Fencing in demand to keep out drought's unwanted visitors

Drought fencing rethink to protect precious pastures, crops

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Gallagher territory manager, Brendan Ryan, talks northern NSW electric fencing options with Rod Hill, "Adagio", Inverell at this year's AgQuip field days.

Gallagher territory manager, Brendan Ryan, talks northern NSW electric fencing options with Rod Hill, "Adagio", Inverell at this year's AgQuip field days.

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Farmers are doing the sums on exclusion fencing options to reduce grazing pressure from uninvited 'roos, goats and deer.

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Fencing projects are never cheap, but the need for better fences has taken on a new urgency on many livestock properties in drought-stressed areas of NSW and Queensland.

As hungry kangaroos, goats and deer compete with hungry sheep and cattle for what's left of pastures or fodder crops, more farmers are doing the sums on their exclusion fencing options.

Grazing pressure from a kangaroo is typically equivalent to just over half a dry sheep equivalent, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries.

Deer breeds can vary from 0.8/DSE to more than three, and NSW's wild deer distribution area has doubled in 10 years to about 18 per cent of the state, including the remote Far West.

Meanwhile, soaring livestock values in recent years have also highlighted the real cost of continued stock losses to wild dogs or feral pigs.

If you're buying in feed, you don't want that spending to go to waste feeding 'roos, pigs or even feral deer - Brendan Ryan, Gallagher

Other producers are simply making the move to fence off stock containment areas to improve their drought feeding efficiency and minimise livestock pressure and land degradation on their farms.

"People are worried about losing the grazing pastures they still have, or fodder they're growing or feeding out," said territory manager with electric fencing specialist Gallagher Australia, Brendan Ryan.

"If you're buying in feed, you don't want that spending to go to waste feeding 'roos, pigs or even feral deer."

Gallagher's Westonfence, developed by western NSW grazier, Peter Weston, at Nymagee, had proven well suited to speedy paddock subdivision or boundary fence solutions for feral control in terrain varying from open rangeland to the southern alps and tablelands.

It uses high-density polyethylene insulated suspension posts and up to 10 wires in configurations to 1.6 metres high which can halt a host of invasive animals from wild dogs to deer, kangaroos, emus and pigs.

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Depending on topography, electric fencing materials typically cost from about $2/metre to $5.50/m, plus solar powered energisers costing up about $3000 each.

Alternatively, materials for un-electrified conventional-styled exclusion fencing up to 1.8m high, with 30 centimetre ground skirts, can typically cost about $5/m, depending on the terrain involved.

Hunter Local Land Services agriculture extension officer, Sara Giblin, Scone, discusses pasture yield on James Munro's irrigated pasture block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

Hunter Local Land Services agriculture extension officer, Sara Giblin, Scone, discusses pasture yield on James Munro's irrigated pasture block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

NSW Upper Hunter Valley, Poll Merino and Shorthorn cattle producer, James Munro, has reaped big benefits from recently investing in a two-metre tall Waratah perimeter fence.

He made exclusion fencing a priority when upgrading an irrigation system on a pasture block which was caned by wildlife in the millennium drought.

Mr Munro at "Gundibri", Merriwa, spent almost $150,000 installing a centre pivot irrigator and building about a kilometre of fencing around it.

The exclusion-fenced centre pivot block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

The exclusion-fenced centre pivot block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

The fence was "imperative" after his previous experience with a mob of 100-plus kangaroos which kept his lucerne under constant grazing pressure despite months of watering.

"We took off only about 30 big bales of hay after three months - I was expecting to get at least double that," he said.

With guidance from Hunter Local Land Services and a low interest state government farm innovation loan, his new irrigation system and exclusion fence have ensured feed for about 700 weaned calves and young cattle and fattened a mob of wethers for sale in the past year.

"The project has actually yielded more feed than I expected, and ensured we've got young stock in a good position to take advantage of conditions when the drought does break," Mr Munro said.

While his main invasive animal concern had been kangaroos, his neighbours and others in the Upper Hunter have focused on similar exclusion options against increasing wild dog pressures.

Shorthorn weaners graze the exclusion-fenced centre pivot block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

Shorthorn weaners graze the exclusion-fenced centre pivot block on "Gundibri", Merriwa.

"About 90 per cent of the inquiry we're getting now is exclusion fencing," said Whites Rural territory manager, Charlie Radburn at Tamworth.

"Initially it was mostly from Queensland or western NSW, but it's interesting how people put a different value on good fencing once extreme seasonal conditions start to reduce a paddock's capacity to cope with unwanted animal visitors.

"These days everybody's concerned about feed preservation, or frustrated by damage to crops."

"If a mob of 100 roos is effectively replacing what could be another 50 ewes, that means you could be getting at least another 50 lambs a year, which are maybe worth $200 each."

He said exclusion fencing's popularity had been helped by considerable government investment assistance in Queensland where it was not unusual for producers to build 30 or 50 kilometres of perimeter barriers.

NSW projects were more likely to total five to 15km, and initially were in western areas like Bourke or Condobolin, but in the past 18 months more demand had flowed from tablelands and slopes districts.

Charlie Radburn

Charlie Radburn

Central Tablelands Local Land Services was rushed with applications earlier this year when it offered to help producers try offset or sloping electric fencing designs on their existing fence lines to keep wild dogs, 'roos and other unwanted visitors away.

Easier to erect, but still with a powerful kick, offset electric fencing uses four hot wires in a formation angled away from the main fence, and has been widely successful in southern NSW.

It has typically cost about $2700 a kilometre to erect in tablelands country, but for 22 successful LLS grant applicants the cost was subsidised to the tune of $1800/km.

"It's pretty uneven terrain around here, with plenty of gullies, so being able to quickly erect a cheaper barrier than conventional exclusion fences attracted quite a bit of interest," said LLS pest animal program support officer, Beth Greenfield.

Most people want to keep dogs away, but the 'roos and other wildlife also avoid these fences, even though the wires are at a conventional height - Beth Greenfield, Local Land Services

"Most people want to keep dogs away, but the 'roos and other wildlife also avoid these fences, even though the wires are at a conventional height."

Another cost saving option can be to retro-fit exclusion fencing to an existing fence line.

"In cases where the fence is already in pretty good order we can supply post extensions and an apron or dog skirts at the bottom," said Waratah's national sales manager, Ross Lourie.

"We've found exclusion fencing demand is still strongest in Queensland, but these days everybody's thinking more carefully about their options."

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