A ST George farming family, who lost 70 head of cattle including 12 bulls to pimelea poisoning, are hoping to return to sheep for the first time in 13 years when they begin installing their cluster exclusion fence later this year.
John and Queenie Kilpatrick, daughter Kylie Savidge and her partner TJ Moroney, operate the 11,000 hectare property, Southampton, 110km north west of St George, where they run a Santa and Droughtmaster cross Hereford and Brahman herd of about 500 breeders.
While, like most producers, the Southampton crew have battled dry conditions this season, theirs was made even more difficult by the resurgence of pimelea poisoning which affects about 8000 hectares of the property.
Since November last year, the family have lost 70 head of cattle including 12 of their 18 bulls to pimelea.
The six surviving bulls will now be semen tested to ensure any that were affected haven’t had their fertility compromised.
“I also bought for the first time in a long while two Angus bulls at the Balonne sale bought specifically for the heifers that had been drought affected so they had low birth weights,” Ms Savidge said.
“We are really really happy with the small result that we have got from the Angus bulls but sadly due to pimelea we have lost 70 per cent of our bulls overall. We only have six left.”
“We had 63 head in the yards treating them for pimelea at one point,” Mr Moroney added.
Southampton has been in the family since it was drawn at ballot in 1923 but the recent pimelea outbreak is the worst Mr Kilpatrick has witnessed.
The property was previously sheep based and in the 1980s up to 10,500 sheep including 2500 ewes were on Southampton.
By 2004 the family still had up to 4000 sheep but the downturn in the sheep market and the rise of wild dogs saw them turn their focus to the more profitable and less labour intensive cattle business.
Now they have just 100 sheep.
But after successfully receiving funding for their cluster exclusion fence, the family are now looking at the prospect of returning to the sheep game.
While much of the cause and affects of pimelea remain unknown, sheep are less susceptible to the fatal prognosis seen in cattle.
In the State of Queensland’s Understanding Pimelea Poisoning in Cattle publication it was noted that sheep don’t experience the oedema like cattle as the smooth muscles in their lung venules are less developed.
“Cattle are much more susceptible to pimelea poisoning than sheep, and increased cattle production in areas that were once predominantly used for sheep grazing has increased the problems associated with pimelea,” it stated.
The new cluster fence on Southampton will cover about 20km and protect their northern and western boundaries.
They plan to start with about 1500 crossbred ewes and build their breeder flock up to 5000 ewes to target the lamb market.
Ms Savidge said the moment the fencing supplies arrived they would get to work on what will be a game changer for Southampton.
“Even though they are in crappy condition the heifers are still dropping these tiny little Angus calves and you go down one day and there are five calves, you go down the next day and there are two,” she said.
“I counted 30 lambs out here six weeks ago and I saw a mob of sheep coming in the other day and I saw five,” Mr Moroney added.
“We don’t have an awful lot of dogs but we have too many. People are just that sick of loosing their young stock to the dogs that they are committed to the maintenance (of the fence).”
The story ‘Why we are looking at going back to sheep after pimelea battle’ first appeared on Queensland Country Life.