They’re A Bit Feral

Its been a while since my last post and I’m sorry about that but I’ve been fairly busy with uni work. With no farm work to write about I’m going to try and write at least one post a week focusing on farming practices and issues around farming, so this week I’m writing about feral animals.

Feral Animals have been building up in the wild since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 when the first fleet introduced 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 6 rabbits and 7 cattle to Australian environment. Since then goats, foxes, buffalo, donkey’s, cats and wild dogs have taken hold in the Australian environment decimating stock numbers and causing huge amounts of environmental damage, the cost is so great that the Invasive Animals CRC estimates that feral animals cost Australian’s $720 million each year. But there are some that I think do more damage than others.

Feral Animals Come In All Different Shapes And Sizes

Last weekend I went back to our family farm at North Star in Northern NSW, recent rain has left it green and full feed but it has also given the local population of pigs a place to play. Everywhere I drove there where signs of pig activity with tracks, wallows and rutted up ground littering the property. Feral pigs destroy infrastructure (fences), damage crops, spread disease, contribute to soil erosion, water purification while competing with live stock for resources. Feral pigs have even been known to prey on lambs as well as other native animals, their impact on Australia and its environment is so great that they are estimated to cost Australian’s $100 million a year.

Fortunately there is a market for feral pigs which provides an incentive for people to trap them, helping to lower their numbers and potential damage. But this isn’t always enough and other measures often need to be used such as baiting and aerial culling, baiting can be a effective and cost efficient method if carried out properly over large area with the cooperation of multiple landholders. Aerial culling has also proved to be an expensive but an effective method of controlling feral pig numbers if used in conjunction with other land holders, we have used it a couple of times on our own property and it has always yielded great results with over 200 pigs taken in a hour on our small 2000 acre farm.

The rabbit has been the blight of farmers since 1859 when Thomas Austin first released 24 rabbits into the Australian bush for sport on his Victorian property “Barwon Park”. While in hindsight his efforts to make Australia more like England is one of the worst decisions in Australia’s environmental history but at the time it seemed to be a reasonable idea as rabbits had been released into England from France with no major effects on the environment and were a popular form of sport hunting. Unfortunately Australia has a completely different environment to England causing the rabbit to have a huge destructive impact on the Australian environment.

One of The Most Famous Photos of Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits cause of wide range of damage to the environment and farms across Australia, they reduce carrying capacity on farms by competing for feed, damage crops, eat shrubs and plants reducing ground cover adding to erosion. This all cost Australian farmers over $110 million in damages and control.  Biological controls have proved to be the most effective control option for the rabbit population with Myxomatosis (1950) and the Calicivirus (1991) both having a devastating impact on rabbit populations when they were released into Australia, however after the release of Calicivirus scientists said there was a ten year window to find another biological control and finish them off once and for all, but now that window is closed and rabbit numbers are back on the rise. So other control methods  such as fumigation, baiting, shooting, trapping and warren ripping are used with varying effectiveness.

The Old Days

Wild dogs and foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers $65 and $35 million each year in losses and control, they are a major contributor to stock losses in both sheep and cattle, they increase stress amongst the heard and have the potential to host disease. The fox was originally introduced to Australia for sport hunting and since spread right across the Australian mainland, while the feral dog is the result of interbreeding between domestic dogs and the dingo which was brought to Australia from Asia by the Aboriginal people. The impact of feral dogs can clearly be seen when cattle are brought into the yards, many are missing ears or tails and are covered in scars. The impact of foxes on lambs is just as significant, as young lambs are no match for the quick agile foxes that easily take them down. The main control methods for foxes and dogs are shooting, trapping and baiting; they each work to varying degrees of success depending on how well they are carried out. In 2011 the Victorian government committed $4 million to the establishment of a bounty on wild dogs and foxes with $100 dollars being paid for a wild dog and $10 for a fox, while it met opposition from various groups bounty’s have proved to be successful with the 2002-03 bounty turning in 198,000 foxes.

Feral Dogs on a cow carcass, taken with a remote camera

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write about all the feral pests threatening Australian farms and the environment but I feel these are some of the main ones. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own stories below. I’ll try and keep writing at least one post a week.

One of My Own Feral Encounters

One of My Own Feral Encounters

The Night Is For Irrigating

The last two nights have been fairly steady we’ve just been starting and stopping siphons slowly moving from one field to another, it can make for some long nights waiting for the water to run down the 1.2 kilometre rows. The water should only be on a section of the field for no more than eight hours at a time otherwise it will water log the cotton and stunt the plants growth, with the mixture of the long rows and the time limit it takes more siphons than normal to get the water though, as we’ll use one three inch siphons and two two inch siphons in some bays just to get the water down the rows in time.

