Keeping the dogs out

This episode is all about the battle faced by Queensland’s sheep producers to protect their flocks from wild dogs and how the fences that have been built to keep the sheep safe are doing so much for regional communities. Sheep producer Maree MacMillan talks about the impact wild dogs have had on her flock at Evanston Station just south of Illfracombe, Senior Regional Development Manager for the Remote Area and Planning Board Morgan Gronold reveals the wider benefits to communities of the fencing program and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Rebecca Morello talks about the program that is delivering so much more than safe sheep.

Turf ‘n’ Surf is a podcast that tells stories in Queensland’s farming, fishing, biosecurity and forestry sectors. It features interviews with people at the heart of the state’s primary industries and looks at how the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is helping to grow this important sector. Catch up on our other episodes.

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Meet our guests

Maree and John MacMillan with Jorgie Maree and John MacMillan with Jorgie
Morgan Gronold Morgan Gronold
Rebecca Morello Rebecca Morello

Transcript

Program intro: Welcome to Turf and Surf, powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: The wool industry is one of Australia’s oldest and gave us one of the highest living standards in the world.

For more than a century, it was said that Australia rode on the sheep’s back, but times change and a combination of drought, synthetic fibres that replaced wool and falling prices, had a devastating impact on the nation’s wool producers.

In recent times, those producers who remained in the industry have done it tough. Their livelihood, already at the mercy of a changing climate, has been heavily impacted by the threat of wild dogs.

I’m Brad Muir. On this episode of Turf and Surf, we look at the battle Queensland sheep producers face against wild dogs and how the Queensland Government is helping producers protect and grow their flocks.

Program segue: You’re listening to Turf and Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: Maree McMillan and her husband John run Evanston station, just south of Ilfracombe. Wild dogs have been a massive problem for them.

Maree McMillan: So, the dog situation here was catastrophic, actually and that’s not exaggerating, but it was diabolic.

There were dogs coming in from every direction. We were fortunate enough to be able to trap many of them, we had processes in place which we always have had to try and eliminate the encroachment of the dogs.

But ever since the fence has been up, we have been very fortunate. We haven’t had any get through to our knowledge at all. Not just into our cells, but into our cluster.

So, the fence is paramount in the protection of the sheep, and cattle too, but predominantly sheep and we haven’t had an issue with dogs, wild dogs, since we’ve had the fence up.

Host: Recently, the McMillan’s fenced in a large area of Evanston station.

Maree McMillan: My husband and I have just recently fenced in just over 36,000 acres. We are in a cluster with two other properties, and ourselves alone, we’ve done a bit over, nearly 55 kilometres of external fencing.

Our cluster consists of, as I said, two other properties and we’ve utilised Waratah posts and mesh all the way and it’s been a wonderful success for us.

Host: And what are the benefits of the fencing?

Maree McMillan: The benefits of us erecting this fence have been amazing. Obviously, we are able to graze our stock a lot more efficiently.

Our stock are actually very very calm and quiet, they are not showing any signs of being stressed or harassed by anything. If almost, you could say that maybe they’re a little bit doughy, we actually have to give them a bit of a push along now when we want them to move from a trough or from my point to another point.

Emotionally, the fence has been a godsend. My husband actually has a full night’s sleep. He doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night thinking what is happening to our stock and what is being attacked. So, that’s a godsend.

As far as our grasses, well they’re coming back. Hopefully once we have a decent wet, they will respond to that amazingly well.

Our stock are expecting to have a better lambing percentage due to the better grasses and not as much stress happening, and hopefully our chemical costs will come down a little bit too. We may not have wandering stock from neighbours or such like coming through now, because of this fence and the benefits are just huge.

I could go on, but it’s an amazing thing and it’s terrific for employment for our area. We have a fella that works for us and because we put up this fence ourselves, we were able to utilise him, which gives him an income and we bought all our fencing equipment locally, so that generates income into our local community as well.

Host: Cluster agreements play an important role in the success of the fencing program.

Maree McMillan: Entering into the cluster agreement, an absolute no-brainer. It was very easy to do.

