Co-operation and extension

Tailored solutions using multiple engagement methods

  • Best Wool Best Lamb (BWBL) – a producer-directed program aimed at promoting best practice agriculture. Groups were set up with a wild dog focus but participants also learnt about sheep productivity drivers, animal health and business management. Evaluation found participants identified the benefits as increased resilience from combating the wild dog problem with a collaborative approach and increased viability due to changed attitude to production and practices.
  • Landcare – Community-based Landcare groups delivered control programs including the establishment and operation of Community Wild Dog Control (CWDC) groups. CWDC program outcomes from 2012-2014 included:
    1. 157 participants in community baiting programs laid 60,000 baits over 120,000ha;
    2. 87% of participants in Gippsland and 90% in North East Victoria reported that participation improved their well-being;
    3. About 60% of participants indicated an intention to re-introduce or increase sheep numbers as a result.

In the effort to regain control of the Victorian wild dog problem, it became clear not one single community engagement model suited all stakeholder groups. Some communities worked best when engagement activities were carried out alongside livestock production extension, others benefited from a one-on-one approach. Here we talk to five people to understand their situations and what worked well for them.

The producer/facilitator: Craig Lloyd

Craig Lloyd reckons you can talk about all the extension and adoption models under the sun, but the best way to increase wild dog management skills and knowledge is over a Friday afternoon beer at the local pub.

“Keep it casual and people don’t realise they are learning. Try and beat them over the head with a stick and producers soon get their backs up,” he said.

In 2013, sheep and cattle producer Craig was at his wits’ end with wild dogs. He wasn’t sleeping at night, his anxiety levels were extremely high and each morning he faced the fear of fresh attacks on sheep.

“Six or seven years ago, wild dogs were totally out of control around Ensay,” he said. “At the peak, 30,000 sheep were run in the Ensay district.”

Today, Craig estimates it would be about 3,000.

“It was becoming a common occurrence for farmers to see a pack of wild dogs walking through paddocks. One particular night I heard half a dozen wild dogs howling near our farm.”

Local farmers felt they needed to tackle the problem more aggressively.

The ex-shearer was approached to run a Best Wool Best Lamb (BWBL) Group at Ensay as a platform for supporting producers to take on wild dog control. Believing he had to do something to keep his fellow sheep producers in the business, Craig agreed.

“We didn’t want people just coming in and speaking at us. We had to make it practical. Instead of talking about why you need an electric fence, we’d get a bloke in to demonstrate how to put up the best electric fence,” Craig said.

“Then we’d get someone in to demonstrate baiting.

“It was just a bunch of friends starting from scratch. We listened to everyone. We’d pick up a few new ideas and then we’d share them at the pub on a Friday night.”

That build-up of knowledge created a sense of control being regained. It gave Craig the confidence to invest in 10km of electric fencing.

“That fence not only kept the wild dogs out, it allowed me to sleep at night. That alone made the investment worthwhile,” he said.

And while the dog threat has reduced, Craig said the fence continues to keep other feral animals at bay including a growing population of Fallow and Sambar deer and kangaroos and wombats.

“I also think we have more control over the situation now due to the financial and on-the-ground support from Australian Wool Innovation. It has made a big difference,” Craig said.

The facilitator: Kristy Howard

Three hundred kilometres away, the Bullioh BWBL Group in Victoria’s Upper Murray was also benefiting from the social aspect of group learning.

The group was borne out of a desire by local sheep producers to lift lamb survival. One of those methods happened to be via controlling wild dogs.

Group co-ordinator Kristy Howard said the group, which started with 15 members, would set out a topic list for the next 12 months.  Half the topics were wild dog problems, and approaches to improving control came up regularly.

A program was developed featuring a mix of meetings in shearing sheds, kitchen table discussions, paddock demonstrations and barbecues so guest speakers could engage with producers in a “non-confrontational manner”.

“The hardest part of running a producer group is appealing to all the personalities and understanding everyone is at a different stage – some were heading towards retirement, others had challenges with succession planning,” she said.

“The real gains come from the social aspect, talking to neighbours, talking to other people who have all worked through the situation.

“It’s hard to tell if there are more sheep in the Upper Murray as a result of this work. There is still the fact that some neighbours don’t bait wild dogs, so the threat remains.”

The landholder: Peter Star

Landholder Peter Star works in a family partnership operating a livestock enterprise on various properties along the Murray River, starting at Wodonga and finishing near Cudgewa. He has also served on the Victorian Wild Dog Control Advisory Committee (2011-2015) and was a member of the National Wild Dog Advisory Group which later became the National Wild Dog Action Plan Stakeholder Committee. A member of the long running Bullioh BWBL group, Peter is an advocate for the group approach to extension and training.

