Are sheep making a comeback in North Queensland?

Are sheep making a comeback in North Queensland?

Winton, Qld, sheep producers Jodi and Shane Axford are in the midst of completing their new fencing to protect against wild dogs.

Winton, Qld, sheep producers Jodi and Shane Axford are in the midst of completing their new fencing to protect against wild dogs.


North Queensland sheep producers are showing interest in a return to sheep.


As the success of Queensland's exclusion fencing projects shows on the state's increasing sheep numbers, producers in northern regions are showing interest in getting involved.

That's according to Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) senior regional development manager Morgan Gronold, who works with producers in Queensland's central-west to set them up with funding to build cluster fencing to stop wild dogs and bring back more sheep.

Earlier this month RAPAD announced it was calling for expressions of interest from eligible landholders and groups seeking to build cluster fences, and while not in the group's area of governance, producers from North Queensland shires of Richmond, Flinders and McKinlay were also included.

Mr Gronold said the reason behind expanding the scope of producers was that it benefited the state's sheep industry as a whole by having more producers invested in sheep and therefore more resources, infrastructure and hands on deck.

He said he had already received about half a dozen inquiries from northern producers who were either the last ones that had hung onto sheep or those that were desperate to get back into sheep but couldn't do so without fencing.

The Queensland government and landholders themselves have invested over $35 million through RAPAD's Cluster Fencing Project so far, with more expected as new rounds of funding are announced.

Mr Gronold said the projects were all about providing producers with "control, confidence and investment".

"It's giving people control back of their livelihoods, whether it's financial control, environmental or allowing them the opportunity to run their places how they want to run them," he said.

"That then leads to confidence and people starting to talk about what they're going to do next year or five years from now or even passing the farm onto their kids, rather than just focusing on the here and now.

"And then when people are in control and confident, they will start investing more in the sheep and wool industry, so you'll see more shearing sheds and other infrastructure built."

He said their aim was to get Queensland's sheep flock back towards the one million head mark.

"People genuinely want to do it, it's just a matter of getting their economic ducks in a row," he said.

"The great thing now is that they have the option to do it, whereas before there was no point, they were throwing money out the window."

And he believed positive sheepmeat prices were another appealing factor.

"We are definitely seeing more trucks of sheep and goats coming north, as opposed to always going south," he said.

"I've heard stories of neighbours competing against each other for sheep from NSW on AuctionsPlus and not even knowing it."


At Winton, Qld, Jodi and Shane Axford and the two other properties in their cluster are halfway through completing the installation of their 91 kilometres of fencing.

Mrs Axford said while they also run cattle and irrigated hay, sheep were their main income and what they were most passionate about.

While they were lucky and had only had limited wild dog attacks on their property, there was dog activity close by with lambing percentages significantly affected.

"It doesn't take a lot of dogs to do a lot of damage," she said.

So rather than sitting on their hands and waiting for the problem to get worse, they decided to be proactive and get fencing organised to increase the safety of their sheep.

"Over the years, wild dogs seem to be venturing into the open country, so it was only a matter of time before they turned up here," she said.

"We've been very fortunate up until this point and our council and wild dog committee are very proactive, but we're going to take every opportunity available to secure a positive future in the sheep industry.

"We're always striving to do better and be more sustainable and productive and we just felt the fences were a bit more of a guarantee for the safety of our sheep."

A newly-installed fence in central-west Queensland.

A newly-installed fence in central-west Queensland.

The Axfords' aim is to sit at the 5000 head mark but their numbers are slightly off that as they take advantage of the positive prices.

"Sheep prices have been exceptionally good and we just sold some of our older sheep because the price was right and the season is still pretty tight," she said.

"But although our sheep numbers have gone down, we are only just understocked for the light season we're having and it won't take long to breed up again."

Further north, Geoff and Linda Wearing of Tangorin, Qld, have inquired about RAPAD's cluster fencing as they consider introducing either sheep or goats alongside their cattle enterprise.

Mr Wearing said his family had previously run sheep and his brother still does on a neighbouring property that is now surrounded by self-funded exclusion fences.

He was interested in diversifying enterprises on his own property to improve biodiversity for his landscape, and risk mitigation for his business, and "adding another tool to the tool box".

"Because of the prolonged dry, we're looking for ways to do business differently," he said.

"But there is no sense from an investment point of view bringing in either sheep or goats unless you're able to get them enclosed.

"So we put out an inquiry to see what sort of [financial] support is out there."

He knew a transition into a new commodity would be difficult and time consuming.

"Other than dogs, another challenge is the property is set up with cattle infrastructure," he said.

"But probably the biggest challenge is making the decision, and if we do decide to go with it, it will probably take a couple of years to complete amongst the madness of everything else."

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