As I said before, there’s three of us different entities in our cluster group. The three of us all got along, and do get along very well and we didn’t have any issues. We’ve had meetings together, everything has been very amicable.

We’ve all known what each other has wanted to do. We’re all on the same page with wanting to achieve the same outcomes. We’ve all had expectations that we would all use the same equipment, so everything is uniform, and we can’t speak highly enough of the cluster agreement and what it is wanting to do and what it has done for us.

We’re all very, very positive about it and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough to anybody considering going down that path.

Host: Fencing such a large area is a big job. How did the McMillan’s go about erecting their fence?

Maree McMillan: So when we were putting up this fence, my husband and I were pretty determined that we could probably do it ourselves and save a lot of funds for other purchases of stock later on when we had actually finished doing the fence.

So my husband, being the wonderful man that he is, decided that we would purchase a Christie post driver and it is a machine that he built, an implement for off the back of the vehicle and he would pretty much hang off it and drive these posts here into the ground as I was driving.

So, we would put a big beefy post, as they’re called, a Waratah beefy post in and about seven or eight posts later, we would put another one in. So, between the big beefy, between the two big beefys, there would be six or seven little bit smaller posts.

They went in quite easily, most of the time, we don’t have a lot of rocky ground. So, he would pretty much drive, maybe we would do 200-300 in a session, and we would do from point to point, from end assemblies and do creek crossings and everything as we went along.

And look, it worked wonders and then we would come along and put on the actual netting ourselves. It has these little clips that we can clip everything into. That was not easy, but certainly easy enough to do and obviously very time saving, because we didn’t actually have to tie anything on, you just clip it in.

Host: The cluster fencing program is a big investment that has obvious benefits for producers such as the McMillan’s. But what does Marie see as the benefits of this program to the wider community?

Maree McMillan: I think for the wider picture as a community, there’ll be more stock which will mean more workers, more shearers, more shed hands, more ringers, more jillaroo’s, jackaroo’s and the flow of benefits into town, everybody will be buying hopefully like they used to, pre-the drought but the benefits are flow on right through.

Not just from us at the farm gate, but you know, all the way into Longreach or all the way into Roma, or Mt Isa, wherever you get your stores and supplies from. So, it doesn’t just stop at this fence, it will go right through.

So, we’ve always maintained that whilst the fence has actually fenced us in, it’s actually opened a lot of other avenues for so many other things to flow through, which is, yeah, the benefits are huge, and I think we will still see benefits in time to come, I don’t think we’ve seen them all yet.

Program segue: This Turf and Surf podcast is powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf and Surf, we’re looking at how a Queensland Government project is helping the states sheep producers win the war against wild dogs and giving regional Queensland a much-needed boost.

Morgan Gronold is the Senior Regional Development Manager for the Remote Area and Planning Development Board or RAPID which undertakes development activities in Central Western Queensland.

Through the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative, RAPID delivers projects for cluster fencing arrangements in areas with high wild dog density.

Morgan Gronold: My role has been to deliver the project. The RAPID board is seven regional councils in Central Western Queensland that work together for economic development projects.

This project has been one that the board has fought hard for over the last four or five years. I was brought in right at the beginning of the project. So the board had been successful in gaining the funds and understood the sort of project that they wanted to do but didn’t really have an understanding of how they were to deliver it.

So I was in the lucky position of coming in with money in the bank and a blank sheet of canvas. So, I developed the project, pretty much from scratch, from application process through to monitoring and evaluation right the way through to the acquittal process to there.

Host: And how have producers received the project?

Morgan Gronold: I think the project structure has been quite positively received by both producers and government. You know, we have a big focus on data change and dataset change in collection in what’s happening and yeah, the project template that I’ve put together has been delivered in a range of other regions throughout Queensland and Australia now. So I think it’s held up to interpretation of how this is worked well.

The Longreach regional fencing scheme, Longreach regional Council fencing scheme also came as a result of this project, which has been really positive and allowed a whole other group of people to access the benefits of this one.

Host: How effective have the fences been in re-establishing sheep numbers?

