WILD dog baiting programs are feeling the strain of drought with meat supplies getting thinner.
With wide-scale destocking and offloading from both sheep and cattle properties throughout New South Wales, meat that would usually end up as wild dog bait is now in short supply.
"The animals just aren't there. No one is holding onto anything," NSW wild dog coordinator for the north east, Dave Worsley said.
Pet food abattoirs, the main source of baiting meat, are struggling to source stock.
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In one instance, an order for 36 tonnes of meat fell through just three days before a baiting program.
Luckily, a Brisbane-based company had excess and was able to fulfil the order.
Mr Worsley said producers within the control groups were aware of the problem and had started to make moves of their own in order to sure up the meat supply, with a view to stockpiling for next year.
The NSW northern tablelands aerial baiting program is the largest in Australia.
Mr Worsley said the extended drought was a drain on rural families and resources.
"Producers are so focussed on feeding and just getting through the day," Mr Worsley said.
The carefully designed wild dog management plans within the various control groups do provide some reassurance about wild dog control into the future.
Mr Worsley described them as well structured and well focussed.
The human factor within dog attacks is not hidden from Mr Worsley.
"There is no greater kick in the guts than to have kept animals alive and then lose them to a dog attack," he said.
"You end up euthanizing more animals than actually get killed, which is hard."
"So there's a double blow there."
Mr Worsley himself is in the process of selling off all his sheep, and a large proportion of his cattle, in order to ease pressure on his property.
NSW wild dog coordinator for the western region, Bruce Duncan, said there had been a significant increase in dog numbers as the dry rolled on.
One of the problems to come from a diminished number of watering points is that those remaining become concentrated with livestock and in turn, predators.
Mr Duncan said various factors make it difficult to get exact metrics of wild dog numbers and movement but future research projects could hopefully address that.
Tracking the scale of wild dogs is not helped by operations such as carbon farms, organic operations and investor properties, which often don't contribute to wild dog monitoring and control, creating what Mr Duncan described as "white gaps" on the map.
IF there is a positive to be had from the situation, it's a coming together of graziers and livestock owners determined to take a stand against the feral animals.
"We are seeing a more collaborative approach with landholders working together," he said.
It's a good sign, according to Mr Duncan, who said it's the way forward for future wild dog control.
He said many producers were putting wild dogs near the top of the list of concerns, just behind water.
Mr Duncan said he's seen firsthand the increased strain on farming families due to more wild dog activity.
"People are starting to understand the depth of the problem," he said.
"Some are employing wild dog controllers out of their own money and putting their own resources into it."
That can be frustrating as it's hard to see visible returns on investment.
Producers in the Northern Tablelands region may be a little further down the path of unity, according to the Mr Worsley.
"We're now trying to take it to the next level with the introduction of things like FeralScan Reporting," he said.
While wild dogs are perhaps the primary concern for wool producers, feral pigs also provide headaches.
Mr Duncan said feral pig numbers reduce during dry periods but build up quickly once rain returns, something landholders need to be mindful of if the season turns.
Mr Worsley acknowledged it may be hard to "maintain the rage" as sheep numbers reduce and the number of dog attacks does accordingly.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has co-funded wild dog coordinator positions throughout the country.
AWI program manager vertebrate pests, Ian Evans, said collaboration between local landholders is vital but can be challenging without external help.
That is why communities need a coordinator to step in and help out. They need somebody independent, who can break down these barriers and get landholders working locally and across shires.
"Woolgrowers recognise the vital need for wild dog control, but they often don't have the relationships with all land managers across sometimes vast distances as in Queensland that are needed to be able to work together on the dog problem," he said.
"Nor do they necessarily have all the skills or resources to combat dogs, and those people that are actively involved in dog control can often feel burnout due to the scale of the problem and low participation within a region.
"That is why communities need a coordinator to step in and help out. They need somebody independent, who can break down these barriers and get landholders working locally and across shires."
Funding is available under AWI's Community Wild Dog Control Initiative to individual groups to undertake wild dog control activities.
- To apply, groups should download and complete the application form at wool.com/wilddogs and submit it along with a plan, a map and a project budget to firstname.lastname@example.org.