Cattle move a necessity at Wondinong

25 Apr, 2015 01:00 AM
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We've got a fence to nowhere, this has been going on for years

WILD dogs forced Wondinong station owners Jason Homewood and Lara Jensen to get out of sheep after losing 2000 head in their first 12 months of taking over the station.

Now, a further 12 months on, the pair has a herd of 200 cows and dreams of one day re-introducing sheep to their property.

But without the completion of the remaining 380 kilometres of the vermin fence in the Murchison, Jason knows this will remain a dream.

"We've got a fence to nowhere, this has been going on for years," Jason said.

"All along we've had politician after politician saying it's going to happen, so locally we've spent money but now that we've reached this point they're not saying anything.

"If that fence was finished we would have the greatest tool in the fight against wild dogs and we would be making an impact on what's going on."

Jason, who is president of the Murchison Regional Vermin Council (MRVC), said they had always planned to run sheep and cattle on the station, but for now wild dogs had made the sheep side of things impossible.

He said the vermin cell fence, which is just a few hundred kilometres from completion, was a "necessity" for the Murchison region to get back on its feet.

"Anyone that is sticking it out with sheep has an ageing mob due to the fact there are no lambs and that's not sustainable, there's no flock replacement," he said.

"The dogs are taking the lambs as the first target.

"At the moment we're just concentrating on cattle because that's the only thing that is most resistant to dogs."

When Jason and Lara bought Wondinong in 2013, there were about 2600 sheep on the property.

Their plans for continuing with sheep rested on the number brought in by mustering.

"We thought we would pull in about 1500 to 2000 and that was our cut-off mark for selling, but when we only turned up 630-odd there was no choice," he said.

"The two nights we had the sheep in for shearing we spent our time riding around the holding paddock with a torch with dogs howling in the dark."

The move to cattle will involve ongoing infrastructure upgrades around the station as yards, windmills, troughs and fences will need to be altered to suit the enterprise.

Jason, a heavy duty fitter by trade, works up to five days off the property and Lara, anywhere from two days a week in an environmental role with the Silver Lake Resources mining company.

"It's a five-year plan, by then we will have our cattle numbers up and have a reasonable line of cattle and debt will be reduced enough to survive solely off of the station," Jason said.

"The plan was a bit different two years ago when we had sheep, but you have to adapt.

"There's really nobody in this area that is running their places without off-station income."

Jason said neither he nor Lara were ignorant to the wild dog issue plaguing the region when they bought into the industry, but nothing could prepare them for effectively losing $200,000 in livestock almost immediately plus the income from a decimated wool clip.

'Slowly you would see less and less sheep at the windmill," Jason said.

"We knew we were in for a fair bit of trouble and when we mustered we knew the extent of it."

Lara was born on Yoweragabbie station, located south-west of Mount Magnet and Jason has worked on stations on and off since he was 13.

"We knew all that, even when I had the mechanical workshop in town we were both involved in the pastoral industry, mustering for other people and baiting," he said.

"Three years ago we were probably more on top of the dogs in general here than we are now.

"We knew there were dogs here, that wasn't the big issue.

"We thought we could fight them, but the problem was there are too many and they're moving further down.

"We were the most northerly sheep station at the time we bought and we baited this place heavily but that didn't stop them from coming in.

"The cell fence is a necessity.

"Dogs impact on cattle, there's no doubt about that, but at the moment they are running in ones and twos and not packs so the impact is not as great."

Jason said by the end of June, the number two vermin fence would be brand new and dog proof, leaving just the number one fence to be completed.

He said when this happened, there was hope for him and his neighbours to turn things around.

"Then we've got to concentrate on the dogs inside of the fence and when they're gone we can look at going back into small stock, because you will make more money per acre off small stock than cattle," Jason said.

"We probably wouldn't go back into Merinos but more a meat sheep.

"If wool became more stable we might look at going back into it again as we've got the infrastructure for wool production.

"But shearing prices are up to $8 a head full contract price to get them shorn and that does cut into the bottom line.

"Our place is okay for cows with saltbush and grass but a lot of places around here that have predominantly mulga shrubland country can't grow the same volume of grass."

Jason said it was a matter of the government making the completion of the vermin cell a priority and recognising the potential of the region.

"The government is prepared to spend $12 million on the kiosk for Victoria Quays in Perth, or $5m on their Giants display, but they're not prepared to give us $4m to fix an industry," he said.

"The fence is not the be all and end all of everything as we're still going to have to control the dogs every day we're here.

"This is just going to stop the migration.

"It won't only help us, it'll help people in the agricultural areas from ever having this problem.

"When they arrive, the wild dogs will go through the agricultural areas very fast.

"There's plenty of stock and tucker down there, they reckon they've got problems with foxes - wait until they get dogs."

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