Five years of proactive wild dog management in the Northern Territory has pushed cattle weaner damage from a high of 15-30 per cent down to 5 per cent.
Professional pest controller and Northern Territory Cattleman’s Association representative on the National Wild Dog Action Plan, Adam Bowen, baits wild dogs across 50 stations in the NT and conducted around 15 trapping and baiting informal on-station workshops over 2020.
Dingoes are protected across the whole of the Northern Territory regardless of public and private land and no funding is provided by the NT government for wild dog control.
Pastoralists must apply for a permit to control dingoes and are provided an annual bait allocation as part of the permit process. All wild dog control programs and logistics are funded by the landholders.
On the two properties Mr Bowen manages near Katherine, the calf loss has reduced considerably and now results in an extra 600 calves weaned from 3000 head of cattle (on 600sqkm).
Before the baiting program, the properties weaned 1000 calves per year but this jumped to 1600 calves once baiting began in 2015.
The first round of baiting in autumn used 30 per cent of the annual bait allocation while the second round in late spring used the remaining 70 per cent prior to calving.
Mr Bowen said bite damage on one property was down to 3 per cent this year from 30 per cent seven years ago.
A second property two hours south of Katherine went from zero baiting to two baiting rounds a year with an extra 600 calves weaned annually valued at an estimated $780,000.
“If we can get those calves to 300kg they are worth $1300 each,” he said.
“Five years ago, the average cattle weaner damage in the Territory was 15-30 per cent,” he said.
“Following five years of proactive wild dog management the average is now down to 4-5 per cent.”
Mr Bowen said cattle producers now regard a 5 per cent calf loss as unacceptable and a major financial impact.
“With the increasing costs to production, even an extra 1 per cent makes a huge difference to management practices and ability for stations to maintain their property,” he said.
“The landscapes and scale of production has changed considerably in the NT and this needs to be taken into consideration when delivering our control programs.
“Some stations have up to 600 water troughs in place of 240 bores – the ecosystems we are slowly creating are making it more habitable for wild dogs.
“So, the level of control and management practices delivered 10-20 years ago simply aren’t as effective at controlling the number of wild dog populations we are seeing now.”
Mr Bowen said one of the barriers to wild dog management he faced in the NT was the turnover of managerial staff on stations of his clients, reducing consistency and delivery of ongoing management programs.
“It is only when calf damage becomes apparent and weaning rates are reduced the dog control program is conducted again,” he said.
The lack of carcase feedback on downgrades due to hydatid infection and wild dog bites also impeded the uptake of wild dog management.
Mr Bowen said wild dog activity had been light during 2021 compared to 2020.
“There is a lot more water around this year so the dogs seem to be more spread out than what they were last year, or it could be we have cleaned up the vast majority of them last year when they had to be around bores for water.
“Landholder uptake of baiting programs for my 50 blocks has been 100 per cent this year.
“Across the NT uptake is good – landholders realise it is a maintenance program and needs to continue.”
Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association acting chief executive officer Romy Carey said the membership was supportive of having a full suite of tools available to manage wild dog populations in the landscape to assist with the reduction in calf wastage, calf loss, bite marks and market impacts.
“Where animals are marked and they survive, they are no longer accepted into our Indonesian market in most cases, so producers have to find alternate markets for that animal,” Ms Carey said.
“The better our weaning rate can be, the better it is for our businesses and animal welfare.”
Ms Carey agreed upgrades to water infrastructure on NT stations had created more micro ecosystems for wild dogs to inhabit.
“The development of infrastructure has supported a whole range of wildlife where they potentially wouldn’t have been years ago,” she said.
“NTCA invited National Wild Dog Management Coordinator Greg Mifsud to deliver best practice management days in the NT, and we have access to the likes of Adam Bowen and pest animal control contractors – for us it is about accessing and using all the tools available, including trapping, shooting and the application of 1080, to our full advantage.”
For more information on calf loss and livestock impacts due to wild dogs visit https://wilddogplan.org.au/research/