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.
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.
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.
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.
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.