Morgan Gronold: Based on the modelling that we do, and we have independent economists that do all our modelling, you know, if we look at the success of round one and round two, the modelling is saying that we’ll bring a million sheep back to the region.

As well is growing sheep numbers, the cluster fences are growing the confidence of producers. It’s been quite clear to us those people that are involved in our cluster fencing project is that the three key things that’s given them is control, confidence and investment.

So, control is the first thing. So, what people say to me is that, you know, drought is certainly an issue and it’s a financial and impacting issue, but it’s always rained, and so hopefully it always will.

The challenges we have around dog problems is the fact that people describe it a bit like a black hole. So, when you start, you know, chasing dogs and trapping and baiting, there really is no end zone as to when it’s going to finish. And the impact for us then, with communities, is that it means that people who are usually the Secretary of the Cricket Committee, or do something in town, you know, everything gets pushed to one side, because dogs become the number one priority.

So on top of their usual day-to-day stuff, they’re adding two or three hours in the morning, two or three hours in the evening. So, it’s their own time which isn’t putting them in a more profitable part of their business.

It’s having impacts on communities because they can’t stop what they’re doing to go into the meeting of the cricket club, or whatever it happens to be. So the first thing people are saying to us is that they feel like they’re in control, and that’s across lots of levels. Both economically, environmentally, financially, they can, you know, they can plan their business, they can run their place how they want to run it.

So, you know, if you’ve got dogs that means that you can’t use a quarter or a third of your place, well you know, that’s not environmentally positive either and so now they’ve got control back of that, and we tend to find that once you have control like, with anything I suppose in life, it gives you that confidence to get back in and, once you have that confidence you’re happy to look four or five years down the track, rather than, sort of this week.

Host: From RAPID’s perspective, what is the cluster fencing project delivering?

Morgan Gronold: So, from a RAPID perspective it’s really about community, so, our regions’ biggest issue is depopulation.

You’ll see over the last census period that our community has gone from 12 and a half thousand people in seven shires back to 10 and a half thousand people in seven shires. So, for us it’s less about the infrastructure and more about the benefits the infrastructure brings to community.

Host: And in terms of employment, which is a major issue in regional Queensland?

Morgan Gronold: Look again, you know, it’s all modelling at the moment, but we’re saying, you know, it easily 150 plus, you know, 200 plus jobs that will come into the region based on that.

And, if you look at areas like here, you know Barcaldine, Aramac, Muttaburra, Wolfang, Longreach, all had at least one or two shearing teams, and this is in the last 15 years, not in the last 150 years and as a result of that, you know, we’ve seen those communities have had massive depopulation because those people have gone. So if we get, you know, 10 or a dozen shearing teams back, you know, that translates into, you know, no more composite classes, you know, and more kids in the school, and then you need the infrastructure to support them.

So that means that, you know, you can guarantee doctors in town and you haven’t got locums, you know, you can guarantee police and other government services and that. So for us, it’s a real you know, people talk a lot about legacy projects and those sort of things, and I think this is actually really one of those.

Host: The cluster fencing project has also delivered some unexpected outcomes.

Morgan Gronold: We talk about, sort of unintended positive outcomes I suppose. So you know all of a sudden you’ve got people that have, you know always been neighbours and got on okay, are now saying well you know, we’ve got this incorporated association and we’re doing things, maybe we should do other things together, you know, and so I think it’s almost like we’ve gone back to, you know the good old days to a point where everyone did things for that sort of common good.

Program segue: You’re listening to Turf and Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre, for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf and Surf, we’re looking at how a Queensland Government project is helping the state’s sheep producers win the war against wild dogs and giving regional Queensland a much-needed boost.

Rebecca Morello manages the policy and engagement team of Biosecurity Queensland’s Invasive Plants and Animals Unit. Part of Beck’s job is to support effective wild dog management in Queensland through the Queensland feral pest initiative.

Rebecca Morello: The Queensland feral pest initiative is a grant funding program developed by the Queensland Government. It’s been running since around 2015 and has provided over 32 million dollars to NRM organisations and local governments to manage invasive plants and animals throughout Queensland.

