ON MORE than one occasion, mixed-enterprise grazier Graeme Brazel has been forced to head out in the dark of night to destroy ewes and lambs maimed by wild dogs on his 590-hectare property “Broadacres”, at Niangala.
One particular occasion remains vivid in his mind. During November 2010 Mr Brazel discovered a wild dog attack on a flock of crossbred ewes and lambs.
The sheep, still skittish from the attack, were unable to be herded with dogs so Mr Brazel was forced to leave them and return at dusk with vehicles to move them to safety.
“With the spotlight and jeep lights, as dog-bitten sheep fell behind I had to go back and destroy them. One crossbred ewe had bites on her shoulder, her front leg was broken in two or three places, her head was ripped around,” he said.
“She had one lamb that would have been good enough to put on your Christmas dinner table, but the skin had been completely stripped off down the back legs. It was straggling its skin along... it was still alive.
“That’s probably one of the worst night’s work I’ve done in a long time.”
Mr Brazel ended up destroying more than 30 ewes and lambs that night. He has already lost more than 60 Merino lambs to wild dogs this year.
Mr Brazel is just one of many livestock producers who have been forced to deal with the horrors of dog attack, yet as the problem grows, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to those who can make a difference.
The Livestock Health and Pest Authorities (LHPA) State Manage-ment Council (SMC) has this year changed its position for aerial baiting so all navigators and bait droppers must be “appropriately” qualified.
In previous years, volunteer landholders from a number of wild dog association groups have ridden in the helicopters as bait droppers and navigators.
Barnard River Wild Dog Control Association (BRWDCA) secretary Bruce Moore runs 1200 Merino ewes, 200 Angus breeders and about 1000 wethers on his 2800ha property “Olsland” on the edge of broken escarpment country near Hanging Rock.
He has been fighting wild dogs for close to 50 years with Mr Brazel, who is the president of the Niangala Wild Dog Control Association (NWDCA).
The two control associations are about to conduct the annual aerial baiting program and Mr Moore is concerned the LHPA SMC decision will put the future of the program at risk.
Mr Moore believed the aerial baiting program was one of the most cost-effective in NSW, thanks to members annually providing meat for baiting and volunteer labour in the form of navigation, bait-dropping, signage and landholder negotiation.
Mr Moore was worried there would be a cost rise associated with the fact contract navigators and bait droppers would need to be engaged, and was concerned baits may be placed in incorrect places without landholders – who have local knowledge – on board.
Mr Brazel said he and Mr Moore had both offered to do whatever training was required, but had run into a brick wall.
“Both associations have offered to do necessary courses... so we could be involved in the program at a hands-on level (but) nobody seems to be sure what that ticketing process is,” Mr Brazel said.
LHPA SMC pests and travelling stock reserves project manager Tim Seears said the organisation had moved its aerial baiting position in line with other State government departments.
“We should only have trained people in aircraft,” he said.
Mr Seears said the LHPAs would not facilitate the required training for landholders and said the cost of aerial baiting would rise.
“I don’t see that aerial baiting programs will be put at risk. This is the first year of this and like all new things we’ll learn from it as we go,” he said.
“(From) the navigation that has been done in previous years, my experience was that they basically flew the lines in the GPS. The baiting routes are pre-loaded in the system and that’s basically what the helicopter follows.”
The Niangala and Barnard River region has some of the most inaccessible country in NSW and is covered by two separate LHPAs – Central North and New England – and adjoins the Mid Coast authority.
Mr Brazel said there had been a “fragmentation” of the control of wild dogs on the southern New England Tablelands, which he said was a result of “restrictive” National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) policies, lack of regional co-ordination between neighbouring LHPAs and a lack of landholder participation.
Mr Brazel said in the 1990s they had close to zero predation of livestock in the Niangala, Nowendoc and Barnard River association areas, which he believed could again be achieved.
“We know from past experience that the program does work and is successful. National Parks only came to Niangala in the late ’90s and 15 years later we’re seeing all of these issues and increases of dogs,” he said.
“I’m reluctant to throw the blame at National Parks as a whole. They can be very good neighbours, but unfortunately I see a lot of the work they’re doing as more reactive than proactive.”
NPWS Walcha area manager Roger Mills manages 14 reserves and said fire management and wild dog control were the two highest priorities.
“We have three people virtually on wild dog management for six months of the year. We do a whole suite of things from ground baiting programs to fencing assistance, and we hold trapper training for landholders and for neighbours,” he said.
“We also do spring and autumn baiting programs in co-operation with the wild dog control associations, as well as our aerial baiting program.”
Mr Mills said while they were unable to increase the baiting rate, they had increased the total amount of bait being dropped.
“There has been a big increase in the amount of baits that we put out on the park over the past five years, because we’ve put out longer runs,” he said.
“In the Winterbourne area near Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, we’ve moved from 272 baits to 1248 baits. Overall we’ve gone from just under 500 kilograms of baits to 800kg of baits in our reserves.”
However, landholders say more action is needed.
Mr Brazel said during 2010-11 he lost 216 sheep to wild dogs.
“In all of my time, and my father’s time, we have never seen the types of (losses) that we’re getting now.”