FOR decades producers in NSW's Far West have had to accept that trying to run large mobs of sheep was almost impossible due to the impact of pest animals.
Despite the conditions being almost perfectly suited to rearing sheep and goats, many producers have turned their back on the industries due to feral animals, such as wild dogs, killing large amounts of their herds.
However, not prepared to accept the fate put on them by the pests, many baiting and management groups spawned across western NSW, banding together to help control numbers.
One such group is the Warrego-Paroo Pest Management Group, which like many groups in the region, is made up by neighbouring producers who share in the collective goal of eradicating pest animals.
Consisting of, Tegan and Jack Barton, Michelle and Jon Mort, Annabel and Jim Strachan, Rachael and Wally Nielsen and Deborah and Dick Nielsen, the group stretches across the Warrego and Paroo river systems and across the Queensland border.
"I was born and bred in this area, my father sold the property, Janina, which my wife Michelle bought back in 2014 to live on and completely stocked it with sheep," Warrego-Paroo Pest Management Group president Jon Mort said.
"However, dogs ate most of our sheep to the point that we just had to sell what was left because they had reduced our lambing numbers drastically.
"We should have realistically been expecting to have 1800 to 2000 lambs in the period of 2017-2018 and we only got 26, that's how badly the dogs knocked us around."
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Suffering a similar fate, all five families involved in the group got together and with the help of Local Land Services (LLS), set about forming a combined approach to baiting and trapping.
Since then, the group has worked closely with LLS and its trapper, Louth local Jason Boede, who fellow group member Deborah Nielsen said was "worth his weight in gold".
"The work that Jason has done in conjunction with the work of the whole group has just been fantastic," Mrs Nielsen said.
"The expertise in knowing what the signs of having dogs on your property is half the battle and it is something that Jason is really knowledgeable about and has helped us with a lot.
"Through Jason our awareness of wild dogs is at an all-time high and our feral animal numbers are dropping considerably."
Mrs Nielsen said the group's work was giving her confidence that it could be possible to run sheep in the area without the need of exclusion fencing.
"It seems to me that most people are of the view that the only way you can run sheep out here is by putting exclusion fencing up around your property, or just not run them at all," she said.
"Given the size of most properties out here, it is completely unfeasible to put exclusion fencing around your property, so we have to find another way and working together with baiting, monitoring and trapping pests is the only way."
The LLS' Professional Wild Dog Controller (PWDC) program launched in 2020, in a bid to help landholders in the region battle the ongoing problem.
In its first 18 months, the program has helped control more than 100 wild dogs, 48 feral pigs, eight feral cats and four foxes.
LLS regional pest animal co-ordinator Phil Baird said the program had operated on 37 properties across the region and was vital in helping landholders identify the signs of wild dogs, track their movements and utilise different trapping techniques.
"For those yet to be involved in the program, there is currently an initiative where landholders can have a PWDC visit their property for a day for no charge," Mr Baird said.
"The purpose of the free trapper for a day is to increase the capacity of landholders to identify wild dog sign and discuss management options.
"To find out more about this opportunity or the program in general, landholders should speak with their local biosecurity officer or contact Western LLS today."
However, Mr Mort said while the help of LLS was invaluable, the greatest tool in the fight against pest animals was teamwork.
"There are still some people in this part of the world who don't bait because they don't think they have dogs on their place," he said.
"I just think that's unrealistic because they are everywhere and there is only so much we can do by ourselves.
"If we want to knock this problem over for good, we need to have a complete buy-in from all landholders.
"It's easier said than done but we will continue to try and do what we can, as well as spread the word about how successful the program has been for our group and what it might be able to do for others, who may be experiencing similar problems."
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