Lambing mortality rates drop as foxes, wild dogs are culled in Victoria's east

Mortality rates drop as foxes, wild dogs culled in Victoria's east

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REDUCING THE THREAT: Warrigal Creek manager Calum Steele, Darriman, says more than 100 foxes have been shot on the property, south-west of Sale, since January.

REDUCING THE THREAT: Warrigal Creek manager Calum Steele, Darriman, says more than 100 foxes have been shot on the property, south-west of Sale, since January.

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More than 8000 fox scalps have been handed into collection points across Gippsland.

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Farmers in Victoria's east say a coordinated strike on foxes and wild dogs has contributed to one of their lowest lambing fatality rates on record.

Calum Steele, who manages Warrigal Creek at Darriman, south-west of Sale, said an "aggressive culling program" at his mixed farming operation had killed more than 100 foxes since January.

He said fox attacks had been "visibly less" in 2019 with fewer than a dozen attacks since May, compared almost double that in the two years earlier.

"We had a lot of foxes chewing the back end of the sheep and particularly any stock that got light during the drought," Mr Steele said.

"The issue we've got is that we've got a lot of cover because we do revegetation work on trees and we're next to a game reserve and we have a lot of foxes come off that country.

"I've taken about 50 foxes off the property since the beginning of the year myself and in May we had some field and game shooters come and they did three drives over a three-month period and they've taken the same, if not more."

Since May, more than 8000 fox scalps have been handed into state government collection points from Ellinbank to Bairnsdale, while 172 wild dog parts were also processed.

KILLED: Wild dogs hang from a tree near Benambra in March 2018.

KILLED: Wild dogs hang from a tree near Benambra in March 2018.

Mr Steele said the Victorian wild dog and fox bounty, which rewarded producers and hunters $10 per fox scalp, had motivated the cull at Warrigal Creek, a mixed farming operation with a Merino-based mob of ewes.

"This season we have lost a handful of lambs to fox attacks but not as many in the last few years because we pushed harder to kill more foxes and started earlier in the season," he said.

"The important part about [the bounty] is that it replaces my ammunition and any sort of hunting gear I need like fox whistles."

Further east at Omeo, third generation sheep and cattle farmer Simon Lawlor said baiting programs coordinated by Australian Wool Innovation had lowered fatality rates among his young lambs.

"We've seen one of the best increases in lambing percentages in 10 years," he said.

"I have lost lambs to foxes, it would be very few, but haven't lost any to dogs this year and this would be the first year I haven't had a dog kill in living memory."

Mr Lawlor said aerial and ground baiting, exclusion fencing and the bounty had all contributed to reducing the "decimating impacts" of attacks.

"[The bounty] is not something that has encouraged me to go out and shoot ... but it has encouraged the recreational shooters who camp and stay on our property to go out and shoot," he said.

Figures show 8000 foxes killed in Gippsland bounty

Fresh data reveals more than 8000 fox scalps have been collected in Gippsland under Victoria's fox and wild dog bounty in 2019.

Details obtained by Stock & Land reveal west Gippsland producers killed almost three times as many foxes compared to their counterparts in in south and east Gippsland.

The data showed 8235 fox scalps were handed in to centres at Bairnsdale (792 fox scalps), Ellinbank (3814), Maffra (1461), Woori Yallock (1085) and Yarram (1461) since March 1, 2019.

The data also revealed 172 wild dog body parts had been handed in at Bairnsdale (125), Eillinbank (25) and Maffra (22).

Agriculture Victoria Established Invasive Animals biosecurity manager Jason Wishart said 242 participants had taken part in the bounty.

"Since the bounty commenced in 2011, more than 84,000 fox scalps and 1,600 wild dog body parts from 2,500 participants have been submitted at Gippsland collection centres," he said.

The bounty is scheduled to continue though until June 30, 2020, however, the collection period will finish at the end of next month.

Victorian Wild Dog Management Committee chair Ron Harris, Nagambie, urged against complacency.

"The big key in this is it's not just about aerial baiting, ground baiting or trapping, it's about the integrated approach including exclusion fencing, the use of Maremma dogs, the bounty itself and the role AWI plays in coordination," he said.

"We want sheep to come back into these areas where people have gone out of sheep because at the moment they're quite profitable, but work needs to continue to reduce wild dog numbers."

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