WHEATBELT farmers have reported heavy sheep losses in what has been described as a “war” against wild dogs.
Koolanooka farmers Glenn and Aden Tapscott recorded sheep losses to the amount of $35,000-$40,000 last year and have already lost about $2000 worth in January this year due to wild dog attacks.
The calculations were made from the price of the ewes and the multiple unborn lambs lost in the attacks.
Aden said he spotted two dogs in an open paddock during daylight hours last week – which was unusual, but highlighted the extent of the problem in the area on the border of the Karara Rangelands Park.
Glenn said he saw five dogs last week and was able to shoot three of them before the others fled.
The Tapscotts farm about 12,000 hectares on the edge of the park, which consists of six former stations now owned by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).
The department has turned the area into a conservation area and outback tourism venture.
Glenn said his sheep have been moved away from the paddocks bordering the park in an effort to prevent further attacks, but this came at a further cost to his business.
“This land is described as marginal farming country,” Glenn said.
“If we can’t grow crops on it because of the seasons and we now can’t run sheep because of the wild dogs, then the land isn’t worth as much.
“Not only is it unproductive but it’s devalued by about 20 per cent if we can’t run stock on it.”
He said it was getting to the point where he would have to put a dog fence around his property – which would be a huge expense up front, but would hopefully allow him to continue running sheep.
The family has been farming in the Koolanooka area, south of Morawa, for 50 years — and while Glenn said wild dogs had probably been in the area for years, it wasn’t until a meeting with Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in 2016 that he learnt what to look out for and realised the dogs were a problem.
They have since been setting traps and baiting, as well as shooting wild dogs on their property.
Glenn said the only way that the dogs could be eradicated from inside the State Barrier Fence (SBF) would be when all farmers and landholders worked together to solve the problem.
Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA livestock committee chairman and Central Wheatbelt Biosecurity Association (CWBA) board member Chris Patmore, who owns 8000ha of land in Perenjori where he runs 4000 head of sheep, said he had lost 21 sheep so far this year from wild dog attacks.
“Last year we lost 90 sheep, which was a loss of about $15,000, based on the selling price of the remainder,” Mr Patmore said.
“The year before that we lost 30.
“We are at war with dogs inside the fence.
“We’re winning many of the battles but time will tell if we win the war or not.”
Mr Patmore said WA had structures in place to have a co-ordinated wild dog program with five producer-dominated recognised biosecurity groups (RBGs) inside and adjoining the SBF.
“Each has several licensed pest management technicians (LPMT) under their direct control,’’ Mr Patmore said.
“Each group is, or will be, charging a declared pest rate to all landowners which is matched dollar for dollar by the State government in recognition that wild dogs are a community problem, not just a producer problem.”
Mr Patmore said so far access to some land areas had been problematic – especially among grain growers and on corporate farms and DBCA-controlled land.
“Anything short of full access compromises our dog control, although a concerted effort has seen improved access recently,” he said.
Mr Patmore said producers had learnt a lot from pastoralists outside the SBF “where the problem is much worse” and with the government commitment to rebuild parts of the SBF in the northern areas, the fence should stop further incursions from dogs.
“This will give technicians a wall to trap against,” he said.
“There are also increasing numbers of dogs breeding inside the fence.
“There are significant stock attacks which we can now pinpoint with improved reporting processes.
“This enables the technicians to be more localised in their work.”
AWI wild dog co-ordinator Meja Aldrich said her work involved co-ordinating the work of the RBGs on both sides of the fence.
Ms Aldrich said while the program in WA was “heading down the right road” and seeing results in some areas, there had been some resistance from producers who were reluctant to fund doggers to assist in the baiting, trapping and shooting of dogs in their areas.
“We need the best doggers we can get,” Ms Aldrich said.
“Don’t be afraid to pay for them.”
Ms Aldrich encouraged everyone to participate in a positive way to solve the problem, even if they felt the dogs weren’t their issue.
Perenjori farmer Spot Desmond has been in the frontlines of the battle against wild dogs for years and the emotional toll of seeing his sheep attacked has lead him to totally destock his farm.
He ran about 2000 Merino ewes before the attacks started and he had to shrink his flock to manage the situation, as well as move them away from paddocks backing onto areas where the dogs were emerging from.
He got down to 600 head before selling all of them due to continued losses.
Mr Desmond said he would get back into running sheep if the wild dog situation was brought under control.
“I have kept up my infrastructure and sheds,” he said.
“When the dogs are all gone I’ll run them again.”