You see a lot on animals during the night that you wouldn’t normally see during the day, these include a lot of feral animals such as pigs and a lot of foxes. The pigs are keep in check by hunters who visit the property regularly, they trap them in cages, kill them and sell for them for dog food, making an asset out of a pest helping to encourage their control. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the foxes whose numbers have risen since the end of the fur trade when a foxes skin could fetch up to $50. In an area that is mainly cropped foxes aren’t much of a problem to the land owner who already has a range of more serious and important issues on their plate, so understandably their numbers can creep up over time causing harm to native animals. I believe it would great to see a Feral Fur line of fashion or the introduction of a bounty to help curve their numbers.

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Third Round Over And Out

Third round is over with the last of the mustering finishing up today, all we have to do is hope that the rain holds off for tonight so the truck can get through tomorrow. The desilter arrived the other day to clean out two of the turkey’s nests (small dams that supply water to the troughs) only to hampered by rain that stopped him in his tracks leaving a nest drained and unable to be worked on, as well the problem that it had no compacted earth at the bottom making it impossible to desilt. So the construction of a new nest is underway, which will be a good thing in the long run as it will be much bigger and better than old one with a compacted base and walls allowing it to hold more water for longer. The rain is also causing other issues washing out creeks making it difficult for a ute to get through and nearly impossible in the station truck, we lost nine 100kg lick blocks going through one creek today making for a difficult clean up. Hopefully the new turkey nest should be done tomorrow and the truck will finally arrive so we can get the cattle out. 

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We’ve spent the last week out at camp mustering, with reinforcements from others stations sent to give us a hand, two paddocks and five days later we’re back at the homestead and not a day too late, with it pouring down rain all over the station on the first night back. Camp was a great time with early breakfasts in time to see the sunrise and make an early start to cattle work while it was still cool instead of the 50 degrees it was in the middle of the day, during these  times of extreme heat and humidity its important to rest the cattle the men during the middle of the day so nothing or any body gets to hot or stressed leaving us with early mornings and late nights. The cattle are mustered with a chopper and a bike to either the cattle yards or a collection point from which they are walked to yards with a team of horsemen and bikes before being sorted and walked back to their paddocks, it can be a long and stressful but the rewards are worth it. 

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Business As Usual

With all the paving done it was business as usual yesterday with a full bore run and other odd jobs. The bore run when smoothly with nothing going wrong making for a nice change, the bores and pumps are all running flat out to keep up water to the cattle as the remaining billabongs have dried up putting more pressure on the troughs and dams. The rain that was predicted for weekend seems to snubbed us as there isn’t a single cloud in the sky.

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More Rain

This morning rain fell again on Humbert with light showers falling over the station doing little more than keeping the dust down for a bit, but hopefully its a sign of good things to come. The past few days have been fairly steady with the new tip at the old out station finally completed and filled in, bore and lick runs have been going on as normal, and as always there’s been plenty of fences in need of checking leaving me with plenty to do. Today was spent dog baiting to deal with growing number of feral dogs on the station, these dogs attack calves with destructive results, leaving many animals mutilated or dead. The calves mothers defend them as much as they can but unfortunately it isn’t enough sometimes, so we need to help protect them with baiting programs. 

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Cattle Dip and Cattle Lick

We’ve been busy dipping all the cattle we’ll trucking tomorrow, the cattle dip removes any ticks that may be living on the cattle so we can truck them below the tick line into the tick free area. With the cattle feeder running out of lick we’ve had to refill it, taking the 1 ton bags of lick down to the feeder on the ute and shovel them into the feeder. There is still smoke haze around from nearby fires making for some great sunsets.

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Keeping Up The Essentials

The last two days have been busy on Humbert, we’ve been on bore runs and putting out cattle lick, with the weather starting to heat up the cattle are drinking more water than ever and were now running the pumps continually just to keep up. Were also putting out more cattle lick than before, the cattle lick gives the cattle extra nutrients such as protein which are lacking in the dry pasture. Clouds have returned to the skies above Humbert, a sure sign that the build up has begun. The potty calves are doing well, their getting bigger and now  feeding well on the feeder.

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Potties and Panels

As the muster continues we’ve gotten our first potty calves for the round, these calves have unfortunately been separated from there mums so we look after them at the station until they are big enough to look after themselves. We have also set up a panel yard as an attachment to the main yard so we can house some extra cattle until we find a paddock for them.

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A Busy Week

The fires have been extinguished thanks to some hasty repairs to the grader, but not with out leaving a trail of destruction in its wake including large pasture losses and damaged fences. Second round is continuing with the contractors ripping another paddock, between these events day to day station jobs must still be done with cattle lick being put out today and a very eventful bore run yesterday.  

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