“The reality is when you share a problem it then becomes more than your own problem. You realise others often have the same problem,” he said.

“I’ve seen lots of people come along thinking they have the solution, but in a group situation you see that everyone thinks their solution is the right one. You soon work out that there is no one solution.”

According to Peter, the greatest benefit of programs such as BWBL, was empowering landholders to take ownership of the wild dog problem and helping them understand the importance of everyone undertaking control measures.

“One of the best forums I ever went to was in the early days. Only landholders attended and each of them were asked to explain their wild dog situation and the answers were tabled for submission to government,” Peter said.

“We went around the table and everyone could get their problem off their chest. Everyone was listened to, so it meant we could then move on. We all knew our situation was recorded and we didn’t have to consume every meeting with everyone trying to explain just how bad they were finding it.”

Skills and confidence gained through such networks and meetings gave Peter the foundation to push forward with investing in large-scale dog fencing on his own property. While it requires a lot of maintenance and dealing with absentee neighbours, it gives him a feeling of security and control.

“I’m not sure what the next stage is (for extension and adoption) but I know landholders are always interested when there is something new and innovative to see or learn about,” he said.

The grassroots volunteer: Trish Borondy

When Trish Borondy answers the telephone at her Dargo farm in remote Victoria it could set her in one of two directions – into the design studio for her custom-made aerobic leotards business or to the office to write out a $50 bounty cheque.

“Often it’s a bloke – it could be anyone from a large landholder to a local young bloke who likes hunting – asking ‘what do you want me to do with this dog?’ she said.

The response is to log the find through the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions’ FeralScan online platform and then claim your $50 from the trial bounty scheme that is funded and administered by the Dargo Landcare group.

Trish and her husband Paul combine their busy online business, which delivers leotards for competitive aerobics and costuming all over the world, with their volunteer work with the 80-member strong Dargo Landcare Group.

The group receives AWI funding for contract trapping and community baiting programs, and also organises training of new trappers and support and up-skilling for landholders funded via other sources such as DELWP.

“Farmers like to be self-sufficient and are highly practical and we can support them with tangible assets. If a farmer rings me and says they have a wild dog problem I’m happy to supply traps, a Canid Pest Ejector (CPE) kit and provide training on how to use the traps properly,” she said.

A CPE kit contains the ejectors, baits, neighbour notifications and property signs, along with a padlock and key.

Locals are encouraged to report wild dog sightings to their local wild dog controller as well as being recorded in FeralScan, and Trish shares the location with trappers.

“For training and extension, we’ve found the smaller the group the better it works. If I can have five landholders come along and all learn how to use a trap properly because of one-on-one training that can make a huge difference,” she said.

“I think the other thing that works is a ‘no questions asked’ policy. If you tell me you have a wild dog problem then I will help you solve it by providing the tangible tools and the skills without you having to justify how big that problem is.”

Going forward, Trish is keen to see the Landcare network used more widely for up-skilling on wild dog control.

“And I really support a locally administered bounty scheme. People want their reward then and there, they don’t want to fill out a form and six months later get a cheque in the mail,” she said.

The wild dog controller: Vaughn Kingston

Acting State Manager of the Wild Dog Program Vaughn Kingston has worked in the feral and pest animal sector for more than 15 years and during that time has seen numerous models to support extension and cooperation for wild dog control.

He has found the current combination of AWI-funded wild dog community engagement officers, Wild Dog Management Zone workshops and individual producer instruction to be aiding the uptake and continuation of control measures.

“Community Baiting Coordinators facilitate producer access to baits as a co-ordinated group, hugely increasing the effectiveness of each producer’s efforts,” Vaughn said.

“Those Community Baiting Coordinators also work well doing one-on-one work – going back to producers time and again if required – eventually getting more people to participate. They have been able to not only maintain support for the collective effort but grow the participation of others.”

To keep landholders engaged, the Wild Dog Program runs workshops bringing new and interesting topics to communities, with wild dog control at the centre.

“People are not always going to come along and hear another talk on wild dogs, especially if activity is reduced, but they will come along for a drone demo where feral animals are identified through thermal imaging. We need to keep community abreast of what opportunities are becoming available to better manage wild dogs,” he said.

Vaughn measures the success of such programs through participant wellness measures. A recent AWI survey on the wild dog program funding found 90% of respondents saying they were better off emotionally and financially as a result of being part of a coordinated community baiting program.