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The fence that's
saving the outback

The challenge
The solution
Where we are now
How it changed our lives

Part 1

The challenge

Wild dogs cost jobs and livelihoods for many in the Australian agricultural sector. Each year millions of dollars worth of livestock are killed or maimed by wild dogs. In western Queensland alone, the region has seen a 75% drop in sheep numbers.

This negative impact reaches beyond the farm and into the social and economic fabric of outback communities. Populations are declining, employment prospects are dwindling, shop fronts in the main streets are increasingly vacant and there is little economic stimulus.

The term 'wild dog' refers to purebred dingoes, dingo hybrids (a mixture of domestic dogs and dingoes) and domestic dogs that have escaped or been deliberately released and now live in the wild. Wild dogs are identified by Australia’s National Vertebrate Pests Committee as an extreme species meaning they are a recognised pest that is both widespread and established throughout Australia. Wild dogs can kill more animals than they need for food, which is referred to as surplus killing. The continual influx of domestic dogs into the wild means there is a constant feral population and there are probably more wild dogs, including dingoes, now in Australia than ever. (Australian Centre for Invasive Species Solutions)

Photo courtesy Ben Allen
Wild dog impact

Wild dogs cost Queensland

$67 million

Between 1991 and 2018, sheep numbers in the central west have declined more than 75% from approximately 2,000,000 to 450,000.

Between 2011 and 2016 lambing rates in the central west plummeted

70%

2016 2011 100% 0
Agricultural jobs have declined

Between 2001 and 2016 36% of agricultural jobs were lost

0

jobs
lost

2016 2001 2,000 0
Fewer sheep leads to fewer people

Between 2001 and 2016 27% of the population left the region

0

people
gone

2016 2001 15,000 0

The sheep industry requires more people, which means more jobs, which means more money circulating through a town, which means more opportunities in services, education, employment and social life.

Between 2011 and 2015 the population of central western Queensland between 0 and 54 years dropped by 12.5%. The problem worsened in 2014 when all seven councils of the RAPAD region were fully drought-declared. That drought declaration is yet to be lifted and the region is experiencing the worst drought in history.

Grazier Sam Coxon talks about the impact of wild dogs before the fence was installed

Under the pressures of wild dog attacks, population decline and drought the community came together to work on turning their situation around.

We've had less than half of our average rainfall this year but we're actually going forward because of the lambings we are now getting. We can start producing an income now.

Sam Coxon, Longreach

Meetings were held across the region searching for a solution because it was clear to all that continuing with business as usual would result in no business and no one to do business with.

Community leaders and wool growers admitted they could not break the drought, but they could protect their remaining sheep from wild dog attacks and be ready to capitalise on extraordinary growth once the drought broke.

In 2016 RAPAD councils and communities partnered with the State and Federal Government to build fences around groups of properties to stop wild dogs and bring back the sheep. The RAPAD Queensland Feral Pest Initiative (QFPI) Cluster Fence project was born.

Part 2

The solution

With the support of RAPAD and QFPI, neighbours agreed to work together to build 1.5-metre-high fences around groups of properties. These fenced clusters of land now had a physical barrier to stop wild dogs entering their properties and attacking sheep. At the end of round two an area larger than Hong Kong had been protected behind the fences. The project was part funded by government, but the local landholders paid for about 75% of the cost, their contributions exceeded $6 million.

Investment

G'ment

$0m

Private

$0m

It’s a lot of land, it’s a lot of wire, it’s a lot of money but it’s more than just a fence.

Aside from being able to control the number of wild dogs on their properties and protect sheep the fence:

  • Creates jobs and grows employment opportunities
  • Enables wool growers to have better and more predictable productivity, in turn offering stable and predictable employment
  • Provides more stability to the community in terms of long-term work and economic surety
  • Grows school numbers, boosts sporting teams, brings people with skills to the region
  • Reduces the amount of time wool growers need to be out looking for wild dogs and maimed sheep and allows them to use that time on other areas of the farming operation
  • Removes the constant emotional stress producers were experiencing during lambing when dog attacks happened every night
  • Enables people to become better equipped to withstand future drought events.
Mayor of Barcaldine Regional Council, Rob Chandler looks to the future of the region with the fences in place

Impacts of rounds 1 & 2

Properties

0 properties in

0 clusters

0 km fenced

0 million ha protected

Livestock

Sheep numbers

373,000

2026 2016 750 600 450 300 150 0 ’000 Round 1 Round 2

Lambing rates

15%

2026 2016 100 80 60 40 20 0 %

Jobs

0 new jobs

0 in Round 1

0 in Round 2

$0.00 million in direct wages

Income

Gross regional income

$46m

2026 2016 75 50 25 0 $m Round 1 Round 2

Return on investment

$0.00 per year every year for every $1 spent by government

Total one-off government spending
$0m
Total annual benefit to the community
$0m

Once the fences were built, the proportion of lambs surviving the vulnerable period after their birth increased in some properties from 30% up to 80%. That’s more than doubling the number of lambs surviving through to maturity.

