From zero sheep to a Merino stud thanks to exclusion fencing

Wild dogs and drought had driven outback Queensland wool grower Anthony Glasson to despair in 2009, forcing him to destock his 109,000ha holding near Thargomindah.

The station was bounded on one side by 25km of the dingo barrier fence but the logistics of completing an exclusion cell fence around the entire holding was enormous.

Anthony and his wife Gerda took out a low-interest loan through Queensland Rural Industry Development Authority and spent around $1 million in building a 105km exclusion fence in 2017 – the single biggest piece of capital infrastructure the family had completed in their 50 years of ownership.

Anthony said 25 years ago the Bulloo Shire had run more than 200,000 sheep but today the family’s Picarilli Downs is the only Merino sheep flock in the shire thanks to the cell fence.

“In recent years wild dogs have pushed the last remaining wool growers out,” he said.

“Growers north of us towards Quilpie were having real trouble with wild dogs and every year it seemed to get closer to us.

“We bought an extra 24,000ha but our stocking rates didn’t increase due to the wild dogs and grazing pressure from kangaroos.

“Wild dogs had cost us $20,000-$30,000 in stock losses each year before the fence went up.

“There is a lot of cattle country in areas to the north not controlling wild dogs and the numbers were breeding up. They would hit us every year in February, March and April when mature dogs would kick the young dogs out coming into mating season.”

Picarilli was losing mature sheep and weaners to attacks despite ongoing baiting and trapping.

Anthony said the local professional wild dog controller went from eight wild dogs a year to 45 in 2018.

“If we didn’t have the fence up, I’m not sure we would have sheep anymore with what I know what the wild dogs have done outside our exclusion fence,” he said.

“Fence maintenance takes about one day a month and after rain where there are washes under the fence or feral pigs pushing under flood gates, we have had wild dogs get in.

“We are never going to stop that but the odd one here and there is easy to put up with compared to the issues we would have if the fence wasn’t there. We have maintained our strategic baiting and trapping.

“We had sheep recently grazing outside of the fence and lost 20 ewes and a $3000 ram – mobs inside the fence pregnancy scanned at 92 and 97 per cent, and that mob was 60 per cent due to the stress of wild dog predation during joining.

“Getting the fence up was a relief and it will pay dividends in not only sheep but the total grazing pressure is exciting – we have been rehydrating the land with spreader banks and water ponds as erosion mitigation.

“The birdlife in some of these wetlands we have created is really exciting.

“Putting down in an artesian bore and pipeline system in the early 1980s and the fence have been two of the single biggest expenses the property has ever done, and both of them are the two best things we have ever done.

“I would absolutely encourage anyone wanting to get back into sheep to look at exclusion fencing – find a way of doing it as quickly as you can as you won’t get any benefit until it’s done.

“The sooner its up, the sooner you can start enjoying the fruits from it.

“If we hadn’t of built the fence, the costs from wild dog predation would have been astronomical – the fence has paid for itself well and truly in four years as we can run high value stock with good lambing percentages and having very few sheep attacked.”

In post COVID priorities, the Southwest Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils has sought increased and sustained funding for exclusion fencing projects to support the agricultural industry, create jobs and boost regional income.

Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the Bulloo Shire generating $20.8 million and was one of the largest employers at 77 full-time jobs in 2018.

According to the Queensland Agriculture and Environment Committee inquiry in 2017, each sheep adds an estimated $12 to the local economy over cattle grazing.

Bulloo Shire partners with other local governments and NRM groups to develop a regional approach to pest management, and delivers a wild dog management program in line with policy including aerial baiting campaigns.

Mayor John Ferguson said the shire once supported 300,000 sheep but wild dogs had driven many landholders to running cattle only.

“The wild dogs do knock the economy about that’s for sure – we’ve got no shearers left when we used to have three shearing teams,” Cr Ferguson said.

“That was around 80-90 rouseabouts, shed hands, shearers and cooks in town stopping here for 12 months in the caravan park – the kids would go to school and we used to get half a football team out of them.

“Whilst tourism is a large contributor to our economy, the shearer is supporting the pub, café and roadhouse for the long term.”

Cr Ferguson said wild dog activity was rising in the state’s third largest shire as vermin cells in the Charleville, Morven and Quilpie areas funnelled the wild dogs south.

He said Council struggled to get cattle producers and absentee landholders on carbon properties to bait.

He encouraged all Bulloo Shire landholders to follow the Picarilli example.

“Anthony is on the right track with the exclusion fencing – this is sheep country, not cattle, there is a lot of harder mulga country plus some better black soils growing finer micron wool and good broader wool in the red country.”