A concerted effort to refurbish 150km of exclusion fencing combined with a consistent wild dog baiting program has enabled the nation’s largest sheep station to turn the corner in profitability.
The fence fell into disrepair over the past decade, resulting in incursions of hundreds of wild dogs taking an enormous financial and livestock toll on the station, prompting current manager Jimmy Wood to develop a plan of staged refurbishment and best practice monitoring and baiting.
In 2019, drought and wild dog predation had resulted in lamb marking percentages falling to an unviable 3 per cent and 50,000 sheep shorn.
In 2020, Rawlinna was down to shearing 26,500 head with Mr Wood estimating 10,000 ewes and lambs valued at $1.5 million lost to predation.
“That definitely put us in the red and was probably one of the biggest losses in a flock anywhere in Australia,” he said.
“In the last three years we have accounted for 120 wild dogs (confirmed kills) inside the netting.
”With lessons learnt on consistent fence maintenance, Rawlinna embarked on a fencing project in 2020 worth more than $1 million to refurbish 150km of existing 400km dog fence enclosing the station. To top it off, Jimmy plans to complete another 20km of lapping this year on the eastern boundary.
“We are not building a new fence but resurrecting an old one which had done its jobs for 60 years and was generally in pretty good condition but in need of serious maintenance. We are fortifying it for the next 50 years,” he said.
“As a result, it took us twice as long and cost twice as much but we now have 100 x 150mm square netting on the outside to handle the kangaroo pressure and behind that is the 100mm marsupial netting to stop the wild dogs.
“It is an impenetrable barrier and a damn fine fence – it is the only reason we are still in business now, you cannot operate with wild dogs inside a small stock station.
”Jimmy grew up on Rawlinna, saying wild dog numbers were low in the 1990s but exploded in the past decade.
“In 2018, dog sightings within the station were common and lambings were down to 55 per cent despite coming off the back of a decade of good years and a record start to the season,” he said.
“I only shore 35 per cent lambs – the flock was decimated by the wild dogs.
“I have a staff member checking the fence full-time five days a week plus staff to assist where necessary for the bigger jobs on the netting and periodic maintenance.
“In June 2020 staff walked the eastern and western netting (110km each side) plus 90km of the southern netting and found 60 large holes and 120 smaller holes. You might as well have left the gates open.
”A 1.5m high prefabricated fence was clipped on this existing 90km of dog fence originally built in the 1960s.
“We wanted to keep the existing fence as it was reasonably good plus we couldn’t knock half it down and leave it open for any period of time,” Jimmy said.
“The Waratah netting was rolled out on top of the old fence and clipped onto three carrier wires every 500mm. It is 1400mm high with a hinge at the bottom and a 300m lapping.
”Fencing contractor Doug Brown and his team took eight months to complete the project.
Simultaneously, 25km of prefabricated black poly-coated lapping was laid on the southern dog fence (600mm high chicken wire) along with a major fortification of the southwestern and south-eastern corners to counteract kangaroo pressure.
Another 35km of hinge joint mesh was used as a lapping to replace the bottom 500mm of the existing dog fence. In 2021, Rawlinna shore 30,117 sheep for an 860-bale clip with lamb marking almost double of 2020 at 75.9 per cent or 11,778 lambs.
“Getting the wild dogs out has been the single biggest thing that has made Rawlinna viable again,” Jimmy said.
Rawlinna Station, owned by Jumbuck Pastoral, covers 1,011,714 ha and once ran 65,000 Merino sheep protected by a 400km exclusion fence originally erected in the 1960s.
Image by Jimmy Wood: Erecting wild dog exclusion fencing on Australia’s largest sheep station on the Nullarbor resulted in an increase in sheep numbers, lambing percentages and wool weight.
This article was first published in The Fence magazine.