We were not getting a result before… now people are looking 5-10 years down the track, before the only focus was on the here and now. The massive shift in positivity has been unbelievable.

Leonie Nunn, Way Out West cluster

It’s a result to be proud of but the project's aim is not just about protecting lambs, it’s long term goal is to be the catalyst for achieving significant improvement in the profitability of regional businesses both rural and non-rural, a more stable community, social growth, and better environmental and biosecurity control.

Economist Andrew Perkins discusses the role of the fence in halting population decline

Part 3

Where we are now

The RAPAD region covers an area in central western Queensland that is almost half the size of NSW. It includes the local government areas of Barcaldine, Barcoo, Blackall-Tambo, Boulia, Diamantina, Longreach and Winton. The region is home to 10,500 people according to the 2016 Census.

The seven clusters of Round 2

Round 2 cluster

RAPAD boundary

Rollover/click for more information

What does the future hold?

The councils and communities of the region are advocating for a continuation of cluster fencing funding to stop more dogs and bring back more sheep. RAPAD’s analysis has identified that if 1 million sheep were brought back to the west it would see…

Properties

124 properties

2,556 km fenced

1,160,000 ha protected

An area one-quarter the size of Switzerland

Jobs

70 new jobs

$4 million per annum to the region in increased wages

Investment

$0.00 regional benefit per year ad infinitum for every $1 of government expenditure

$0.00 increase in gross margin for every $1 a producer spends on CAPEX

Regional growth

0 new people living in the region

$0 per annum increase in income from sheep production

Peace of mind for 0 landholders

One-off cost to Government of less than $10m

Part 4

How it changed our lives

It’s a fence that’s brought my youngest son back home…

Leonie Nunn

When Leonie Nunn and husband Jim decided to join a cluster they knew it would help their stock and give them back time to work on their business. But they didn’t realise it would provide their family with a future for generations to come.

Before Leonie and Jim Nunn joined their neighbours to create the Way Out West Cluster there was no future on their “Sunnyside” property for any of her four sons.

But that changed when their cattle property 135 kilometres south west of Longreach started exclusion fencing.

“Our youngest son has decided he can come home now because we are going into sheep and obviously we will need a lot more help,” Mrs Nunn said.

“He can see a future, we need help because we are going into wool sheep and also it's giving him an opportunity to have a little start up business contract fencing on other people's places,” she said.

It has really given us heart… it’s fantastic for our family.

Leonie Nunn, Way Out West cluster

Thirty-five years of the Nunn family’s memories were made on “Sunnyside” which had originally been a sheep enterprise.

But the family made the switch to cattle almost a decade and a half ago because losses to wild dog attacks were too great.

“Traditionally we have always baited, 35 years ago when everyone was in sheep if we saw a dog on our place... well you might see a track, you wouldn't see a dog,” she explained.

“In the last 10 or 15 years as people have gone out of sheep and stopped baiting we see dogs.

“We have had calves bitten, we have had weaners bitten, we wouldn't even entertain the thought of having sheep because we know they would be eaten alive.

Now with the cluster completed Leonie, Jim and their son Cameron are reviving the old shearing shed and scouring the market for Merinos.

Leonie never thought this day would come that she would be working with her husband alongside their adult son and that the property could produce a living for them all.

She’s very much looking forward to the next few decades.

“We’ve got a lot of life left in us yet but we need the young people back in here and they come back with a different approach and different ideas they are more willing to move with the times so yes it's wonderful we need that,” she said.

Being part of a cluster has not only brought Leonie’s family closer together it’s helped her connect better with her neighbours.

“It just brought us together as a little area, there's not many people out there and just having that communication, socializing and there's a purpose for doing it we’re working out what we're going to do and how we going to do it, it's been really good,” she said.

Leonie Nunn discusses the social benefits of the fence

It’s a fence that’s producing cash flow even in dry seasons

Willie Chandler

When Willie Chandler started cluster fencing his two properties with neighbouring stations under round two funding he already knew the results for his business would be astounding.

When Willie Chandler started cluster fencing his two properties with neighbouring stations under round two funding he already knew the results for his business would be astounding.

Eight years earlier, in 2010, he had conducted an exclusion predator fencing experiment on a third property “Home Creek” which doubled his stocking rate.

