PERENJORI sheep producer Chris Patmore has turned to high voltage in an effort to reduce wild dog attacks on his ewe flock.
Mr Patmore said he had spent the past few weeks installing 15 kilometres of electric fencing around his most vulnerable paddocks, which share a boundary with native parkland in which wild dogs had been travelling through in order to reach their hunting ground.
He said while purpose-built dog fencing would be the ideal remedy to the situation, which saw him lose 133 sheep last year, it was too expensive and electric fencing was cheaper and easier to install and had so far worked to reduce attacks.
“I have 120km of boundary,” Mr Patmore said.
“I’ve installed 15km of electric fencing around the paddocks where I lost the most sheep last year and we know that it has already deterred two wild dogs, which came in from about 10km away.
“To build a barrier fence it costs $8000 a kilometre, but it’s cost me about $10,000 for 15km of electric fencing – and I could do another 15km for half that because I’ve already got the energiser.”
Mr Patmore said he lost five sheep a fortnight ago which were the first he had lost this summer, which was a big drop on previous numbers but still a concern.
A few weeks ago WA Livestock Research Council chairman Tim Watts posed a question to producers at the WAFarmers Livestock Field Day and Forum at Kellerberrin, asking “what animal health issues were preventing your livestock enterprise from being a larger proportion of the farming operation?”.
The response from the majority of producers was silence – except those experiencing the constant threat of wild dogs to their livestock.
The answer highlighted the challenge that many livestock producers face to growing their flocks.
Mr Patmore is a member of the Central Wheatbelt Biosecurity Association (CWBA), which is a Recognised Biosecurity Group that receives funding from landowners which is matched dollar for dollar by the State government.
With the funds the association has employed, three licenced pest management technicians (LPMT), or doggers, to track, bait, trap and shoot wild dogs in the area.
LPMT Jeff Taylor has been working in the area for eight months, after a period of time in the Southern Cross area, and said the electric fence was “good for doggers” because they could work the fenceline better.
He had already seen evidence that it had prevented two dogs getting through and also deterred some kangaroos from pushing beneath the wire.
“It’s a team effort,” Mr Patmore said.
“We don’t leave everything to the doggers.
“Most of us are active with tracking and baiting and we carry rifles for the occasional sighting.
“We encourage trapping by landowners but inexperienced people need proper instruction on how to trap properly, so the dogs don’t learn to avoid traps.
“We are slowly winning but the dogs are coming from the north east of Morawa inside the State Barrier Fence.
“Until we clear them out they’ll just keep coming.”
Mr Taylor said the work they were doing was “just a band-aid at the moment, until they could stop the dogs coming in”.
“The State Barrier Fence is great but there are still holes and gaps in it that allow the dogs to come in,” Mr Taylor said.
“It’s a never-ending battle.”
Mr Taylor and Mr Patmore both acknowledged the State government’s record funding to maintain and repair the fence but said some of the contractors that were working on it had ripped out large sections of the fence and hadn’t rebuilt it fast enough to prevent some dogs from entering.
Mr Patmore said the CWBA was growing in support after landholders realised the effect they were having on the threat to livestock.
“Some grain growers have been reluctant to join in but some have realised that their properties have become thoroughfares and havens for the dogs, so we hope everyone will see the benefit of what we are trying to do to prevent the dogs going further west.”
Mr Taylor said while dogs were the target, they were also catching foxes, cats and rabbits.
Koolanooka farmer Glenn Tapscott said the wild dog situation in his area was “bigger than Ben-Hur” and it had forced one of his neighbours to quit running sheep altogether in recent weeks after scaling back over the past few years, from 3000 head to 700, due to the devastating impacts of dog attacks on his flock and also his emotional well-being.
Mr Tapscott said the landholders needed to have a dog fence because it was “the only protection if you are serious about getting on top of the problem”.
He said 28 dogs had been shot or trapped on both sides of the fence in his area since January.
Mr Tapscott said the dogs were travelling through the lake systems and pushing further west, with sightings as far in as the Gingin area recently.
He said about 30-40km north of Morawa a sheep producer had “lost a dozen sheep” in the past three weeks.
As Farm Weekly spoke to Mr Tapscott he was in the process of sharing baits with neighbours to keep up the pressure in the war against wild dogs.