Weather News

Lambing rates 'best in a decade' as cluster fences breathe new life in western Queensland

By Maddelin McCosker, Friday December 13, 2019 - 14:50 EDT
ABC image
Andrew Martin is celebrating his best lambing rate in decades, thanks to cluster fences. - ABC

Lambing rates in western Queensland are the best they have been in a decade, despite more than eight years of drought, and graziers say it is almost certainly due to exclusion fencing.

Andrew Martin runs around 10,000 sheep on his property McFarlane, near Tambo, 860km north-west of Brisbane.

This week, he finished marking the final mob of sheep.

Mr Martin estimated this season's lambing rate was around 90 per cent for most paddocks, representing the best numbers he had seen in a decade.

'Outstandingly bad year'

Sheep numbers in western Queensland have plummeted from nearly 6 million to fewer than 200,000 since the early 1990s, .

Back in 2013, McFarlane's lambing rate of just 7 per cent meant they had what Mr Martin described as "an outstandingly bad year".

That year, the grazier removed around 130 dogs from the property — and those were just ones he saw.

"Before the cluster fencing, we were looking at 7 per cent [but] we shot up pretty close to 80 per cent in the year following," he said.

"I don't know how many dogs traversed the landscape here but it was an outstandingly bad year for us and we tried all sorts of different things."

While building the fence, McFarlane was home to until the barrier was in place.

With the predator-proof fence in place, all McFarlane needed was a good season to help things along.

But with the drought dragging on for so long, good seasons have been few and far between.

"Of course, once we had the fence done and all things were supposed to be equal, we had a couple of very, very bad seasons and numbers were not all that good," Mr Martin said.

"Now we've got this outstandingly good one, so it just goes to show, if you keep running them long enough you'll get lucky."

The 'lucky' season

At Home Creek, between Barcaldine and Blackall, Willie Chandler has had exclusion fencing on his property since 2011.

He built the fences before government money was available and has been waiting for his lucky season since then.

"It hasn't rained in 10 years, so I'm down to 3,000 sheep there," Mr Chandler said.

He said since the fencing, he had been working to grow the flock at Home Creek but without rain, the fencing could only do so much.

"Before we started the fencing, we got out of sheep because they were being wiped out," Mr Chandler said.

"The sheep were almost totally destroyed by wild dogs".

He said when fencing began at Home Creek, the property was seeing around 50 to 60 dogs, but within a year the numbers had dropped to five or six.

Proof is in the pudding

But on Mr Chandler's other property, Oma Station, it is a different story.

The boundary of Oma was fenced in 2018 as part of the South Barcoo Cluster with the Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) to protect the 20,000 head of sheep there.

The following year, the combination of fencing and rain meant Mr Chandler could join his ewes.

The lucky season for Oma Station came in March, when more than 250 millimetres fell on the parched land.

In June this year the joined ewes were scanned, and the results — a 93 per cent conception rate — were some of the best Mr Chandler has seen in years.

He said the proof was in the pudding.

"We've got country that's behind the fence, and it has rained," Mr Chandler said.

"We've immediately gone back to huge conception rates and the ewes keeping the lambs alive but this is the first year in 10 that the season has gone with Oma.

"Because the fence is there, you can prove what numbers you can get back to really quickly [so] it proves the case for the funding."

More funding in the future?

RAPAD is confident more funding would be forthcoming for graziers who missed out in earlier rounds.

Senior regional development officer Morgan Gronold said he had been having conversations with all levels of governments in an attempt to facilitate more funding.

"All of the rounds we've ever had funding for have all been completely oversubscribed," he said.

"But we are doing everything we can to get in the ear of government to say 'look, this is probably one of the most significant projects to happen out here for decades'.

"The government funding under this project is only about 30 per cent of the cost.

"From the government perspective around return of investment, it is a fantastic model."


© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Rain across NSW will boost grain harvest but risk of frost, storms lie ahead

16:51 EST

Big crops hang in the balance — after some achingly bad drought years and with heavy debts, some New South Wales grain farmers need more rain.

Wildflowers in outback Queensland deliver a pleasant change after best yearly rainfall in a decade

12:24 EST

Stunning wildflowers are blooming across drought-stricken western Queensland after recent much-needed rain.