“We initially got out of sheep at Home Creek because it got too bad (with dog attacks) we've got back in a few years after that and started fencing,” he said.

The Chandlers started by fencing three paddocks individually, but two dogs entered two of the paddocks, one in each, both dogs were removed with in a couple of weeks but the damage was devastating.

In paddock one the lambing marking rate was down 70%, paddock two lamb marking rate was down 60% while the third paddock with no dogs the lambing rate was up to 80%.

Mr Chandler believes exclusion fencing is a worthwhile investment and estimates his fencing activities have paid for themselves within 8 months.

If you are losing 500 to 1000 sheep per year it doesn't matter how many lambs you simply can’t keep going forward.

Willie Chandler, Barcoo South cluster

“It's just a security now of knowing that ninety nine percent (of dogs) you are keeping out is going to make the difference longer-term, so from that you can move on with your stocking rate numbers, you can split your country up a lot more than what you were previously and it's just a relief having that barrier on the outside… it's just full steam ahead depending on what the weather is going to do for us,” he said.

By fencing Willie Chandler can diversify his business to help protect it against commodity ups and downs and dry seasons.

“Now we can go from just running sheep we can run goats, we will go back into cattle when the seasons are a bit better.

“But the scenario at the moment is we can feed sheep and still make it profitable by feeding them through the dry period because of the wool price the lambing percentages are still at work.

“You've just got a whole range of management tools because you don't have the external predators coming at you all the time,” he said.

The cluster fencing program has delivered a large dose of optimism to grazing enterprises like WIllie Chandler’s which have been in severe drought since 2014.

“It's full steam ahead we are still going ahead, we've been building our ewe numbers as we’ve been going on through the drought.

“We're hoping to be up around the 20,000 ewes in two years time with surplus sheep that we will be able to sell.

“The wool side of it is going to have a huge return on our business and that's the reason that we’re doing a lot of feeding at the moment because we can justify it in two or three years time and just to have that number behind you to make the leaps and bounds.

“We are running a split operation so we are having a go at two lambings, an early lambing and a late lambing which is working to give us different models.

“We are shearing every eight months which will give us three wool clips in two years which also turns into cash generation,” Mr Chandler said.

He has also regained something that is hard to buy – time.

“I would be spending 3 weeks out of a month chasing dogs, I did nothing else so now we can put it all back in to how to run the business again. It's proven everyone who has put fences up are just basically raving about the fact that they have taken control back,” he said.

If the fencing program hadn’t come along when it did Mr Chandler knows the future would be dim.

“At that time we were running out of options without that fence we couldn’t stop that carnage of the dogs.

“It’s success had been proven by the first round of funding when people had finished their fences so it was a huge relief when we got the second round of funding,” he said.

Willie Chandler sees a new future for local towns

It’s a fence that gave me a lot to be thankful for

Melinda Driver

Melinda Driver was a young woman with little experience looking for a job when the cluster fencing initiative started. She doesn’t own any land or any sheep, but the fence has changed her life.

Melinda Driver had found it hard to find rural work during the drought and being unemployed was impacting on more than her bank balance.

“When you don’t have full time work you just feel lost. You need something to do to keep busy, otherwise you just get bored.” she said.

I’ve got a lot to look forward to.

Melinda Driver, fencing contractor

After being involved with RAPAD Employment Service Queensland (RESQ) she gained employment as a fencing contractor.

“I’ve got a lot to look forward to. I could do anything in the future, but for the short term I have a future.” she said.

She says that the work generated by the cluster fencing programme has given her a lot to be thankful for.

Melinda Driver talks about the opportunities the fencing programme has given her

It’s a fence with flow-on effects for the whole region

Rob Chandler

Barcaldine Shire Council Mayor Rob Chandler sees the fence as putting the region in the perfect position to kick off once the drought breaks.

RAPAD’s Chairman Rob Chandler’s focus is ferociously fixed on creating a future for the central west, but he’s pleased cluster fencing has effectively turned back the clock by 50 years.

We've got comfortable, happy sheep that aren't being chased around the flat by wild dogs.

Rob Chandler, Mayor of Barcaldine Regional Council

“The data sets of those people that have had a bit of rain are truly quite incredible. We're back to 100% lambings and we've got comfortable, happy sheep that aren't being chased around the flat by wild dogs, so the operation of the country out here is back to where it was 50 or 60 years ago.” he said.

Also the Mayor of Barcaldine Shire Council, he can remember a time when the community’s economy was held up by the wool industry.

“You couldn't get a bed in a pub in Longreach. All the pubs were full, so you've got men learning how to shear, or become cooks or rouseabouts. It's about all the work that goes with a labour intensive industry and it cannot be digitally disrupted.” he said.

