Upper Hunter grazier Ian MacCallum,”Bellsbrook”, Moonan Flat, says he feels powerless when it comes to tackling the menace posed by wild dogs because unlike drought and livestock diseases the dog problem never, ever goes away.
“Its not simply the financial loss, its also the emotional toll its takes on you and your family year in year out and today I can’t see a solution to the problem,” he said.
“At least with a drought I can make decisions and take actions on the farm to ease the situation same goes for livestock diseases but with the dogs they just keep on coming and attacking our sheep.”
Mr MacCallum has spent his entire life on his 1224 hectare property in the foothills of the Barrington Tops.
In fact he is the fifth generation of his family to live and work on “Bellsbrook” and he is pleased to be working alongside his son Gavin with the pair also leasing an additional 816ha in the district.
The MacCallums are desperate to see the development of a workable plan to control wild dogs, in particular support from National Parks and Wildlife, who manage the 83,000ha Barrington Tops conservation area.
“People love to visit the Barrington Tops and yes its a beautiful part of the world but they don’t realise that their tourist destination is the breeding ground for wild dogs that our destroying our livelihood,” said Gavin.
“As a society we need to invest some real money in park management to control the wild dogs – that’s what we want to see.”
Presently wild dogs in the district have mainly confined their attacks to the sheep flocks but Gavin said there were now reports of the dogs attacking calves.
“At one of the popular camping grounds in the park it has been claimed the dogs have growled at visitors, well do we really have to wait for an attack before some action is taken,” Gavin warned.
“At one of the popular camping grounds in the park it has been reported the dogs have growled at visitors,Gavin MacCallum
He describes the dogs as becoming ‘urbanised’ capable of killing sheep at their back door.
“The park is a haven for the dogs so one species may come to dominate all others causing the loss of native wildlife.Landholders are already saying how you don’t see any kangaroos in their travels,” he said.
The MacCallums are committed sheepmen they know their country is well suited to wool production and they do not want to give-in to the dogs and run only cattle.
This year they expect their 1200 head, self replacing, Bungulla blood, 19 micron flock to earn $100,000 so it makes economic sense to keep the sheep.
They also run 400 cows on the property but the sheep, especially now given the record prices for wool and lambs, are a vital component of their operation.
And MacCallums reckon if everyone decides to get out of sheep thanks to the dogs the problem will simply continue with cattle being attacked.
Given their family’s long association with the district Mr MacCaullm is in possession of many historic documents including those relating to dog control.
Dogs have always posed threats to livestock there are remnants on their property of a dog fence built in 1800s consisting of 17 plain wires.
It was built when the White family’s “Belltrees” covered most of the district and sheared more than 100,000 sheep.
Documents from the 1930s show payment to a local dog trapper who killed 24 dogs in 1936 and 23 dogs in 1939 when he was protecting 23,000 wethers.
Mr MacCallum says during the 1950s and 60s there were many skilled bushman in the district from Rouchel, Stewarts Brook, and Moonan who trapped and controlled the dogs.
They had great skills and were always out there culling wild dogs, he said. This meant we had few problems in that era plus aerial baiting started in 1960s and that proved very effective, he said.
For example from 1968 to 2008 Mr MacCallum said he saw only two dogs. “But from 2008-2010 we saw 16 dogs and in 2015 two dogs came in cost us at least $6000 in lost stock,” he said.
“Other producers closer to the park are taking a bigger hit than us and many have simply got out of sheep as dogs are so bad.”
With fewer landholders and even fewer with the skills to control wild dogs plus the vast national park providing a sanctuary Mr MacCallum is pessimistic about his sheep enterprise’s future.
He would like to see the government commit to full-time staff living in the park to manage all the feral pests.
“If they travel up each day from Scone too much time is wasted and they are not on-site to see and actually control the pests,” he said.
He would also love to see the wild dog management that was used by previous generations adopted now.
“Everyone was on-board in those days everyone had the skills to control dogs and if they didn’t they could employ a trapper,” he said
“Authorities nowadays need the power to encourage landholders to participate in pest control,” he said.
One bit of good news is the success of goats – an introduced species that are proving beneficial.
Blackberry and briars were once so abundant in the landscape that controlling them was a costly and a time consuming business.
Spray regimes worked but needed follow-up treatments to keep the pests at bay. According to Mr MacCallum a number of years ago some goats arrived and have enjoyed the environment. “They breed up but at the same time they got into the eating the blackberries and briars and transformed many of the paddocks,” he said.
“We like the goats and have a ready market any surplus stock.” However, like the sheep the goats are proving to be a popular meal for the wild dogs just another reason why we need to control them said Mr MacCallum.