The only thing worse for a young girl than the sight of a sheep mauled to death is knowing that there will be more laying by the riverside trying to breathe through open wounds in their throats.
The appearance of feral cats around our home and @OwdFred’s haunting description of his traumatised cattle stirred a terrifying memory of childhood autumn mornings at my grandparents’ sheep farm. For weeks, my father lay awake with his gun in darkened paddocks and for weeks, he returned with that gun and me in the crisp light of dawn to find and relieve the dead and dying of their suffering.
I must have been about 10 at the time and it was my job to stand in the back of the ute to spot striken sheep as he drove slowly back and forth along the riverbank. Some sheep simply drowned in their attempt to flee from the predators, others crashed through fences and, inevitably, the young and old suffered the most.
When a neighbour had 100 sheep penned and lost 30 overnight, the story hit the news with appeals for all dog owners to contain their pets at night but still the carnage continued.
Then, one night during Dad’s vigil, a pack of dogs appeared and began its ugly sport. Dad fired as many shots as he could, clipping one dog’s ear. It turned out these dogs were local pets who “wouldn’t hurt a fly”. Bored dogs allowed to roam free at night. Pampered pooches with blood lust.
Instead of fanciful schemes to track the “black panther”, one day I hope we will instead look to our own backyards.
Moving the maremmas' home
Our farm shares kilometres of boundaries with state forest and, unfortunately, tonnes of its feed with hundreds of kangaroos and wallabies. While animal activists quote research carried out in semi-arid lands that found no competition between livestock and macropods, nothing could be further from the truth here.
The kangaroos and wallabies decimate luscious dairy pastures and crops. Last year, an oat crop adjoining the forest was cropped to just four inches high near the bush and grew to around a metre tall on the other (inner) side of the same paddock.
Our neighbours have installed massive fences in an attempt to keep the kangaroos and wallabies out, with mixed success. The other alternative is to shoot them and I do have a licence to cull 40. I haven’t used it because I hate the thought of it.
Instead, I’ve been looking at ways to deter them from the farm. A promising study used dingo urine but this seems to have come to a premature halt due to staffing issues. Many researchers have found ultrasonic deterrents ineffective.
I’m hoping we’ve found the solution. We’ve been bonding two maremma livestock guardian dogs, Charlie and Lola, to our calves and teaching them to respect the boundary fences. Fluffy white 35-kilogram bounders, these gentle dogs have a formidable bark and presence. They are also very protective of their “family” – us and the calves.
The only hitch to date has been getting them to roam far enough from their charges, so we’ve moved them and a couple of bovine mates to join a much larger mob living by the forest. Charlie was happy to go but Lola hung behind in her more familiar paddock. Fingers crossed they make the transition!