He is adamant that cluster fencing will return the country and the community to productivity.

“In the shearing industry, when it revamps, there will be an extra two to three hundred employees, but there's also a downstream effect of that industry. You're going to have people carting the wool to Brisbane, you're going to have carrying companies and supply stores and shearers do well. So you’ll have beer, tucker, tools, clothing – 200 jobs across the whole of Central West Queensland is probably like 40,000 jobs in Brisbane."

Counsellor Chandler knows that while there are jobs generated directly by the sheep and wool industries and supporting businesses, the flow-on effects don’t end there.

“Once you get a busy place other people will follow, so it's great. You get more teachers in the schools, better medical facilities, long day care centres. More money flows around the community, so I'm really looking forward to the rain to kick the economic and community revival off.”

Rob Chandler sees great potential for the region

It’s a fence that’s helped me sleep at night

Sam Coxon

Until they negotiated a cluster arrangement with their neighbours, Sam and Belinda Coxon’s whole life was being severely impacted by wild dog attacks.

“They were basically just raiding us of a night time, we lost 30 weaners in one night because the dogs just packed them up against a fence and just shredded them.”

Sam Coxon’s family has been grazing on “Kateroy” near Longreach since 1887.

The past few years have been the most difficult he and his partner have experienced.

“We got to the stage where Belinda was yarding the sheep every night and we were putting on radios around the yards just to stop the dogs coming,” he said.

The couple's property has been drought declared since 2014, finances got so tight Mr Coxon sought an off farm income but it didn’t last.

“It (their situation with wild dogs) made it impossible for me to do that work, because it left my partner to do the work (back home on the property) and it was very distressing for her to run the risk of running into these dogs herself, they are very threatening these dogs are not scared of humans,” he said.

But since the Coxon’s cluster fence has been erected they no longer have to seek work off farm and can sleep soundly at night.

“We've gone from a situation where we were doing 40% lambings and that can't be sustained you can't stay in business with 40% lambing rates.

“Since we've fenced to we've gone up to an 80% lambing rate,” Mr Coxon said.

I’ve got more control and can start thinking about more productive parts of the business and ourselves.

Sam Coxon, Strathdarr cluster

“We've had less than half of our average rainfall this year but we're actually going forward because of the lambings were getting we can start producing an income now,” he said.

Until they negotiated a cluster arrangement with their neighbours, Sam and Belinda Coxon’s whole life was being severely impacted by wild dog attacks.

“The worrying of a night time keeps you awake all night makes less incentive to work the next day, but you know you've gotta keep going. It's taken a toll on the whole family actually not being able to go to things for the kids and stuff like that,” the father of three said.

Over a six month period Mr Coxon lost 500 sheep but it wasn’t the losses that hurt the most.

“It's the maimed ones that you have to save.

“We put a lot of time into saving animals taking them home cleaning the wounds up doing veterinary care on them that takes time and then you’ve got to go looking for the ones that are wounded that have moved off with the mob.

“That takes a lot of time to find those animals and try and save them and also during that time you're finding animals that have been killed and you may not find them until a week or two later you'll find the carcass of a whether that’s been killed by the dogs,” he said.

Now that Mr Coxon has removed most of the wild dogs from inside his property and lambing rates have increased he also has time to focus on moving his operation forward rather than just defending it.

“It takes your time away from doing the jobs you need to do for your business that actually make your business operate.

“You're gone very early in the morning and you're back very late at night trying to find these things and you're not doing the basic maintenance on your property as well it's very stressful on your family because you can't go away and leave anything,” he said.

Sam Coxon talks about the physical and mental toll of dog attacks

It’s a fence that gave me a sense of purpose

Robert Laverty

When Robert Laverty returned to Longreach there were few employment options. That was until he trained as a fencing contractor.

Like many young people from the central west, Robert Laverty left Longreach lured by jobs in the oil- and gas-buoyed economy further east.

But when the industry suffered a downturn, his job with a concreter in Roma ended, so he returned home with few leads for employment despite being a capable young man.

Just having money to spend has made a big difference.

Robert Laverty, fencing contractor

His prospects changed when he became involved with RAPAD Employment Service Queensland’s (RESQ) CDP program and learnt fencing skills.

Before long his supervisor put in a good word for him and he started casual work erecting cluster fencing with a contractor.

The work involved getting up early, but it gave Mr Laverty a sense of purpose, better job prospects and “just having money to spend has made a big difference”.

Robert met his girlfriend Melinda Driver on the same program.

Robert Laverty on coming back home and having money to spend