Restoring the north's sheep flock

Sheep returning as a compelling option in central west Queensland


Wool
NUMBERS UP: Stuart Hodgson, sheep industry specialist with AWI, says QLD is a potential area for rebuilding Australia's sheep flock.

NUMBERS UP: Stuart Hodgson, sheep industry specialist with AWI, says QLD is a potential area for rebuilding Australia's sheep flock.

Aa

Sheep are emerging as a compelling option for farmers in QLD's central west region.

Aa

Grazing enterprises in central west Queensland are making bold moves, reverting back to sheep in place of cattle, after wild dog exclusion cluster fences have given hope to a region once classed as a rich sheep and wool area.

Between 1991 and 2018, sheep numbers in the central west of Queensland declined more than 75 per cent from two million to 450,000 head now estimated.

For decades wild dogs have wreaked havoc, forcing entire districts, many better suited to wool production, away from sheep into cattle.

But the completion of two rounds of cluster fence funding and round three currently in process, graziers lucky enough to nab a break in the season are looking to sheep as they consider restocking.

Stuart Hodgson, sheep industry specialist with Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), said although the ongoing drought has been a major factor in the steady decline of Australia's flock, with overall productivity down by 15pc, QLD's drop in numbers due to dog attacks has had a massive impact on the industry.

But he believes that is all about to change.

"AWI sees QLD, especially the central west, as a potential growth area for increasing Australia's sheep flock, and in particular the Merino ewe, which the industry needs to breed more of if it is to expand again," Mr Hodgson said.

"The positivity in QLD is good. Numbers at the recent Roma State Sheep Show were up this year. This is a terrific indication of the amount of interest returning to the Merino industry there."

Morgan Gronold, Senior Regional Development Manager, Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) said apart from seeing thousands more sheep grazing in the central west region again, the project brings back much needed jobs to the sector.

"We certainly see the area as a significant growth region, which is where we were 20 years ago," Mr Gronold said.

"But the economic impact of wild dogs on the region remains extreme.

"The region was hard hit by the reduction of sheep and wool and depopulation remains the number one threat to the long-term sustainability of central western communities and the industries they grow."

Yet he believes potentially the region could see a shortage of skilled industry specialists including shearers and wool classers.

"Hopefully it will be an option here again for communities to grow their own - but we won't have enough of them to start with," Mr Gronold said.

"In this area alone we had about 18 shearing teams, it is now reduced to three.

"If the stars align and we get some decent rain this year, and get three to four seasons to run together, we will most definitely have a staff problem.

"But it would be a nice problem to have, and I think we will definitely have it."

The completion of round two saw 124 properties involved, 23 clusters and 2556 kilometres of fence constructed.

This has equated to 1.16 million hectares of valuable land protected.

It is estimated that sheep numbers in QLD by 2026 will rise to 740,000 and lambing rates, during the same period, will increase by 80pc.

Mr Gronold said the project's long-term goal is to be the catalyst for growing jobs and achieving significant improvement in the profitability of regional businesses.

He said producers who have been part of the cluster fence scheme have already seen long-term improvements to their flocks.

"We have had feedback from producers that their lambing rate figures have improved from 40pc to over 80pc," Mr Gronold said.

Willie Chandler, Home Creek, Barcaldine, said the cluster fencing program on his property has allowed him to diversify his business to help protect it against commodity ups and downs and dry seasons.

"The scenario at the moment is we can feed sheep and still make it profitable by feeding them through the dry period because of the wool price and lambing percentages are still at work," Mr Chandler said.

"It's full steam ahead, we've been building our ewe numbers as we've been going through the drought. We hope to up around 20,000 ewes in two years time with surplus sheep that we will be able to sell."

Mr Gronold said the cluster fencing has offered opportunity and choice.

"For years small stock hasn't been a choice in this area," he said.

"The key is change and opportunity. Only last week I was informed about a family that were losing bidders on 2000 sheep out of Dubbo, so it has already begun.

"All of a sudden, people that haven't looked on AuctionsPlus or The Land for years, are looking and for the first time in years we are seeing truck loads of sheep coming in full instead of going out full.

"Producers are seeing their wethers start at $40 with a finishing price of $140.

"A lot of the country is better suited to smaller stock, so they are looking at getting their cash flow happening again."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by