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Predation by foxes, pigs, birds and dogs has been found to cause up to 40% of lamb losses. It is essential that a humane control program for predatory and invasive animals be adopted and, where possible, applied regionally.
Long-term population suppression is reliant upon continual monitoring and integrated control efforts with no single control measure likely to achieve eradication alone.
Foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers more than $35m annually. If producers are in a fox-prone region it is recommended that they implement a range of control options at least three months prior to lambing and throughout the lambing period. Control options include:
- Feralmone - A spray-based lure designed to increase visitation of wild dogs or foxes to bait or trap sites and to assist in bait uptake.
- 1080 baiting - Lethal baiting is considered to be the most effective available method of controlling foxes and is cost effective over large areas. Ground baiting tends to be more effective and has a decreased risk of baiting non-target species than aerial baiting. There are strict restrictions on the availability and use of 1080 and persons using 1080 must ensure they meet appropriate state requirements and follow instructions.
- Den fumigation with CO2 - Fumigation should only be conducted when dens containing cubs older than four weeks old can be located (usually August to October). This method presents minimal risk to non-target species and is best suited to localised fox problems, such as an active den in a lambing paddock. Den fumigation is time and labour intensive and is an inefficient method for large scale control.
- Shooting - Shooting is an effective supplementary control method when used prior to lambing or when fox numbers do not justify a more comprehensive response. Shooting is labour intensive requiring skilled and licensed operators and is not suited to large scale fox control, dense scrub or near residential dwellings.
- Trapping: Trapping is suitable when other control methods cannot be used. Trapping is time consuming and labour intensive and not as effective as other general fox control measures. Traps must be regularly checked.
Feral pigs are estimated to cost Australian farmers more than $100m annually. Pigs are regularly responsible for lamb losses of up to 32% in the arid and semi-arid rangelands.
Pig predation is best controlled by selecting lambing paddocks where pigs can be controlled. Control measures usually involve trapping, aerial and ground shooting and poison baiting. Fencing is expensive but can effectively prevent feral pigs from reaching lambs if used before pigs become habituated to the food source.
MLA has supported the development of a new 1080-based factory produced feral pig bait, PIGOUT® which is specifically flavoured and dyed to minimise uptake by non-target species.
Australia has a significant problem with wild dogs which are estimated to cost Australian farmers around $65m annually, primarily through killing lambs and calves.
Controlling predation by wild dogs presents difficulties due to the large amount of hybridisation with the dingo. Dingoes are subject to various protection laws in different regions. In practice, a balanced approach generally advocates managing purebred dingoes for conservation if possible, whilst removing problem dogs in agricultural/pastoral areas. Producers should check with their local rural agencies for control options in their regions.
Wild dogs are best managed through a combination of trapping, shooting and baiting. Trapping is time and labour intensive and its success is dependent on the expertise of the operator. Traps must be checked frequently and poorly set traps allow dogs to escape. Trapping can be effective for 'rogue' dogs that are repeatedly injuring stock. Traps are not target specific and should not be placed near waterholes or on animal paths known to be frequented by animals other than the target dogs.
Poisoning can be problematic as baits can be taken by farm dogs and an antidote is currently not available. Poison baiting dogs is restricted in some parts of the country and producers should be aware of any restrictions in their particular area.
Birds, primarily wedge-tail eagles and crows (Australian Ravens), can have an impact on new-born lambs, however, recent research has shown that the wedge-tail eagle's affect is minimal. Wedge-tail eagles are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and it is illegal to kill, trap or poison them.
Crows are frequently implicated in causing lamb losses and are known to prey on new born lambs. As opposed to raptors, crows have difficulty penetrating mammal skin and so tend to target soft parts such as the mouth, eyes, anus, tail and umbilicus, inflicting particularly cruel wounds which generally result in death.
Crows are intelligent birds and a number of options should be employed to reduce crow impact at lambing. Producers should check with the local rural agencies as legal control methods vary between states.
Effective options include:
- Sheep management - Time lambing to coincide with your neighbours so crows are not attracted to the one area. Use well sheltered, small paddocks, ideally close to the house, to assist ewes in hiding and defending their lambs.
- Supplementary feeding - If supplementary feeding, producers should minimise the use of split-grain which attracts predatory birds and consider using bird-proof feed bins.
- Shooting - Firearms and shooters must be licensed.
- Scaring - Various scare devices, such as scare guns, can be effective but are best used in conjunction with other control measures.
- Alternative food source - Place an alternative food source for birds away from lambing paddocks and continue shooting and scaring near the lambing paddock so crows move to the area where they will not be scared when feeding.
Producers should check regional regulations before they implement any predation management on their property.