Wild Dog and Pest Control

Insights into exclusion fencing – tricks and techniques

South West NRM, 19/12/2014

The following article was produced by the South West Natural Resource Managment (NRM) group:

Keen travellers from as far afield as Quilpie, Talwood and Cobar embark on 600km day trip to learn from local landholders’ first-hand experiences in design, construction and maintenance of exclusion fences as well as how to achieve the best return on that investment.

Forty-three passengers boarded the bus to take advantage of the opportunity to view seven different models of exclusion fencing around the region. Variations in fencing included: with or without a top barb, with or without an apron, the use of modern materials, older styles and also upgraded existing fences.

South West NRM’s Regional Landcare Facilitator, Heather Smith organised the bus tour and said, “Visitors learnt not only the techniques of fence construction, but also some very important tricks that make the job a lot easier”.

The first stop was the new Mungallala Cluster fence being constructed along Tomoo Road just south of Mungallala. One of the cluster members, Peter Bryant of Albury Station explained, “We are still learning as we go along. Tying off at strainers, corners and end assemblies is very time consuming and fiddly so to keep that to a minimum we have done away with in-line strainers”.

“This seemed to be a shared learning amongst the hosts,” Heather said.

Bill Douglas of Mt Londsale also recommends not using line-strainers. “Put that extra material into building stronger end assemblies and corners. Doing that will give you a better fence”, he said.

The Mungallala group chose not to put an apron or foot on their fence, but intend to rill the dirt up along the base of the fence.  “Once the dirt sets, very few animals dig under it – that has been our experience with other goat fences we have here on Albury. We are also lucky in that our soil is not very corrosive, so we are confident that the wire will last a long time even with dirt over it”, Peter said.

Justifying the large up-front capital investment is difficult for many landholders. However Bill Douglas from Mt Lonsdale put it simply, “The fence enables me to control total grazing pressure. We estimated we would generate enough additional pasture for an extra 500 livestock units (lsu).  If the 36km of fence costs $10,000 per km that would be $360,000.  It’s pretty hard to purchase another property with 500lsu capacity for $360,000. Even then there are other additional running costs such as rates.”

Robert Mackenzie from Moyallen Station calculated his total fence cost at $13 per acre.  “This was a price I was comfortable with when I compared it to activities like blade ploughing and installing new water infrastructure. Especially when uncontrolled grazing pressure was preventing me from realising the full improvement on productivity from the blade ploughing and water infrastructure anyway”.

Robert and his wife Beanie run a time controlled grazing system at Moyallen, which has proven successful in improving both land condition and carrying capacity.  “After eight inches of rain in 2013 and twelve inches so far in 2014, we are still fully stocked and only lightly supplementing with Beachport Minerals. We wouldn’t have been able to handle a dry like this without the fence. We know this because we also lease country nearby that isn’t exclusion fenced and it’s a very different story over there”.

“Our hosts all agree that having the exclusion fences in place has been a boon in the dry years. It has allowed them to run their normal numbers in a better body condition and get a longer lead time before the driest seasons really start to have an impact,” Heather said.

“Maintenance of the fences was another area of particular interest during the day” Heather said.  “The frequency of fence checking varied from weekly to monthly between hosts, but there was unanimous agreement that if the fence is well designed and has been well constructed using good materials then ongoing maintenance is minimal”.

Where the fence crosses floodways and creeks, thoughtful design is essential.  Rob Mackenzie adjusted his original design, but since doing so, has found flood damage to be far less and the tidy up far easier.

Tim Williams’ experience with placing the new fence alongside an old netting fence was another lesson learnt for the future. “If the existing fence is an old netting fence with holes in it that roos and pigs have been using, then pull it down and start from scratch”, he said. “We put a new fence just inside the old one and the new fence copped a lot of pressure because the animals weren’t slowing down at all, they just lined up their usual escape hole at pace. If there is just the new fence on its own, they realise something is different and steady up”.

Tim said “When we first started cost was a big consideration for us, so we tried reusing bits of existing fence and using cheaper materials. Sometimes you just have to work with the resources that are available, but in hindsight those areas are now the areas that require that bit more maintenance and checking. Eventually I will probably redo some of it”.

Heather summarised the collective observation of the host land managers, “Perhaps the greatest workload arising from exclusion fencing has been addressing the fenced-in problem.  Initial efforts were time consuming and whilst each is reasonably happy with their predation and total grazing pressure levels now, they say it is no time to be complacent”.

Five years later, Rob Mackenzie still spends two nights a week managing the roo population and said they are currently trying to get one wild dog on the property, which they suspect came in over the grid.

Bill Douglas provided the benefit of his hindsight, “We should have kept working on our roo populations during the wet years as we did very little in 2011 and 2012 and now we have to work just that bit harder to catch up”.

Tim Williams’ property Banff Downs was the only mixed species property on the itinerary, running cattle, sheep and goats. He discussed the benefits he has realised from reduced predation, as well as improved pasture management. “Lambing percentages and lamb survival rates have tripled since the exclusion fence was closed. The sheep are just doing better as well. They are far more relaxed in their habits and not on edge from moving around the paddock to avoid predator pressure” he said.

Tim offered a word of caution to goat producers though, noting that goats tend to get their horns caught in the mesh squares from time to time, so advised regular fence checks.

Heather said, “One consideration of exclusion fencing that can be a balancing act is maintaining a good relationship with your neighbours even if they aren’t that keen on exclusion fences.  So many factors can influence a decision about whether to install exclusion fencing and those factors are unique to each business.”

“All of our hosts worked hard to maintain good neighbourly relationships and hold it as a key point for consideration.  For some this meant cooperating on a fencing project to get cost efficiencies, for others it meant standing their fence inside their boundary line and adjusting the placement of the foot netting so as not to cause friction”, Heather said.

General consensus amongst participants was that the day’s show and tell was well worthwhile.  Julie Gunn from St George said, “It was great to see so many different places and what they’ve done with their fencing. The trip has really helped to consolidate ideas for our own situation.”

South West NRM and Leading Sheep are extremely grateful to host land managers for giving their time and sharing their knowledge.


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