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Beyond the Bale : March 2017
Woolgrower David Lord, who manages the family wool-growing business with his father John and son Hugh on ‘Thackaringa’, 40 kilometres west of Broken Hill, believes that removing rabbits from his property has provided the single biggest gain in feed base on his country. “Coupled with genetics, what goes into sheep’s mouths is one of the most important elements in improving flock productivity,” he says. “My gut feeling is that, in the absence of rabbits, we have increased lamb and ewe body weights, increased lambing percentages, and we are cutting more wool from our lambs and ewes.” In November 1995, RHD swept through ‘Thackaringa’, killing an estimated 750,000 rabbits, roughly equivalent to 75,000 DSE of sheep. But Mr Lord, who is the Chairman of the AWI Rabbit Advisory Group, advises farmers to not rely only on biocontrol to combat rabbits. He says other control methods such as warren ripping can have a complementary effect and result in biodiversity gains and lift livestock productivity. “RHD and myxomatosis were incredibly successful in this part of the world at knocking-back rabbits, but even at their very-much-reduced numbers they are still insidious – unseen but still dangerous. Rabbits select the best food – the fresh new shoots and plants – and eat it before you even see it. The scientific evidence of damage at low rabbit densities is irrefutable.” Before an extensive rabbit control program in the early 2000s, there were 28,000 rabbit warrens on the property. “At ‘Thackaringa’ we took advantage of the opportunity offered to us by RHD, and the availability of some funding under the Natural Heritage Trust, to begin a big effort in 2002 to rip the remaining 22,000 warrens, having started ripping in 1988.” By March 2003, Mr Lord had completed ripping all 28,000 warrens on the property. “Ripping the warrens on ‘Thackaringa’ was a slow and exacting process. Every warren location was logged by GPS and stored on computer before the arrival of the bulldozer in the paddock. We were very fastidious about the ripping.” The result has been incredible, with very few rabbits over the past 14 years, and a consequent regeneration of pasture. “One of the amazing things that has been observed on ‘Thackaringa’ now is how little rain is needed to germinate and support native plants. With the recent rains, we are now seeing the true gains of RHD in both the condition of the pasture and our sheep.” Mr Lord says rabbit numbers did grow slightly – although not alarmingly – in the spring of 2015, but by the summer the numbers had dropped right off again. “I suspect that the knock-down was possibly due to the timely arrival of RHDV2 on the property, which demonstrates the importance of ongoing biological control,” he said. “Although we have very few rabbits on the property now, I also put my hand up to be involved in the release of the new RHDV1 K5. There are still pockets of rabbits around the district, so hopefully this new virus will help reduce their numbers.” MORE INFORMATION David Lord, 0428 279 657, firstname.lastname@example.org EFFECTIVE LONG-TERM RABBIT CONTROL AT THACKARINGA The release of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) in 1995 and subsequent ripping of rabbit warrens removed virtually all rabbits from woolgrower David Lord’s property in western NSW and provided a huge boost to the feed base – a situation that continues to this day. A holding paddock at ‘Thackaringa’ in 2000 (left) and 2012 (right) showing the result of an extensive rabbit control program that was introduced in the early 2000s. The second photo demonstrates vegetation regeneration due simply to the reduction in grazing by rabbits, and despite being taken during an extreme rainfall deficit. 2000 2012 30 ON FARM
In the Shops - March 2017