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2016: Year of the Sheep

While the Queensland sheep and wool industry has been dwindling in the last few years, it is hoped to be making a turn around with a few important key elements coming together to make 2016 the year of the sheep.

This growing confidence hasn’t happened on its own and without a fight, according to Wyandra sheep grazier Peter Lucas who was one of the writers of the ‘Paroo Model’ which has become a leading best practice strategy for controlling the dreaded wild dogs.

Peter and his wife Jan live right in the heartland of sheep and wool country on a 32,000 hectare property in South West Queensland between Cunnamulla and Charleville with their son Kane. 

Kane says he “hopes it is the year of the sheep and it is starting to look that way. Wool prices are a lot better and well worth being in sheep and are at a level that is good for people who are starting to come back into it. There are plenty of factors that point towards 2016 being the year. We all hope it is because our district really needs wool to be a big factor, we have towns that are struggling to survive because there is no wool left. 

“I was speaking to someone the other day who went out of sheep because of wild dogs.  But now they are part of a cluster fence, they are going back to sheep and wool. Provided we can get a bit of rain, people will get a lot more confidence and start to re-build.  We can only hope.”

The issue of wild dogs has been the biggest factor for the dwindling sheep and wool industry and the drought has compounded this. 

It has been a long journey for Peter who has never stopped fighting for his industry. “The dog problem was getting worse in the early 2000’s and the landholders who were copping the biggest losses were doing control programs in isolation with no support and they threw their hands in the air and moved to cattle instead. That’s when we realised that if we didn’t get the community together to fight this problem we would lose a lot of sheep people in this shire.

“The first step was getting people to accept that there was a wild dog issue, and I think that people are now really starting to realise what a huge impact wild dogs are having,” Peter said.

“There was an attitude in the early 2000’s of ‘they aren’t my dogs, they are their dogs’, well they are everyone’s dogs. They can travel 40km a night and that’s why you need a good co-ordinated program. 

“We went around the shire holding meetings with landholders and we were able to put together a committee that became the Paroo Wild Dog Advisory Committee.  This committee set up the program that became known as the “Paroo Model” which is based on a nil tenure co-ordinated baiting and trapping approach.  To this day, it is the best practise model for Queensland.”

The need for this model was no more evident than in 2011 when the Lucas family marked 1200 lambs and by the time they were shorn in July there were only 32 left. 

“The dogs had totally destroyed us, it was our first major attack. We got up there and trapped them out of that area and now we trap on our neighbours all the time to stop the dogs before they get to us,” Peter said.

“The Paroo Shire now has the lowest wild dog population in Queensland. This has been thanks to a voluntary strategic program, with 98% landholder participation.

“We are currently putting fencing up as a part of a cluster fence under the SWNRM. I’m not happy that we have to use fences to keep our sheep and cattle safe from wild dogs but it has come to that stage because of the low participation rate in some shires.”

Kane says “If we don’t fence then in three or four years there won’t be any sheep left in this area.”

With the fence nearly complete and some rain early in the year, things are looking up for the Lucas family with this being the first year buying new rams and they will be joining them shortly.

“The subsidy for cluster fencing is only half the cost of steel posts and wire. It’s a lot of your own funding. Out of the eleven in our cluster, only two of them are cattle the rest are merino sheep,” said Kane.

If people weren’t confident in the industry then they wouldn’t be coughing up such a big amount of money in a dry time. This is instilling confidence in the industry to people going back into sheep.
Kane Lucas - Wyandra sheep grazier

Peter says “We didn’t have dogs in this shire for 70 years, there was a full generation of people who hadn’t seen a wild dog in their lives. I was one of them. They suddenly arrived and we didn’t have a clue of what to do to get rid of them. We have now educated landholders of what to look for and through AgForce / AWI funded and run trapping workshops everyone knows what signs to look for and they are becoming good trappers. Our landholders are far more advanced in how to find dogs than they were 5 or 6 years ago.”

Kane says “even without wild dogs, the amount of work you have to put in (to sheep), especially in the wool industry, looking after your wool sheep over twelve months is a lot of work. It’s a hard industry to be in but we do it because we believe in the industry and we believe in our products that are produced from our industry: coats, suits, all the way down to lanolin oil and we believe it is a very viable product and in our minds a clean, green, sustainable product.

Getting back into sheep can be achieved so quickly. We’ve always felt that in sheep country, your return can be achieved so quickly. I can run my ten ewes to one cow, and within 150 days I have ten lambs on the ground whereas with the cow I have to wait nine months. The biggest advantage with wool is that you don’t have to sell an asset to make money. You can make an income every 12 months without selling an asset. 

“We have been pretty lucky around here as no one wants wild dogs and everyone has pulled together and our baiting programs are really effective.

“If wool prices can stay reasonable, the cluster fences can get up with a bit of help from the government and if we can get a bit more rain then we can only hope that this could be the year that people start getting back into sheep.”

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