RAIN, the viability of wool, sheep meat and beef production and industry promotion – not just wild dog fencing — seem set to be the keys to any revival of Merino sheep numbers in Queensland.
The Longreach Regional Council is finalising trials with its Exclusion Fence Construction Unit this week prior to hiring the equipment to efficiently erect wild dog exclusion fences and several more were operating around the state.
But Rodwells wool manager in Queensland Bruce Lines and Agforce sheep and wool policy director Michael Allpass said the return of sheep in numbers to Queensland was a more complicated issue.
Mr Lines said sheep are expected to come back into areas around Quilpie in the south-west with the development of wild dog exclusion fencing.
“In the north around Blackall and Longreach they are talking more numbers, and obviously it is going to be a seasonal thing.”
Mr Lines said he was optimistic about the season, with central Queensland and northern Australia now getting good rain.
“So if you talk to the old fellows, they always said if that rain is in the centre, more or less Queensland will cop it in the near future – the moisture has got to come across and it is the best we’ve seen for sometime.”
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Need for more Merino promotion
Mr Lines there was a need to get the Merino industry and Australian Wool Innovation behind running more events promoting Merinos in Queensland, including wool-meat gross margins and reproductive comparisons between Merinos and shedding sheep in arid areas.
He said some shedding sheep producers were moving their flocks into improved areas after suffering low lambing percentages.
“Whereas the Merino is proven as a viable income stream for wool and meat.
“Merinos build communities and they create jobs.”
Mr Lines helped organise some field days late last year to promote Merinos through the Leading Sheep group in Blackall and Charleville.
“The uptake in the Charleville area was a bit sad, I was quite disappointed there weren’t many landholders talking about sheep and goats.
“Blackall was good and the general feeling was that a few cattle blokes were talking about sheep.”
Mr Lines said he sat on a lot of wild dog committees and he had the impression many wild dog exclusion fences were going up to keep kangaroos out. “There is optimism there around the sheep job and in Merinos in Queensland coming back.”
Potential sheep producers were also sizing up the economic differences between shedding sheep and Merinos, he said.
“The wool and sheep meat job in the Merinos is good and people are looking for a return on what they are running.
“People are asking the question what do we get into once we get the fence up and the Merino guys need to be on the front foot, from stud breeders right through to commercial operators in and a more lucrative than the meat sheep.”
Mr Lines said politicians were saying that sheep would return to Queensland with the wild dog exclusion fencing, but some fences were also being constructed for beef farming.
“Cattle country in Queensland is sheep country and this fencing is making low-producing cattle country more viable.
“The State Government needs to look at where they are putting their money in some of these areas, because I know cattle guys are picking up the money on the back of wild dogs.”
Mr Lines said with Merino numbers were slipping in other states, including Victoria, with the popularity of British breeds and crossbreds for prime lamb and a national approach was needed to boost the Merino flock.
“I think Queensland can capitalise on the slip in Merino numbers in the south and get a few more on the ground.
“We’ve got less than 2 million sheep in Queensland, so to double that wouldn’t be very hard and I still see the wool market where it is,” he said.
“That’s what I am saying to Queensland graziers now, don’t be scared of the market, get in and produce something that you can grow properly.”
The option of Merino wethers in the Mulga belt through southern central Queensland also needed to be promoted by the industry and the processors, Mr Lines said.
“I got a couple of enquiries about buying 2000 young Merino wethers, so some people have thought about going back in, but it’s not a big swing.”
Mr Lines said at least two families have brought sheep agisted in New South Wales back into the south-west of the state around Blackall and sheep were returning to areas that have not seen them for years.
“But we need a lot more than that.”
Rainfall is needed next month
Agforce sheep and wool policy director Michael Allpass said it was hoped that Queensland’s sheep would increase, but he did not have access to recent reliable figures on how many sheep had come into the state recently.
“Twenty years ago we had 20 million sheep in Queensland, today we’ve got 1.8-2 million – so we’ve got a huge potential for growth.”
Mr Allpass said the wild dog exclusion fencing was going a long way toward giving people the confidence to run sheep again. But he said the state needed rain in the next month.
“It all fits together; one, we’ve got fencing to control the dogs and then we’ve got to control the dog numbers.
“But if we don’t get the rain, we are all back to square one,” he said.
“It is going to be expensive to buy sheep in, people are going to have to double-join and breed as quickly as they can, everything hinges on all those variables.
“To me, right at the moment, the big factor is rain, if we get rain next month, there will be some terrific optimism,” Mr Lines said.
The movement of sheep into Queensland would be “huge” if adequate rain fell, he said.
The state has had good winter rain, but Queensland still needed a good summer drenching, Mr Allpass said.
“Everyone sees the potential in controlling the wild dogs with these fences, but we can’t predict he weather out far enough to know whether we are going to get good rain.”
The breed of sheep likely to win favour in Queensland was also unknown.
“”I’d like to see an expansion of the Queensland wool clip – it has huge potential for growth, but there are a lot of people out there thinking meat sheep is a good option for them.”
In December last year, the Australian Wool Production Forecast Committee said the average wool cut per head in Queensland in 2016-17 is expected to increase by 11.4 percent. Shorn wool production in Queensland in 2016/17 is predicted to increase by 15.5pc to 8.01 mkg greasy.
Longreach finalises fence construction unit trials
Longreach Wild Dog Exclusion Fence scheme project manager Jeffrey Newton said it is hoped that the Longreach Exclusion Fence Construction Unit will hopefully have been trialled over about 15km this week before hiring rates are finalised. More than four kilometres of the 1.5 metre high 15-150-15 prefabricated wire and steel post exclusion fencing (with a 30cm ground apron) can be constructed per day with the unit.
“The contractors are charging somewhere between $2500-$3000 a kilometre for labour – all up with labour and material, about $8000 a kilometre.
“We’ve got at least 2500 kilometres to do, so there is a bit in front of us,” Mr Newton said.
The equipment will be available for hire at a substantially reduced fee to rural ratepayers within the Longreach council area who looking to build exclusion fences on their properties.
“Because AWI owns it, it is ultimately up to them whether it stays here or goes somewhere else,” Mr Newton said.
The Longreach Regional Council aims to fence 900,000 hectares of productive grazing land, or around 22 per cent of the Longreach region, within the innovative $18 million Wild Dog Exclusion Fencing Scheme.
A one-off Queensland Treasury Corporation loan to Longreach Regional Council, will cover the cost of 2500 kilometres of exclusion fencing infrastructure on the land of more than 63 ratepayers in the region.
Longreach Regional Council Mayor Ed Warren has said an increase of 200,000 sheep is estimated over the next five years, an increase of around 40pc on current sheep numbers, once the scheme is operational.
The council was awarded a grant of up to $205,300 by Australian Wool Innovation Ltd was used to procure a Caterpillar 910K loader which arrived on November 3 last year. The loader has been fitted with a hydraulic hammer and Ezywire spinner to make the high capacity Exclusion Fence Construction Unit.
EzyWire manufacturer Jamie Stenhouse at Tamborine said there were seven of his exclusion fence construction units across Queensland and he was fielding a new inquiry every day since the council video was released.