okay, so how many goats have you got now in total?

Bales: I’ve got 23 right now and then I’ve got one that’s pregnant. So, not as big as you’ve got.


Batten: So do you have to go looking for brush control work, or do the people come to you?

Bales: A little bit of the first year it was kinda like looking around and like, especially online with the social media, and like just sharing it a lot and word of mouth locally. But then, like, now I’ve got people like messaging me and calling me. And, honestly, I’ve got people I have to turn down by the end of the summer sometimes now. So it’s interesting to see how it’s kinda taken off, cause it’s very niche kinda ordeal there.


Batten: From what I’ve read and understood, there’s some quite big operations around in the US. And Canada. I mean, one of our clients is in Canada’s got 4,000 goats on brush Control.

Bales: Which is a pretty different from me. So a lot of those ordeals, they’ll kind of franchise with like local farmers and stuff like that in different areas. But me, there’s not really any direct competition right by me. There’s one bigger company called Knox Goats. That’s not too far from me, but they they take on a lot of the further jobs in Tennessee. And so I kinda just partly from just family, everybody knows my family and stuff like that. It’s kind of been mostly locally. And so that’s where I get jobs.


Batten: Okay, okay, so you are, you able to keep your operation going throughout the year? Or do you have to do something in the wintertime. Do you get you get snow there?

Bales: We get snow over here. Normally starting in like late Novemberish and then lasting through sometime in February, just depending on the year but during that part of the year they’re kinda all home, and we’ve got a couple of different fenced in areas there that I’ve built over the past couple of years, and that’s where we put them during winter, and we kind of rotate in between those different areas just using rotational grazing.


Batten: Okay? Alright. So what sort of weeds are they eating? Mainly?

Bales: So there’s a lot of vine called kudzu in the area. The vine that ate south. So it grows like crazy. And it it’s just a big vine that goes everywhere.


Batten: Yeah, I’m familiar with that.

Bales: It’s a pain. But they eat that a lot. And then just a lot of various brush like wild blackberry and thistles and everything else pretty much that they can eat.


Batten: Okay. So what happens after the goats have been in and cleaned out the weeds, what does what does the land holder do then? Is there any sort of follow up that the landowner does after the goats are gone?

Bales: Yeah. So sometimes I’ll have people that they’ll want to back like the next year, and then so like, I’ll just get them right back on the same area, or at least the same property. It holds it for a pretty good while, but then it does eventually grow back. So they do go back and eat it a lot of times.


Batten: Okay. one of the one of the experiences we have which may or may not be relevant to what you’re doing, but most of the farmers that are using Kiko goats or any goats really for weed control have a large proportion of wether goats because you can manipulate the live weight of the animal dramatically, and when they can gain a weight, gain and lose 30% of their of their live weight over a period of year without having to worry about the hormonal effect and the reproductive rates of pregnancy and I’m able to realize that doesn’t increase the head at all, but it’s life, and it goes back to what I’m saying about you need. You know, we’re focused on something that’s simple. Low cost and simple. So wether goats are low cost once they get 2 teeth. You know, you can start to really make them do a bit of work. Yeah. And this, as I said, the price for the animals at the end doesn’t matter whether they’re one year old or 3 year-olds or 7 year-olds. The price for their meat at the end is exactly the same. So yeah, so that’s hence the focus on using wether goats.

Bales: Yeah, I’ve got one, buck. And then I’ve got I wanna say, about 6 or 7 does. And then the rest are weathers right now.


Batten: okay, I can talk goats all day. But how can I help you?

Bales: Honestly, I just wanted to kinda talk with you a little bit, and I mean a lot of the stuff you said has been really great. Next, let’s see. I guess maybe we want to talk about the Kikonui. Is that how you say it?


Batten: Alright. Kikonui know he just means better than Kiko.

Bales: Yeah. So you’ve developed those. Those have been a lot more recently there, like 2015, I think, is what it said.

Batten: Actually started in 2003. But yeah, okay.

Bales: Okay, yeah, yeah. I don’t know if you wanted to talk about those. I mean, I don’t know if there’s much you’d like to talk about there. That’s up to you on that.


Batten: Yeah. The reason we started with Kikonui is because we wanted to trademark so that we control we control the genetics because there was so much fraud that went on with the Kiko gates originally that went to America that we wanted to because we do business all over the world. We still, we don’t sell live goats anymore, because it’s too expensive to ship live goats anymore. And then particularly during Covid there were no aircraft flying, anyway, that would carry animals. So we just sell semen and embryos primarily, so primarily semen around the world. But we wanted to be able to guarantee to our clients the genetics that we were providing, which is what we do. So we we’re collecting semen. In about 6 months time, some go to Canada because they’ve decided there that they need to improve the Kiko breed in Canada by introducing some more genuine genetic bloodlines and just of their breed registry to come accomplish this. I tried to talk to the American registries, but they just don’t want to know. So that’s okay. But but if anybody wants to be running goats for what they were bred for, rather make money out of pedigrees, well, we’re always looking for clients to sell same material. Certainly none of the prices that embryos, semen sell for at the moment in America. Yeah.

