My previous training was in agricultural science, specializing in animal production. After I finished my master’s degree, I worked for two years in poultry production, and then I moved to the Ministry of Agriculture in Lebanon, where I spent three years in the forestry department, and eight years in the animal resources department, working as an animal nutrition consultant. During all these years, I developed expertise and passion in livestock production, and a special interest in goats for both milk and meat production. I also had an increasing passion for wildlife, and issues related to biodiversity and sustainability. After coming to Australia in 2008, I worked for some time in RSPCA Australia, managing their Approved Farming Scheme, where my acquired awareness of animal welfare issues added to my previous interests. All this lead me to doing a degree in forestry, after which I started my PhD, which is a combination of my original knowledge in livestock production, notably in goats, and my interest in agroforestry, particularly the different positive effects of trees on livestock productivity and welfare, and on sustainability of animal farming.
- Graduate Certificate in Forestry, 2010. Australian National University, Fenner school of Environment and Society.
- M.Sc. in Animal Science, 1995. American University of Beirut, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.
- B.Sc. in Agriculture and Diploma of Agricultural Engineer, 1994. American University of Beirut, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences
- Australian Postgraduate Award for PhD studies 2011
- Meat & Livestock Australia Postgraduate Scholarship 2011
- Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology
- The Australian Rangeland Society
From the Rangelands to the Tablelands: farming goats in an integrated silvopastoral system in high rainfall areas
Goats were introduced to Australia with the first fleets, and many flocks have subsequently been released in the wild for multiple reasons. Generations of interbreeding between released animals have led to the current Australian Rangeland goat, a remarkably hardy animal that is adapted to the often-harsh conditions of the rangelands. Goats are now a permanent feature of Australia’s pastoral areas and rangelands, and their complete eradication is not feasible. Their population size was recently estimated at 2.6-4 million animals, covering 28% of the country, mainly concentrated in western New South Wales, southern Queensland, eastern South Australia and Western Australia.
It has been argued that goats have a detrimental impact on agriculture and the environment, and add to the total grazing pressure in pastoral regions. This is mainly due to their exceptional physiological and behavioral characteristics, which distinguish them from cattle, sheep and native herbivores. In fact goats are classified in the literature as generalist herbivores, and thus differ from sheep and cattle by their ability to browse, their relatively high tolerance for tannins and other secondary compounds in woody plants, dietary flexibility, digestive and metabolic efficiency, and drought tolerance. Many strategies are currently implemented to control goats, such as fencing, mustering and harvesting, trapping, and aerial shooting. While public and government perception of goats differ between states and territories, most Australians generally consider them as pests.
At the same time, rangeland goats present a valuable asset for the growing Australian goat meat industry. Goat meat is the highest consumed red meat on the planet. Australia leads the world in goat meat exports, and this is important in light of the increasing global and local demand. Harvested free-range animals provide 90% of the product, while only 10% come from farmed goats. The industry realizes the need to ensure a more sustainable supply in order to meet this growing demand. In fact, recent figures show that the supply is already short of the demand, and Australia needs to take measures if it is to remain the leading goat meat exporter. These measures include increasing the size of domestic goat production to ensure a consistent supply throughout the year, and continuously improving goat farming practices.
My research reviews and analyses all these issues. It examines the impediments that challenge the growth of the goat meat industry and explores opportunities for its improvement. I am developing a scenario model of goat farming in silvopastoral systems in high rainfall areas, where trees and shrubs are planted primarily for their ecosystem services, such as the provision of wildlife corridors, shelter for animals, and protection against erosion. Within this context, goats would add value through their ability to consume forage from trees and shrubs, which means that, under proper management, they can be added to the system without competing with existing livestock. The Southern Tablelands of New South Wales will be used as a case study. I argue that farming goats in these systems will allow the industry to increase its current 10% supply from farmed goats to more sustainable levels, consequently I demonstrate that goats in silvopastoral systems will also provide ecosystem services, either directly by assisting in the control of woody weeds if needed, or indirectly, as a component of the whole farm ecosystem, through the provision of their highly valuable meat to local ethnic communities from Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Asian origins.
- El Hassan M., 2010. The importance and benefits of shelterbelts for grazing livestock: a review. Australian National University, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Independent Research Project Paper (Unpublished).
- El Hassan M., 2010. Goat meat production: an alternative industry in the Australian rangelands - Characteristics, prospects and challenges. Australian National University, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Special Topic Paper (Unpublished).
- El Hassan M., 1995. Nutritive quality and availability of Lebanese rangelands for grazing sheep and goats. American University of Beirut, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences. M.Sc. thesis (Unpublished).