Pesky rabbits cost farmers $$millions

Pesky rabbits cost farmers $$millions

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Trangie farmer and Border Leicester stud breeder, Peter Howe, with Central West Local Lands Services biosecurity officer, John Ellis, and his rabbit bait layer in use at Dunield.

Trangie farmer and Border Leicester stud breeder, Peter Howe, with Central West Local Lands Services biosecurity officer, John Ellis, and his rabbit bait layer in use at Dunield.

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Out of sight, but rabbits are about, and in enough numbers to cause paddock and pasture damage.

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CONSTANT dry conditions experienced throughout the state have possibly exasperated an increase in rabbit activity in the Central West that would normally go unnoticed.

Trangie district farmer and Border Leicester stud breeder Peter Howe, said although there were always rabbits in certain spots on his family Dunield property, the extended dry had encouraged an increase in rabbit numbers on the property.

"We've always had rabbits in a particular spot, and haven't had a real problem up until last month," Mr Howe said.

Carrots, rabbits favourite tucker, are poisoned and laid out, then buried at Dunield, Trange.

Carrots, rabbits favourite tucker, are poisoned and laid out, then buried at Dunield, Trange.

At the time Mr Howe said because there was not much moisture about, two colonies of 20 to 30 rabbits about 200 metres apart had grown to approximately 150 in each.

"They were causing erosion, burrowing holes everywhere within a sandy ridge where they like to dig," Mr Howe said.

"So we decided to do something about it."

According to Central West Local Lands Services biosecurity officer, John Ellis, rabbits have a major impact on grazing pressure.

"They are costing an estimated $200 million Australia-wide in pasture rehabilitation and this makes them the most costly vertebrate pest animal," Mr Ellis said.

"In pasture where rabbits are high in density, it can mean a major loss to farmers from decreased production and paddock use.

"I've been out to some blocks lately where rabbits were eating the tops off pasture, and then eating down to and around the root systems, so plant structure is destroyed."

As the dust exposes plant root systems, topsoil is being blown away, then the rabbit just chews the whole plant out, Mr Ellis said.

Bait layer

"Rabbits are not in people's minds,

"They are a forgotten pest, not like foxes that prey on lambs or wild dogs that are killing sheep and calves.

"However, rabbits are still in sizeable numbers in certain areas."

Mr Ellis said rabbits were found in sandy, light country where they can burrow easily along ridges between Narromine and Nevertire, or south around Lake Burrendong in rocky hill country, or live under blackberry bushes, box thorn or logs in timber country.

Mr Ellis said each LLS office is equipped to deal with rabbits and use the same options to eradicate them.

"That can be with poisoning, fumigation or habitat destruction by ripping burrows," he said.

The decision was made to use 1080 baits at Dunield, so carrots were first spread out on a trail as a "free feed" with a baiting machine.

This is an improvised contraption on a trailer and wheels towed behind a vehicle.

"We dig a farrow at the front and use an old beer keg with a hole cut out which drops the carrots," Mr Ellis said.

"Then we cover them with a bit of dirt."

The free feed is to ascertain how much poisoned carrots are required to be put out to gain maximum distribution and kill.

Mr Howe said the successful baiting reduced rabbit numbers by up to 85 per cent from the first poison drop.

"Before the drop we would count up to 40 rabbits with the spotlight at night," he said.

"Now we are seeing two or three."

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