BRENT Finlay is seen mostly in a suit these days, but the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) president has another life on the family farm at Inglewood, Queensland, where he is just another sheep farmer battling dogs.
To his own surprise and dismay, Mr Finlay is looking hard at the future of sheep as an enterprise because dogs are having such an impact on profitability. The family has run sheep on the farm for about a century.
Three years ago - several years after Mr Finlay got heavily involved in wild dog policy with AgForce - a pack of six to seven dogs cost him 600 sheep in 12 months. His neighbour lost 1400.
The dogs were cleaned up, and Mr Finlay built an electric fence around vulnerable areas of his property and got on with business.
Over Easter this year, an electric fence failure allowed another four dogs into the property.
Mr Finlay estimates the death toll as being “in the hundreds”, although he’s yet to do a full muster.
“I found 15 killed in one day, and you don’t see them all in our country. That was one day, and these dogs worked us for a month,” he said.
“We caught two in traps, and we baited one, but we’ve still got the main dog. He’s obviously a jumper, and that takes the electricity out of the equation.
“Now even I am questioning how much longer I’ll be in sheep because of dogs. Dogs are one of the very few things that can take you from a profitable operation to an unprofitable one.”
Mr Finlay has been batting away at wild dog policy for six years. To his immense frustration, the problem has only become worse in that time.
He advocates a tough line: that landholder failure to participate in dog control should be a prosecutable offence, like failure to manage noxious weeds.
That legislation is already in place in Queensland, but no government has yet had the will to enforce it.
“We have people out there who are champions, who do everything in their power to control dogs,” Mr Finlay said.
“But we also have landholders, public and private, whose dog control is not sufficient.
“I don’t want to see landholders prosecuted, or forced into anything, but the dog issue impacts on the whole of the community. The legislation is there: it needs to be used.”
Dogs are not a personal problem, Mr Finlay said. They are everyone’s problem.
“Having cattle provides a false sense of security. When the sheep aren’t there, the dogs start on the cattle,” he said.
“I’ve known of 13 dogs working a heifer that was calving, and not only eating the calf but her as well. We’re talking about packs of dogs, and they will take on anything. I’ve heard of calving percentages reduced to 15 per cent on PTIC cattle.”
Depressed cattle prices have made many Queensland landholders consider a move back into sheep. But unless they are prepared to build defensive fences, Mr Finlay said, they usually can’t exercise that option because of wild dogs.
Queensland, which once had large areas celebrated for their capacity to produce wool, now only has about 2.3 million sheep - less than Tasmania, and half the human population of the State.
Mr Finlay commended those who worked to develop the National Wild Dog Action Plan, and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce for his support of a national approach.