Bales: Yeah. So is that kind of the main part of your market? I know you still use them for the brush clearing and stuff like that, but is that a lot of your market now is with the Kikonui semen and embryos?

Batten: Offshore. There’s not much market in New Zealand, because cashmere goats. The Cashmere industry is being reborn in New Zealand, if you like. So everybody’s interested in cashmere goats, and we know a lot about cashmere and it doesn’t suit quite a lot of the situations. But we have. We sell the bucks in New Zealand. We don’t sell does, just sell bucks or semen, but primarily the market, the money side of it, if you like, comes from from overseas sales. Yeah. And they go all around the world.

Bales: Okay, gotcha.


Batten: Some of some of them do. It’s it’s it’s a. It’s a not an easy business with dealing with overseas customers. You have to get import permits, and everybody has different conditions, and some of them are impossible, and some of them are expensive to meet, and some of them are impractical. But anyway, that’s what it’s been. Yeah.

Bales: Ok. So let’s talk about developing to keep going. What kind of traits did you kind of look at and say, this is what we want and this is what we don’t.


Batten: Did you read the bit about population genetics?

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Lucas Bales: Yeah, yeah. So I was seeing a lot of it about the less worried about like the meat, obviously. And less worry about the dairy in general, but I did see that you were like breeding with the Toggenburgs and some of the Alpines and all that introducing those when you first started developing the Kikos. But yeah, I didn’t know if you wanted to give a quick little rundown.

Batten: Kind of the thing about the population is that it doesn’t matter what the parents were. The sole measure is their performance. When you have a distribution curve of anything you’ll have the bad ones at one end and the very good ones at the other end, most of them in the middle. The key is to find the ones at the top end and breed from them, and it doesn’t matter where they’ve come from. If they’ve performed to your standards and our standards are no problems with their feet, preferably no problems with internal parasites, or at least a tolerance to internal parasites, a high reproductive rate, good mothering ability, and survivability. So animals that meet those criteria are in the top end. We’re looking for animals at the top end which have all those and we bring them together. But to do that, you need big numbers of animals because it’s all about arithmetic. It’s not about anything else. It was about arithmetic. So you’re looking at at populations and statistics. And so you’re looking for a standard deviation from the median and that sort of stuff. So to do that we have a central breeding herd. We had a central breeding herd. We had all these satellite herds that we were feeding into the central herd and the way they said it, no kids were coming into the Central. They were evaluated there. The best of them were selected went into the center, but after a while it started to get too concentrated and because all that we were working more and more closely on the better animals, and they were getting more and more related in the middle. So we saw that and we sold that to another to another farmer who had 300 breeding goats on his one farm. So that enable us to work the arithmetic on a big number of animals again. So that’s what happens. So that’s what we’re looking for. Only those survivability and performance
factors which are important to farmers here. They’re gonna be able to go out and eat weeds. Survive and produce lots of kids. That’s basically what it’s about without having to worry about them. So you know, there are, maybe babies 2 or 3 times a year.

Bales: Yeah, even in the United States that’s what the Kikos are still known for. It’s just that overall hardiness. And I mean not really needing much.

Batten: So okay, so, one of the things why we introduced the dairy breed bladed at the beginning was that the goats we started with in New Zealand, their milk supply wasn’t adequate to feed twins, so we needed to inject some dairy breed blood into the system to improve. We tried introducing bore goats, and they were a complete disaster, because under our conditions climate and contour, they they just died, basically. And we had, you know, we went backwards for a while getting rid of that. We’ve just recently looked at at introducing some more dairy breed blood, but the difficulty is finding dairy breeds which come from a farming system which is reasonably similar to the the hill country breeding system, because most of them are reasonably small herds or big commercial heads, you know. 2 or 3,000 goats kept inside a feeding system, which is not what works. So we still haven’t found suitable goats to do that. And the reason for doing that is either introduced a few more different genetics, but also because we want to sort of react it while we furbish if you like, the milk supply cause we think the milk supply could be improved more to get a better growth rate in our kids. We were dealing with small animals in our condition. The live right of the does, probably on average, maybe 80 pounds, but some of them are 50 pounds. And and so they produce small kids. So if they have twins, kids are below survival weight cause they’re all kidding outside, and they’re gonna look after themselves out there on the hills. And so somehow, we got to improve and increase the size. But we’ve also got to increase the growth rate for those kids in early life to get them into a viable state that they can handle the weather conditions. So that’s one thing that we’re thinking about. But it hasn’t happened yet. Yeah.


Bales: And it’s my understanding that you’ve written a handful of books here, too? Quite a few books about farming, and your experience with goats, too.


Batten: Yeah.


Lucas Bales: Yeah. So let’s see. How many books out do you have currently?


Batten: Well, there’s a cashmere book. There’s a simple goat book. The last one was pastoral goats, that pastoral goat farming which was trying to bring together the information that we’ve accumulated over the years. But it’s written for New Zealand conditions. I mean some words relative to to United States. But but you know, it’s like it’s written for commercial farmers who understand farming is written for New Zealand conditions. but you know, if you want a copy to have.