A big focus of the feral pest initiative has actually been in landholders building cluster fencing. Cluster fencing is clusters of properties that are fenced off with wild dog exclusion fencing.

So, the focus is around for the cluster fencing portion of the Queensland feral pest initiative, the focus is around returning sheep to these areas. So, there is significant impact on sheep producers in Western Queensland at the moment, partly because of the significant drought conditions, so we’re in six years of drought, but also the impact of wild dog predation on sheep in particular.

So the idea behind the Queensland feral pest initiative was to bring sheep back to these areas in order to revive the sheep industry and to revive these regional communities. So, $32.74 million overall has been provided, but with $24 million of that, specifically provided for cluster fencing.

Host: So that’s a significant investment into this problem. How much fencing has actually been built?

Rebecca Morello: 24 million dollars buys us about 9000 kilometres of fencing. So not all that is up yet. We’ve got about 5000 kilometres of fencing that has gone up and our round three is about to commence, which will provide for about another 2000 kilometres of fencing.

Host: And so what have been the results of the fencing program?

Rebecca Morello: The fencing program, for landholders, has been quite dramatic for them. Once they get the fence up and the fence is closed, they’re able to collaboratively work together to remove dogs from inside the cluster, and then that means that there is no impacts to their stock within the cluster.

So what landholders are seeing, lambing rates that were 20 to 30 percent, and they’re up around 80 and 90 percent now, and some 100 percent and the mental health benefits of these landholders not having to worry about coming out in the morning to see how many stock they’ve lost overnight, what the damage is.

They’re seeing happy livestock. They’re able to restock as well. So there’s a lot of properties that went out of sheep, or significantly reduced their numbers because of the drought and wild dogs, these people are now able to restock.

So, in one area we’re seeing another 200,000 head of sheep. So, there is significant benefits to the community, more jobs into the regions and more money into those regions.

Host: So, there’s been some pretty impressive results so far. Were producers reluctant to come on board in the first place?

Rebecca Morello: I think in the beginning, there were concerns around, I guess, forming a cluster with their neighbours. And the requirements around creating a cluster include creating a legal entity and creating a sinking fund, and then you have to maintain that fence for 20 plus years. So, you know, I guess there’s a bit of negotiation with your neighbours.

The other requirement for clusters too, is that they create a pest management plan to remove dogs within the cluster, but also to manage other invasive plants and animals that may be within the cluster.

Host: Now you’ve recently spoken to a number of producers, what’s the feedback like from them?

Rebecca Morello: The producers that have successfully formed a cluster, they’ve all been extremely happy with the process. They are happy with how quickly the money has rolled out, and once they get the fence up, how quickly they are actually seeing benefits. And even things that are incidental benefits, that people didn’t realise we’re going to happen.

For example, some landholders we’ve spoken to have said that they noticed their sheep actually act completely differently now. Whereas before, the sheep obviously had to be extra vigilant all the time, so they’re a little bit stressed constantly because of the presence of dogs. Now they’re enclosed within a fence, and there are no dogs anymore, their sheep are a lot quieter and relaxed.

But the thing that most landholders spoke about was the significant mental health benefits, both not worrying about their stock, not worrying what they were going to have to deal with in the morning, but also the idea that once the drought breaks in this area, they’re completely set up as far as managing their land, their stock better and I guess looking forward to the financial gains that they’re going to achieve.

Host: So, this program, which at its core, had one objective of protecting sheep from wild dogs, has had an enormous amount of spin-off benefits.

Rebecca Morello: Absolutely. Incredibly positive feedback from the landholders involved and these unintentional benefits that we didn’t realise we would see and certainly the social and mental health aspects we didn’t realise would be so significant once the fences had closed.

Host: So Beck, if people want to get on board with the program, how do they go about it?

Rebecca Morello: Round three of the Queensland feral pest initiative has just been announced, so we’ve got the successful applicants. Producers can have a look at our website, which is daf.qld.gov.au and they’ll find any information about any upcoming rounds of the Queensland feral pest initiative on there.

Program outro: You’ve been listening to Turf and Surf. Turf and Surf is produced by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. For more information or to subscribe to this podcast, visit our website at daf.qld.gov.au.