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Beyond the Bale : Oct - Nov 08
18 Feral animals Beyond the Bale Canine solution to a wild problem Bred to guard sheep and goats in the mountains of Italy, Maremma dogs have proved a canny investment on one of Australia’s most northerly wool-growing properties W hen wild dogs started costing their enterprise at least $30,000 a year, Queensland woolgrowers Ninian and Ann Stewart-Moore contemplated leaving the sheep industry. The losses on their 46,500-hectare sheep and cattle property ‘Dunluce’, one of Australia’s northernmost wool-growing properties located west of Hughenden in north-west Queensland, were due to sheep being killed and maimed, a lambing rate of less than 40 per cent and reduced wool production from stressed sheep. “By 2002, with no immediate neighbours running sheep, a less-than-successful 1080 program, and dingoes attacking our sheep almost nightly, we began to consider getting out of the sheep industry,” Ninian says. “Ann and I just didn’t want to be responsible for the regular mauling of our stock.” So when the Stewart-Moores heard about stock- guarding dogs – in particular Maremmas – they decided to investigate, starting on the internet. Subsequently, in March 2002, they headed to Victoria to buy 24 Maremmas that were already bonded to sheep and ready to work. With a second-hand dog trailer, the investment was about $20,000. “As we were then running about 20,000 sheep, our capital outlay – which was more than saved in the first year – was about $1 per sheep.” Since then, dry seasons have meant a flock reduction down to about 12,000 sheep. Ninian says their annual outlay for dog food, worming tablets and vet fees has been between $5000 and $7000, depending on whether they have bred pups that need de-sexing. “This is about the same amount we spend on lice and worm control for the sheep, but does not allow for our time input, which was initially quite large as we had no precedent to follow on the scale that we were attempting.” After three years annual losses on ‘Dunluce’ went from more than 15 per cent down to a more acceptable three per cent. “After six years I believe we now have the best- protected flock of sheep in western Queensland,” Ninian says. “We can drive past a mob of sheep late in the afternoon, see a Maremma or two out there with them, and go home and have a good night’s sleep.” A general concern for woolgrowers when using dogs with sheep is fibre contamination, but Ninian has PHoToS: CourTeSy NINIAN STeWArT-Moore WHo leT THe DogS ouT? Sheep producers can now access the latest information on methods to control wild dogs, which threaten the future of the industry in Queensland. The Leading Sheep program, funded by AWI, has developed initiatives to help arm producers with scientific and technical knowledge, and also the practical experience of their peers. A recently launched e-book, Tracks and Traps, contains information on the control of animal predators in downloadable chapters. The electronic publication can be accessed through the Leading Sheep website (www.leadingsheep.com.au). The site also contains details on how to join Leading Sheep ‘webinars’, held every Thursday at 1pm, which cover a range of topical industry issues. The e-book was an initiative of the Leading Sheep North and Central West region. Region coordinator Virginia Wacker of Blackall says Tracks and Traps reflects the (Above) Sophia the Maremma has become another member of the Merino flock she is guarding on the Stewart-Moore’s north-west Queensland property, as indicated by her drinking at the trough with the sheep. (Below) Nunzio the Maremma guarding the Stewart-Moore’s Merinos. concern about the damage wild dogs are inflicting on flocks in the area. “Dogs are forcing a lot of people out of sheep and it’s a constant battle for those wanting to stay in the wool industry,” she says. The book contains information on dog biology and behaviour and control methods, from poison to traps and guard animals. Individual producers have contributed chapters written from their personal experience in managing the predators. Ms Wacker says the group was planning field trips in the region so producers could gain firsthand experience of control methods, including the use of Maremma dogs and alpacas as guardian animals. Lee Allen, a senior zoologist with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, says wild dog predation has steadily worsened over his 25 years’ experience in the industry. He says there are now fewer workers employed on larger grazing properties, which means producers rely more heavily on working dogs – for whom poisons intended for feral dogs are a hazard. He says there are now also fewer maintained dog-proof fences. Mr Allen says this combination of factors has led to an increase in wild dog numbers and their distribution being more widespread: “Landholders now have to exercise constant vigilance to protect their flocks.” More information Virginia Wacker, 07 4657 4132, www.leadingsheep.com.au not had any problems on ‘Dunluce’. “Although the Maremmas and sheep live at close quarters in the paddock, the risk of contamination of dog hair in the wool clip is negligible as there are few situations where they come in close contact with each other, such as in the sheep yards,” he says. “The exception to this may be during the bonding process with pups, whose hair is unlikely to loosen. In more than six years we have not observed any evidence of Maremmas hair getting near our wool clip.” The Maremmas’ heavy white coat initially caused concern for the Stewart-Moores, when they first brought the dogs into a warmer climate than the Mediterranean one in which they originated. However, the adaption and acclimatisation process did not seem to faze the Maremmas at all. Ninian says the dogs camp with the stock during the day and patrol their territory at night, which matches the habits of most predators. ú More information: the ‘Dunluce’ story is just one of those included in the Leading Sheep Tracks and Traps e-book at www.leadingsheep.com.au
Dec 08 - Jan 09
Aug - Sep 08