AN ancient Italian breed of guardian dog has been a saving grace for Queensland woolgrower Karen Huskisson.
Fifteen years ago her Wattle Downs Merino and Poll Merino stud west of Tara was hit hard by wild dogs returning to the area - and eight years ago she turned to Maremma sheepdogs to stave off the pest that had killed 1000 of her sheep, including 300 stud ewes.
Before she started using Maremmas the wild dogs were so bad on her property Mrs Huskisson used to sleep in the paddock.
"It's an everyday occurrence for people in Queensland to sleep in their paddocks as they need to protect their livelihood," she said.
She now has 45 'guardians' on her place, some working to keep sheep out of harm's way and the older retired dogs guarding the working dogs. The Huskissons also now breed Maremmas, selling 20 to 30 a year.
Mrs Huskisson said the wild dog problem is now so extreme in Queensland that a farmer at Longreach told her he had lost 5000 sheep in a year to dogs, while another had reportedly lost 10,000 ewes and every lamb.
"A lot of stock are also maimed and injured and can't be bred from - and if stock are bitten they are condemned at the abattoir, so all you get is a freight bill," she said.
She also spoke of farmers that came home to find all their working dogs were killed on their chains by wild dogs, while a bitch on heat was found with seven dogs surrounding her cage.
Mrs Huskisson said wild dogs have worked out that in areas where water is piped in (such as Longreach) that sheep will need to come in for the water, and a pack of dogs will wait to pounce.
With so many kangaroos and plenty of road kill at the ready for wild dogs to thrive on, Mrs Huskisson can't see dogs numbers reducing any time soon without a proactive approach from landholders.
"With purebred dingoes they would have two or three pups and it would be survival of the fittest, but the wild dogs now are hybridised and they have eight to 11 pups," she said.
"They have bred up so much that it will be only a matter of time before someone is bitten in peri-urban areas," she said.
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