How these graziers are keeping dogs out
Heartbreaking impact of pests, dogs
GRAZIER John McMillan has felt the devastating blow of wild dogs, but now he can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to the installation of cluster fencing.
Mr McMillan is just 7km away from having his whole 14,568ha Ilfracombe property closed off from pests.
He was previously losing thousands of sheep from his flock.
“I wasn’t sleeping at night because I was too worried about how many sheep I was going to lose,” he said.
“At night-time I’d be around the house or out in the paddocks driving with my rifle to try and shoot them.
“There was a lot of stress involved and my wife Marie said I wasn’t a happy person.”
Mr McMillan even took his hunt sky high.
“There was this one particular female that we had to find by helicopter,” he said.
“She was doing a lot of the damage at the time so we had to aerial shoot her and her pup.”
He described the damage to his flock as heartbreaking.
“It was hard to see the sheep running down the road with their intestines dragging behind them,” he said.
“But it was harder to find the ones who had been bitten in the flank with maggots in their wounds.
“The poor things would die slowly and painfully from blow fly and you wouldn’t know until you saw the black secretion in their wool.”
In 2015, the family had to completely de-stock because they couldn’t afford to keep losing sheep during the drought.
“I wasn’t prepared to spend $120 a head for animals that might get killed in two weeks,” Mr McMillan said.
“We had to either sell or put up the fence.
“The property wasn’t saleable because it was like looking out at the bitumen in front of you – it was just bare country.
“Seeing as we didn’t have the stock to feed or water, we had the time to build the fence and we were lucky enough to be successful in the first round of exclusion fencing grants.”
Mr McMillan has now been able to re-stock, acquiring a new mob thanks to the 50km barrier and the help of a government grant.
“We started off with about 1500 young wethers to get a bit of a cash flow coming in,” he said.
“We’ve built up back to having merinos and we’ve marked about 4800 lambs.”
Mr McMillan said the fence had lifted a huge weight off of his shoulders.
“I can’t explain how much it’s helped knowing the barrier is there. It’s given us confidence,” he said.
“It hasn’t just stopped the dogs, it’s stopped the feral pigs from coming in and the fully grown foxes as well.
“It’s also stopped cross contamination from other sheep; I haven’t had to return stock to the neighbours or have them return any to me since it went up.”
He said his sheep were also happier.
“The animals are very settled now,” he said.
“You can drive around and they’ll just stand there and look at you instead of seeing a cloud of dust from them running off.
“They aren’t scared of the working dogs either because they aren’t haunted by the thought of the wild dogs.
“I can’t wait to see how things pick up again when we get some rain.”
The next hurdle for the McMillan family is the drought.
“In the last 12 months we’ve only had about six and a half inches of rain, which is below half of our average,” he said.
“We’re going to need so much soaking rain to get the grass back up again. Ninety per cent of it will probably need to come from seed, if the seed is there.
“My dad used to say back in the ’70s it used to rain for 16 days and nights. It doesn’t do that now and we need it to.”
Barcaldine grazier and AgForce Sheep and Wool board director Paul Doneley said he encouraged communities to continue talking about the need for more fences.
“To see more of these grants, people need to keep talking about it around the community and also to their councillors and local members,” he said.
“There are a lot of graziers out there who wouldn’t be able to have these fences without grants because they take a financial toll.
“It’s not a silver bullet by any means but it is the best tool in the kit.”
The next round of applications for exclusion fence funding are now open.
A FRESH START: Marie and John McMillan standing in front of the fencing that is keeping out the pests.