Grazier Will Roberts wonders why it’s taken NSW so long to cotton on to the big benefits of cluster fences.
The Merino stud breeder from Morven in southern Queensland, has statistics that would make your hair stand on end if you are a sheep breeder. He says it’s a lay-down misere that cluster fences make a huge difference to farming - and not to mention a positive one, he says, for smaller native animals, from the control of foxes and feral cats.
The Morven fence project was completed in 2015 and even took in part of the outback town. The fence is 429 km in distance, has 38 landholders on 42 properties who paid about 50 cents an acre to have over 1 million acres of land covered, with farms individually fenced within the cluster. A big job and the results have been amazing.
In 2011, Mr Roberts marked just 15 per cent of his lambs, when his property “Victoria Downs” was unfenced and beset by wild dog attacks. The year the fence was completed he marked 87 per cent of his lambs and last year, amazingly, he marked 100 per cent. The benefits have been economic and ecological.
It means in three years’ time he’ll be able to double his Merino numbers on Victoria Downs from 5000 to 10000. He says wild dogs were only a problem since 2000, when the property had its “first bite”. The dog attacks increased immeasurably up until the fence was completed. Mr Roberts put this down to the incredible breeding rates wild dogs now have due to hybridisation. Recently farmers in his area have found litters of between nine and 11 pups per bitch. That’s a warning, he says, to NSW farmers who don’t have a wild dog problem – the dogs are on their way. “My dad was here since 1959 and he didn’t see one dog bite until 2000. That’s why it’s good what people at Gilgunnia are doing, there’s no doubt the dogs are on their way.”
“The fence has been a large benefit for us and also to goat farmers and cattle producers. There’s also been a huge ecological benefit, a lot of the native animals have come back and you don’t see cats or foxes anymore. I haven’t seen a fox on my place for a long time.”
He denied claims cluster fences stopped the natural movement of larger native animals. “We still have plenty of roos here. In fact there were never that many roos until white men came along and built pastures and water. Then we had unbelievable roo numbers. There’s still a heap here. The other benefit for us is we have created our own biosecurity area. If there is a breakout of something we don’t get it.”
Mr Roberts will be one of the guest speakers when the biggest cluster fence in NSW - the Gilgunnia cluster fence - has an open field day on September 18 at Glenn Turner’s “Penshurst”. (featured in The Land, Aug 31). The Gilgunnia fence has only just been completed, involving 22 landholders in the western division, some of whom have contributed over $100,000 each to the biggest cluster exclusion fence in NSW. It covers 210km, fencing in 177,000 hectares.
“Penshurst” is located 80 km west of Condobolin and 150 km south of Cobar, the LLS advised. The event starts at 11am start and concludes at 3 pm following a guided fence tour. The free event will be fully catered. Information and registration through Western LLS Cobar office on (02) 6836 1575.