Dog losses hit balance sheet

16 Jul, 2014 02:00 AM
James Robertson and daughter Isobel on “Fishington”, Wongwibinda.
To be of any value... the buffer should also extend into the rugged park
James Robertson and daughter Isobel on “Fishington”, Wongwibinda.

NO livestock producer’s budget is going to benefit from wiping 500 sheep off the balance sheet, but that’s what wild dogs have done for James Robertson last year.

Mr Robertson didn’t count that many killed or maimed animals. He counted most of that tally, and guessed the rest from absent lambs. One mob of 520 ewes, 100 per cent in lamb, only produced 170 lambs for marking.

The cost is not merely in lost animals, but in future wool and replacement breeders, and the loss of investment in genetics.

Most of the Wongwibinda district, east of Guyra in northern NSW, has moved out of sheep.

Mr Robertson, who with wife Wendy owns 2000 hectare “Fishington”, wants to stay with them, despite sleepless nights, because they provide enterprise diversity and have been consistently profitable for many years.

That diversity is currently proving very attractive as cattle prices wallow in the doldrums. Sheep are also much easier to maintain through the current tough New England winter than cattle.

Mr Robertson’s problem, as he sees it, is that he is on the edge of the 1000 square kilometre Guy Fawkes National Park.

The local wild dog association maintains a vigorous aerial dog-baiting program, but Mr Robertson argues that it’s little use just creating a dog buffer on private land. To be of any value, he believes the buffer should also extend into the rugged park.

On this point, the park’s management is less keen. In 2013, the Wongwibinda Wild Dog Association put out 2200 baits; the Dorrigo office of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) felt it only necessary to put out 118.

In 2014, as Wongwibinda became a clear leader in stock losses to dogs on the New England, NPWS ramped up its baiting substantially in percentage terms: it put out 560 baits, versus 2800 laid by the dog wild association.

Mr Robertson understands the NPWS duty to preserve the park’s key predator, but not at the expense of its neighbours.

He has a well-maintained dog fence - dog-related work costs him about two hours a day, every day, he estimates - but in other areas of the district the once-continuous barrier fence between farms and park has been let go.

Although he has seen some properties have success with Maremmas, Mr Robertson doesn’t believe the guard dogs will suit his operation. At times, he has 20-30 mobs of sheep. Where does he post the dogs?

The best answer, Mr Robertson believes, is for NPWS to run its country as a good landholder, providing the resources its animals need to prosper within its boundaries, and doing what is necessary to keep those animals within the park.

Matthew Cawood

Matthew Cawood

is the national science and environment writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


16/07/2014 6:08:42 AM

Perhaps the park should be fenced off, where practical.
16/07/2014 7:41:02 AM

Regarding using the Marema dog as a guardian for livestock. They are very successful if there are only around six dingos or their crosses in a pack, but when you have packs of 20 dingos or in one case on my property 30 in a pack of X bred dingos, one or even a pair of Maremma have no chance at all- my friend's dogs were torn to pieces. Out near Charleville a few years back, over a period of a few days or so, one stud Boer goat producer, lost more than 1200 stud goats. No-one can sustain those losses. I once ran hundreds here on the coast of SE Qld, I am now down to 32 and changing to cattle.
16/07/2014 9:22:00 AM

As part of Barnaby's wild dog action plan, one would think he would ensure "the once-continuous barrier fence between farms and park" in his electorate was in actual working order.
Dog Fence
18/07/2014 1:00:13 AM

I'm a firm believer in animal control and wild dogs are no different and sometime more destructive.
18/07/2014 5:56:19 AM

Where are the AW posts screaming hysterically about cruelty, and offering support and help?
21/07/2014 6:07:18 PM

I understand the Robertson's despair, we also farm almost surrounded by National Parks (not far North of them), but with an entirely different result. The NPWS pest officer responsible in our district is not only skilled in the technical function of pest control but works tirelessly and effectively in negotiating and coordinating all stakeholders to ensure that as far as practicable, dogs and other pests emanating from the huge expanse of public lands are controlled. His effort along with that of his LLS counterparts and the broader landholder wild dog groups ensure we remain in the game.
2/08/2014 10:47:48 AM

Rob, the dogs are on both sides of the fence.


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