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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

WILD DOGS - Guardian Dogs

Posted by Bestprac on Oct 06 2010

By Liz Guerin
Dunluce, owned by Ninian & Ann Stewart-Moore is now the most northerly sheep property in the Flinders Shire and possibly Queensland following many sheep graziers leaving the industry for numerous reasons, including wild dogs.

Located 36 kilometres west of Hughenden, the 46500 hectare sheep and cattle property lost more than 15 percent of their sheep flock to wild dogs in 2002. Faced with the prospect of leaving the sheep industry, the Stewart-Moore’s introduced Maremma guardian dogs to their 20,000 sheep.

At the time, they calculated their losses from wild dogs at around $30,000 per annum, including killed and maimed sheep, less than 40% lambing, and reduced wool production due to stress. Their outlay for their 24 Maremma dogs was around $20,000.

After 3 years, annual losses had gone from above 15% down to around 3%, and Ninian & Ann believe the actual number of sheep killed by wild dogs now to be less than 10 head pa. Ninian says that use of guardian dogs has allowed them to stay in the sheep industry.

Bottoms Up: Maremmas and their woolly charges having a drink together“Eight years ago if we hadn’t gone down the Maremma path we would have sold all our sheep because we just couldn’t remain responsible for the continued annihilation” said Ninian. “We used to get rid of one lot of wild dogs, therefore creating a vacant territory for the next lot of dislocated juveniles to move straight into!”

Ninian says that when they first introduced Maremma guardian dogs, although they were regarded as slightly ‘adventurous’ they encountered very little negativity.

They did attract negative reactions and criticism from further afield with people saying that they’re pushing their wild dog problems onto their neighbours. But Ninian says there’s nothing unfair about protecting your own livestock and livelihood.

“Despite the Maremmas working for us and being able to see the effects straight away, we didn’t have enough belief initially that the effects were going to be long-term or sustainable” said Ninian. “It’s been 8 years now and it took 5 for us to be able to say ‘yes, it is working’ and all the while our neighbours have been politely watching.”

Since then dry seasons have seen the Stewart-Moore’s reduce stock numbers down to around 12,000 sheep.

“Sheep were basically the only thing we had left in mid 2000’s and part of the reason we held on to those was because we had the Maremmas” Ninian said.

Now with fewer sheep and fewer Maremmas, the Stewart-Moore’s are starting to bond their guardian dogs to their cattle.

“We’re running more cattle now and we were finding that calves and weaners were getting more pressure from wild dogs so we started bonding pups with heifers” said Ninian.

Learning the Ropes: Maremma pups being bonded to heifersNinian says that bonding Maremmas with cattle is starting to become an area of development.

“I recently had a phone call from a neighbour who lost at least 10 cattle weaners to wild dogs in three weeks and is starting to ask serious questions about how to go about bonding.”

The most popular and conventional strategy for wild dog control in the district and throughout Queensland has been 1080 baiting programs, with landholders in some Shires paying an annual wild dog levy as part of their rates.

“Despite slipping off a bit in the 90s and early 2000 when sheep went out of the district, the 1080 baiting program has been conducted twice a year for all my working life” said Ninian. “But there are a lot of people who don’t want to bait because they’re afraid of losing their working dogs to bait. Guardian dogs present an effective alternative without the downside of poison.”

The main protection Maremmas give is that they are creating a dog territory.

“The best line of defence Maremmas create is that of territory” said Ninian. “It’s not trying to present a physical barrier between a sheep and its predator, it’s a dog territory that wild dogs don’t visit, or if they do, they pretty quickly get out.”

Research currently underway on Dunluce is investigating how Maremmas operate and how large an area they are able to defend. GPS collars have been placed on Maremmas and trapped and released wild dogs over a 100,000 acre area. With the wild dogs due to be recaptured during October and the data analysed shortly after, they hope to be able to determine the effective areas being covered by the guardian dogs.

Ninian and Ann hope that the collaring trial will support evidence of dog territory being created and eliminate the common misconception regarding a physical barrier.

“People with dense scrub or from the mulga country often think that Maremmas or other guardian dogs won’t work in their circumstances, but they use a combination of all the senses and line of sight is possibly the least of the senses used for the dog territory to operate effectively.”

The Stewart-Moore’s have found that an unexpected by-product of running guardian dogs with livestock has been the reduction of kangaroo numbers – in some areas by up to 90%.

“We didn’t mind the pressure we had before, but if you consider a kangaroo as roughly ¾ DSE, we’ve probably added 3000 DSE carrying capacity that we didn’t have before.”

Given current prices, the Stewart-Moore’s have no regrets about their decision to stick with sheep and are working to breed sheep numbers up again to previous levels.

“We’re very pleased and don’t think that for the rest of our lifetimes we could imagine running livestock without the guardians” he said. “Considering the lift in returns that the sheep meat industry has experienced in the last 12 months, it’s given us options and diversity that we wouldn’t have otherwise had for our business, so there has been a marked positive effect.” 
 

Last changed: Feb 07 2012

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