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Thomas Foods heads to back of Bourke for goats


Adelaide-based Thomas Foods International has purchased a mothballed processing plant in outback New South Wales to ramp up its goat meat production.

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The Darling River Goat Exports plant opened in Bourke in January 2019 but was closed by its original owners in May that year, citing challenges including seasonal conditions at the time.

TFI has acquired the plant for an undisclosed sum and plans to upgrade the small stock abattoir before reopening next year.

Better known for its beef and lamb, the company says it expects to employ more than 120 staff at the expanded goat facility.

Australia’s goat meat production reached 31,413 tonnes in 2017 before falling to 22,381 in 2019 and 15,521 last year. It is on track to reach close to 20,000 tonnes this year as the national herd rebuilds.

About 90 of all Australian goat meat is exported, with up to two-thirds of it going to the United States.

Victoria is the biggest goat producing state, followed by Queensland, SA, NSW and WA.

TFI has processed goats at its Lobethal plant in the Adelaide Hills for many years and has more recently established goat production at its Tamworth plant in New South Wales.

The Bourke plant is set to significantly boost its goat production capability.

Thomas Foods International Livestock Manager Paul Leonard said the facility would likely begin processing skin-on and skin-off goats from around mid-2022.

“We see very strong potential in this facility to service local farmers and create employment opportunities in the region,” he said.

“Thomas Foods International has a reputation of making significant continuous investment in our operations across Australia and we will bring the same approach to Bourke.

“We are looking to make a range of capital improvements to the site over the coming months including the addition of freezing and rendering facilities.”

Australia’s feral goat herd is in the millions but has been depleted in recent years because of management programs and unfavourable weather events such as drought and fire.

However, the national herd is rebuilding as farmers become more selective and adopt more traditional “behind wire” operations on fenced farms in the eastern states.

The price of goat meat is also on the rise, increasing from a wholesale carcass weight price of about $5.56 per kilogram in 2016 to about $8.51 this year.

“We’ve also seen more female goats retained to assist with breeding rates,” Leonard said.

“At the same time, the market conditions are favourable. Goat is one of the most widely-eaten proteins in the world.

“We maintain a positive market outlook with strong demand from customers across the globe from Asia to North America and the Caribbean.

“We’re confident the Bourke plant will become a successful long-running operation for the region.”

Thomas Foods International is Australia’s largest 100 per cent family-owned red meat processor with operations across Australia and in key international locations.

Its Australian meat processing plants include sites at Lobethal, Tamworth and Stawell in Victoria. TFI’s new meat processing facility in Murray Bridge is under construction with stage one expected to be finished in late 2022.

It replaces the company’s original Murray Bridge plant that was destroyed by fire in 2018.

TFI has an annual turnover of more than $2 billion, employs 3000 people globally and exports about 80 per cent of mainly beef and lamb production into 80 export markets.

It also owns subsidiary companies located in Asia, Europe and the United States, where it operates a state-of-the-art foodservice and storage facility in New Jersey.

Thomas Foods International was ranked No. 14 in InDaily’s 2021 South Australian Business Index of the state’s 100 largest companies.

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