MAREMMA dogs are shaping up to be an important tool in the fight against wild dogs for Cacades sheep producer Scott Pickering.
It's been eight months since the Northern Mallee Declared Species Group, of which Mr Pickering is the co-ordinator, purchased eight Maremma dogs from a Victorian breeder to trial as sheep guards around the Esperance shire.
Most recently, the group received funding from the Save The Dingoes Association to puchase a further six Maremmas in order to conduct trials on the interaction between wild dogs and the Maremmas protecting the sheep.
Maremmas are a breed originating from Italy, which have been used for centuries as stock guards and are popular in pastoral areas of Queensland.
They are also used to protect furry penguins on Flinders Island, Tasmania.
Mr Pickering runs about 4500 Merino sheep on his Cascades property and has four of the Maremmas, while the other four dogs were trialled on Rod McCrae's farm at Salmon Gums.
With sheep losses of up to 100 head a year from wild dogs, Mr Pickering was very keen to give the dogs a chance on his farm.
Before being put out in the paddock, the dogs were bonded with their owners and bonded with sheep for six weeks.
Three of the dogs, Lucas, Ronnie and Ingrid, were put out to work while the other dog is very shy, and although she still protects the mob of sheep she was originally bonded with, she bolts every time a human or vehicle approaches.
Since taking on the dogs, Mr Pickering said his stock losses had been minimal and he was confident that the dogs were working well and he planned to purchase two more dogs to guard his stud ewes.
"They are still very effective," Mr Pickering said.
"I think we've still had a couple of wild dog attacks because we've found the odd sheep, but nothing compared to what we used to get.
"We think there is a wild dog up there with pups, so we're just working out how we'll get her, we may have to lock the Maremmas up so we can lay traps and baits.
"They do tend to wander a bit and I actually think they track the dogs but they come back to the mob."
Lucas, Ronnie and Ingrid are currently guarding three mobs of sheep in paddocks on 1000 hectares bordering a National Park, including a mob of 450 mated ewes, 500 wethers and 350 lambs.
Mr Pickering said the dogs did not require much looking after and he just checked on them occasionally to ensure they had adequate food supplies.
"They're very good, but the real test for us will be lambing in April/May," he said.
While the dogs have turned out to be an effective measure to protect his sheep, the Northern Mallee Declared Species Group is still lobbying for the construction of a 490 kilometre wild dog and emu-proof fence to be erected in the Esperance shire.
Mr Pickering said between $1.7-$2 million in funding was needed to build the fence and the group is currently preparing another submission to government in the hope of receiving some funding from Royalties for Regions.
"We're hoping this will be a priority for government, because these stop-gap measures are alright but they are just that, stop-gap measures," he said.
"Not everyone is going to get a Maremma dog, so ultimately the fence would be the best option."