When the Armstrong family moved from two acres in outer Brisbane to 200 acres in Central Queensland, parents Nina and Scott set their sons Clay and Zac a challenge – to put the land to good use.
The boys were given two choices; to raise and nurture either a small heard of sheep or to venture into the unfamiliar territory of goats.
“At the time I knew nothing about them, but being nine I thought, hey they sound interesting,” said Clay.
Boer goats it was.
The decision would set Clay on a unique and somewhat unexpected trajectory for a boy of his age – one that’s seen him become part of Australia’s emerging goat industry and revealed a keen interest in and aptitude for agriculture.
From 20 nannies and a billy to a 200 strong enterprise, at age 15, Clay finds himself running Barcoo Boer Goats while pursuing his passion for pasture management at school.
“We always expected it to stay at a mob of about 20, but after reaching out to our local butcher, the demand started to increase and it grew from there,” said Clay.
“I started attending all the local workshops around town, whether it was for cattle or sheep, just trying to learn more so I could apply similar practices for goats,” he said.
An invitation from Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) to attend the Goat Industry Development Group of Australia (GIDG) meeting in Adelaide followed.
“I’ve attended for two years now and you get to meet a lot of other producers from all over Australia; we essentially spend two days ‘talking goats’,” said Clay.
“It’s really interesting to hear how different people do things differently and I’ve been fortunate to learn from those who have been in the industry for a long time,” he said.
“People have been very supportive of me; they’ve always been willing to help out and give me advice along the way.”
And while he may be, by far, the youngest person in the room, Clay has proven to be an active voice and contributor.
“When at home, I used to weigh my stock every fortnight to monitor weight gains,” explains Clay.
“I started that six years ago and at the time not many people were collecting this sort of information, so I’ve got six good years of data that looks at the links between growth rates and genetics,” he said.
“It’s cool when people who have been in the industry for some time are keen to hear more about what we’re doing too.”
Clay’s experience is clearly unique; his story made possible by his parent’s encouragement, industry support, personal dedication and now the SCOTS PGC College Foundation, who awarded Clay a scholarship at the start of this year.
“We were thrilled when we received the news,” said Nina.
“We live too close to our local school to receive any government assistance for boarding. Naturally, living in and running our own business in a drought affected area presents its challenges and without support, sending Clay away for school may not have been possible,” she said.
“We wanted Clay to grow up experiencing the country freedoms Blackall affords, but we also wanted to provide him with an opportunity that would broaden his exposure too.
“The fact that SCOTS PGC wasn’t in the city was important to us.
“Clay needs room to move and he’s used to wide open spaces where he’s able to gather his thoughts and think things through, that’s why we chose SCOTS PGC.
“It felt like a place where Clay could not only meet new people and learn new skills but enjoy the space he’s become accustom to.”
It comes as little surprise that the chance to actively pursue his interests through the College’s agricultural program was the real appeal for Clay.
“We’re currently learning about livestock management, how to feed and tell the difference between muscle and fat,” said Clay.
“It’s also been great to attend the agricultural shows each weekend,” he said.
As Clay looks to the future, he hopes to pursue a career in agriculture with a focus on sustainable pastoral management practices.
“When it got dry at home, I really started to become aware of the need to look after your paddocks.
“Leaving stock in a paddock for too long create challenges in the long-run. Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice but it’s something I’m really passionate about and an area I’d like to explore more.”
For SCOTS PGC College Principal Kyle Thompson, Clay’s story illustrates the importance of providing pathways and the enabling nature of scholarships.
“Our agricultural program is a real strength of SCOTS PGC as is our focus on creating individual pathways,” explains Kyle.
“We want to empower our boys and girls to continuously improve, discover their passions and fulfil their potential.
“Providing experiences that excite, engage and ready students for the world that awaits is how we do just that; this is what it’s all about for us as a school.”
With the boarding house now doubling as headquarters for Barcoo Boer Goats, Clay is still very much running the business while maintaining his studies.
“Everything that Clay was doing at home, he’s now doing at school,” explains mum Nina.
“He’s on the phone to us most nights, organising hay and managing logistics; his boarding masters have been incredibly supportive,” she said.
“This whole experience has been an incredible and steep learning curve for Clay. He’s had to navigate how to manage cash flow, maintain feed in drought conditions and run a business.
“When we started with 20 goats, it was about getting the boys to take on new responsibilities and to build valuable life skills.
“Clay really ran with it and to see his passion grow has been incredibly rewarding for us as parents and for him to be able to actively maintain and build on this while at school now even more so.”