Bales: Awesome. Yeah. Yeah. I was looking at. There’s like just for this fact of it, just being interesting to me. I thought about maybe ordering a copy here at some point. But yeah, cause that that’s just really cool to me that obviously, you’ve done all the farming stuff. But then, like you’ve also written about it. So that’s really cool. Also, seeing like your involvement with New Zealand agriculture in general these days. And historically like, that’s just that’s really cool to me.


Batten: My, my! In my earlier life I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture as a goat advisor. So I write a lot of stuff in handout form, so it’s not in a book form, but there’s an awful lot of articles and scientific papers and contributions to conferences and handout material to offer. When I got a whole office full of it. But it’s but it’s not in book form. But yeah, yeah. Okay. would you be interested in getting some semen at some stage

Bales: Yeah. I might at some point here. Once, probably wait a little bit on it. But I’d definitely be interested in doing that obviously cause the biggest thing in my herd that I’m wanting is that hardiness. So I’d definitely be interested in getting some at some point.


Batten: Well, the thing is that the price is very much depending on the number of semen straws, because the cost, the overhead costs of quarantining, the animals doing the testing, the shipping. I mean, the tank alone. Thin, frozen nitrogen tank costs $2,000 for a start. So that doesn’t matter what one store in that door? 500, the price to ship, and then that nitrogen cost is the same, so that the value of the semen itself isn’t very high costs, so the more so I mean, if you could, if you could generate some interest and people who are not worried about pedigrees, and just want better pastoral goats that eat weeds, we’d love to. And if you wanna work on that and develop a business for yourself, I would be more than happy for you to do that.


Lucas Bales: Yeah, that’d be that’d be something awesome to look into.


Batten: Yeah. So you’re at college. Did I get to hear that at the beginning?

Bales: Yes, yes, that’s correct. This is my second year in college.


Batten: What are you studying

Bales: Business management right now.


Batten: Ok. And then say, how long is that? How long is that program?


Bales: So I’ll be in college for 4 years. I’ll also run cross country for the school. So I have to have, like a 4 year degree to be able to do that and meet NCAA factors and all that.


Batten: Okay? And then you end up with a big student loan.

Bales: Not too bad. The goats have taken care of me pretty good as far as paying for that. So I’ve got some loan money, but not like crazy crazy. So I should be able to pay it up after a year or 2 after I graduate.

Batten: So oh, wow! Oh, well, good for you.


Bales: Appreciate it.


Batten: Yeah. Good for you. Yeah. Alright. Well, Lucas, I’m happy to talk goats all day, but I don’t know what else I can say.

Bales: Yeah, I think that’s pretty much got it covered, but I sure do appreciate you.


Batten: Okay, the thing you gotta remember or keep in the back of your mind is that the when the goats Kiko goats first went to America, they were sold on a false basis. The whole flawed thing just kept expanding as people keep repeating, and it’s you know, it’s a real Chinese whispers thing. It just got worse and worse, worse and worse. And now people keep coming back encouraging things to us which are not true. But they say, well, yeah, because they’ve read about it. They’ve heard of animals. Do you see the Gout rancher magazine?

Bales: I’ve seen it before. I don’t have a subscription to it right now. But I have seen articles from them online and stuff.

Batten: There was an article in the last issue by the editor which said that the DNA of Kiko goats and Spanish goats was the same. But again it was based on a false premise to start with. So when you have a false say, you can expand all sorts of things from that which don’t make sense. You know. It was all about how the American whalers, back in the early 1800s dropped off Spanish goats on the New Zealand coast. Well, there basically weren’t any American whalers coming to New Zealand, and if they did, they didn’t liberate goats, you know, and there were plenty of goats here already from the British side of things, so I don’t know. Anyway. it’s just people make up these stories, and then they start believing them and quoting them. And it just goes bigger and bigger. And it makes good stories.

Bales: Yeah. I try to do the research and actually get the correct information, especially like right now, like, I’m getting it straight from the source, so I mean, I like that a lot better than hearsay. You know what I mean.


Batten: Yeah. Well, you know, I’ve spent over the years, probably 6 or 8 months in the States, and I’m familiar with Spanish goats, and they do look like Kiko goats, and some of the breeders particularly now they’re doing quite a lot on improving them. And that’s good because they’ve got the numbers to actually make that work. But again, it’s all focused now on a breed society, and people doing this kind of go down the same pedigree pyramid thing. Well, if that’s how you make money, that’s good. But yeah. So while I’m talking to you, there’s an awful lot of goats come on the market in Texas recently. Is that because the drought?

Bales: I believe so. I think it is because of that drought. But I’m honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I have noticed that trend as far as a lot of goats being in Texas, though.


Batten: Like I just read that before I started talking to you. I got the the San Angelo Weekly Auction Report, and they killed 4,000, or they auctioned 4,000 goats last week, whereas normally ours are operating about couple of 1,000 there. Okay, I’m about out of time.

Bales: Alright, well, it’s great to talk to you.


Batten: If you wanna talk more about goats, I’m more than happy any time.

Bales: Alright, I sure do appreciate it.


Batten: Best of luck. Have a good, have a good study today, won’t you?


Lucas Bales: Thank you. You have a good day, too.


Batten: Okay, goodbye there.